The Vicious Circle of Social Media ROI

Convince & Convert has just released its 2017 State of Social Marketing report and it makes for an interesting read.

The study questioned more than 2,700 social media marketers working both client side and in agencies in over 100 countries. It’s important to keep this in mind, because the results presents an inside-industry view of the social media marketing world which may differ from the view your customers hold.

Here’s one of the headline charts from the report:

Chart - Top Social Challenges 2017

In short, the leading challenges the industry face are reported as:

  1. measuring the ROI of social media
  2. tying social to business goals
  3. and securing budget and resources for social.

It’s a depressingly familiar story that I hear all too often from clients:

We cannot measure the ROI of social media or prove that it directly improves our business goals, so we cannot secure the investment needed to do it better, which means we cannot measure the ROI…

A vicious circle, indeed. And the solution for most companies, in my opinion, lies not in the obvious (putting in place an all-singing-all-dancing ROI measurement system) but in developing a more grown-up, informed understanding of the ways that intelligent social media marketing works.

Any company that sets out to use social media channels to directly influence short-term revenue or other commercials goals has failed to understand the way that social communications work.

Far from being a sales fire starter, social media is a slow-burn communication platform. Just like PR and broadcast advertising like TV and radio, social networks provide a platform for brands to build their names and reputation so they will be part of the consideration set when the customer decides it’s time to buy.

Of course, there are occasions when, just like PR and TV, social communications can help raise awareness of short-term buying opportunities for the customer but, by and large, it’s a place where customers can elect to discover who you are, what you do, and whether they like you or not.

In the pre-digital age, prospective customers had to rely on advertisements, editorial and advertorial content, or simply walking into a store to inform their choices. These routes to enlightenment still exist and still work wonders when executed well. But we also have to overlay the opportunity to play a broader role in customers’ lives beyond the short-term transaction.

That’s where social and several other emerging digital marketing techniques play their greatest role. Not in helping companies hit their latest quarterly revenue target, but principally in facilitating a long-term relationship—founded on the customers’ terms—to build and protect the long-term health and vitality of the brand.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that wishing to gauge the benefits of social media marketing is futile. But I am advocating a more rounded approach to the opportunity, where the long-term brand-building benefits are given more focus and where marketing teams are given the resources they need to support this through whichever communication channels tomorrow’s customers choose to use today.

That, to my mind, is the only way to exit the vicious circle and, ultimately, to embrace a more enlightened and effective approach to marketing in our digital age.


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