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Of Course ROI is Tricky. You’re Not Selling.

Of Course ROI is Tricky. You're Not Selling!The Social Media world has been scratching its head about Return on Investment for almost as long a social media has existed as an entity. Not only have influencers in the space been unsure as to how the actual platforms were going to make any money, it has remained an enigma as to how any business person could possibly make money, trackable sales, or any other non-fluffy stuff using social media platforms.

This puzzle has puzzled me. You’re spending money. You should make sure you are making money. It’s not a social media problem, it’s a business basic. If you’re spending money and not making that much money on the other side of the coin, you’re not going to do too well. But thanks to the conversation on the post I wrote here about communities and cliques  I think I have finally understood why ROI in the world of social media is so tricky. Are you ready?

It’s because so many people in the online world don’t believe in SELLING.

The Myth of Social Media Serendipity

Here is how I understood social media when I first started tweeting. You go online, you mention in your Twitter bio that you work for xyz company. After you get that settled, you start talking to EVERYONE. You accrue followers, you get subscribers to your blog, you do people favors, you support people, and you create an ever-growing community. You post pictures of kitties, write poems about unicorns, and do other things to keep these people happy. It may seem like it’s not working, but then one day, one of those people commenting on your kitty picture says, “You know, I happen to need a car, and I know you sell cars. Can we talk?”

Because you’ve been talking to this person for such a long time, you know exactly what kind of car they REALLY want. They trust you because they’ve been talking to you. You sell them a car. You’ve made money for your business. While you might have mentioned along the way things about being a car salesman, you never actually promoted your business, mentioned specifically what kinds of cars you sell, and you never said anything directly tied to your job. You just wafted the idea out there, it stuck in peoples’ heads, and lo, when they needed a car, they thought of, well, you.

Your Investment is What?

OK, I should not have used the word “Myth.” This kind of thing really does happen. But here’s the problem. If you use that kind of approach to social media, your investment will far, far, far exceed your return. You might get an opportunity like that once a year. Even if it’s once a month or once a week, that’s still a lot of nurturing, tweeting, chatting, blogging, sharing, and networking.  The time can really add up, and though we don’t like to say it out loud, in the business world, time is money. This of course does not mention the computer you’re using, the electricity you’re using to keep that computer running, the time you’re NOT spending on other stuff. You get the point. It’s no wonder that tracking social media ROI seems impossible. How can you track your investment when you’re sending 7,000 tweets a day? How can you realize a return on a regular basis if you never remind people what it is you’re trying to sell?

Don’t go to the other end of the spectrum

Some companies realize that the fuzzy version of social business doesn’t really pay the  bills, but they go too far the other way. They do nothing but sell. Their Facebook pages are nothing but pictures of their products (yawn). Their “blog” is nothing but news releases (yawn). Their tweets are just shares of their Facebook and blog posts (yawn).  That won’t bring you a good return because people will run for the hills.

The Dance

How can ROI seem less confusing and more achievable? You need to do a special social media dance. You need to learn how to work in mentions of your company while also conversing genuinely with people. You need to be willing to talk about your company but also about things that have nothing to do with your company. You need to jump on opportunities to offer your service or product without being pushy. You need to be honest about why you’re using social media from the start. And you need to respect the people around you. That means not sending out a sniper shot direct message with a sudden “Buy now” starburst inside.

It’s not surprising that so many are having a hard time measuring the ROI of their social media efforts if you think about the kind of advice that gets tossed around. “Be non-transactional.” “Support other peoples’ business ventures first.” In an ideal world that would work all of the time. This is the real world, sadly. You’re not tweeting with psychics who know what you’re selling. You need to get it out there without being pushy or offensive. Once you learn that dance, you’ll have a far easier time cracking the ROI nut.

Of Course ROI is Tricky. You’re Not Selling. 

Don’t you think?

Image of Herb Tarlek courtesy of MTM Enterprises.


Join the Conversation

Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes
Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes 5pts

Social media doesn't have to be an either/or proposition and that is part of the problem. You can build relationships and let people know what you do simultaneously in a way that isn't obnoxious.

Some of the best posts I have read provide examples of problems and solutions in an informative way that doesn't say "buy" in bright lights but let's you know the product/service is available.

lauraclick 5pts

Excellent reminders, Margie. Like most things, balance is key. You go too far in one direction and it throws everything off. Yes, you must sell. But, you should also learn how to do it in a way that doesn't scare people off. If you focus on solving problems and helping your audience, it makes selling seem not quite so scary.

cendrinemedia 5pts

Maybe we should stop talking about ROI and remember that social media is about people. Period. 

You cannot sell without a strategy. And you have no strategy if you just think about making money. 

Milaspage 5pts

I truly believe that the problem is that most people don't understand it, they get involved before working out their strategy. They throw their business in and lack the deeper understanding so they then grasp blindly in the dark taking every post they read as gospel. Then once they start regurgitating the lingo they get confused because they've read all about it. Why is there no result. Or why can't they see it. How can they get it without asking for it?

News flash: you have To be able to measure and understand how you are measuring your other internal activities before you can think Of measuring ROI on online activities - it's a business function - deal with it as such.

When someone asks me how do you measure ROI first thing I ask or look to establish is how are you currently measuring and reporting on your other activities?

It's about having direction and building strategy.

dbvickery 5pts

Working on my dance moves...I've definitely moved from sharing kitties and unicorns - to sharing kitties and unicorns (and Wocka-dead) memes with people who have the potential to be my customers or business partners.

Did the social proof by being there for the long haul, and established mutual trust by not selling anything.

Now trying to occasionally cross that line with business promotion with the hopes that I can *truly* do work with these potential customers/partners. Jury still out on whether social is enough to convert to true business. I think it is easier when you are selling B2C or something less expensive than our typical B2B offerings.

douglaserice 5pts

Great post, Margie. I certainly agree that we walk a fine line between spamming and engaging. And certainly, from a marketing standpoint, chatting all day with people on Twitter is going to generate little in the way of new business respective of how much time you're investing.

However, I worry about the assumption prevalent in these discussions that social media is only good for marketing. Social media (and by that I simply mean digital communication tools: Facebook, blogs, community boards, whatever) is a tool that can be used in many ways for business. What about customer service? What about public relations? Should ROI of social media be measured for these functions as well?

If so, shouldn't we also measure the ROI of the telephone for customer service or the press release for public relations? Maybe we should...but are we doing it?

I question the notion that social media is this special thing that deserves particular attention as far as measurement goes. It's a method of communication. Why would we have telephones, email, web contact forms, and PO box for customer service issues but be wary of including Twitter in the mix just because it's "social media?" 

Certainly, I think we should measure EVERYTHING in business. We should measure the ROI of accounting, recruiting, building maintenance, human resources, office decor, whatever. But we can't measure everything. It just isn't feasible. So where does it end? In my mind, social media is not so different that it merits special treatment. 

Maybe we've just put social media in the wrong department.

Latest blog post:

bdorman264 5pts

I make my living selling 'things;' I've been doing this long enough to know if you don't ask, it probably isn't going to happen, no matter how many people 'know' you are in the business. 

I also know for the most part, my target audience, the CEO's of the companies I want to pursue are not active on social; people that know them might be, but probably not the CEO. That's not to say they don't see what I'm doing, but I don't see them engaging. 

Time is money, and who is going to pay me for my time today? If it's me and I'm pulling it out of savings, then that might not be such a good thing. 

Selling is not a four letter word AND everybody is a salesperson whether you know it or not....

lindyasimus 5pts

Nice reminder. Subtle is overrated. Reciprocity is another myth. Tell them what you are selling.

margieclayman 5pts

@cendrinemedia If you're a business, that is sort of like telling your employees, "OK, here is a great party you can go to. There may be people who would buy from us, but I don't want you to look at that right now. I don't want you to mention who you work for, and I *definitely* don't want you to mention selling. Now here's $5,000 plus your regular salary. Go have fun. Don't tell me how it goes."

Would you ever do that? Let's hope not!

I'm not sure why there is this dichotomy being built between creativity and ROI in the online world. If selling hampered creativity, advertising would never have been born. When we talk about selling in the world of social media, we're not talking about blasting people with "Buy now" messages. 

Let's say you are a prospect for my business and we're still having this conversation. I know you're a prospect so I'm really excited you came by to comment here. I might say something like, "Our agency's clients do blah blah blah." I am not *selling* to you, but I am incorporating the fact that I work at a marketing firm. I'm weaving that into the conversation we're having so that it becomes part of the context the next time we converse. As we continue to talk, I may plant other little seeds like that. I might say, "Hey, we just put together a white paper. Would you be interested in reading it?"

If we offer a special discount on one of our services, I might work that into a conversation. "If you're interested." You're not feeling like I'm hammering you over the head, but if you end up needing a marketing firm, I'll be on your mind. You'll have sales content from me without feeling like I had abused our conversations.

That's what I'm talking about.

lindyasimus 5pts

@cendrinemedia That's an interesting thought. Let's ponder that some, shall we? Say we devise a strategy first (certainly my preference),what would be the starting Purpose of such a strategy that didn't work toward an outcome of reaching more people, establishing more relationships with potential customers. engaging people who could use the product or service and engendering good will... which are all steps (or should be in a decent strategy) toward more sales?

margieclayman 5pts

@dbvickery I agree. B2C often takes a lot less work to describe, for one thing. But as Bill said below, I don't think selling has to be something you're scared to do. Let's face it - when you write a blog post that incorporates your company's analytics, that's a soft sell. You're putting the message out there that if someone needs software, they can come talk to you. Selling doesn't have to mean "door to door" anymore. Everything can evolve, and usually does.

margieclayman 5pts

@jasonkonopinski My journey was a little weird. I started out just wanting to learn these platforms because when we started getting inundated with questions, I didn't want to be guessing. When a client asks us if they should use Twitter, I can now say, "Based on my experience, xyz." I would not be able to do that had I not jumped in the way I did.

That being said, as I have often remarked, I am an example of exactly how you should NOT start your social media presence if you are acting on behalf of a business. I built my network around people in similar fields, not around where our customers are. Now, since I did this as me instead of our agency, no harm done, but my approach probably should have been different anyway. But it was a good lesson to learn.

margieclayman 5pts

@douglaserice It's a fair question. If you send out a press release in a "traditional" manner, you still want to know how many times it was published, and often you'll get an increase in calls or RFQs after a release is sent. Using Google Analytics can tell you if traffic to the page you linked to in that release spiked, and if you're really smart, you'll use a special URL in the press release so you can track leads and enter them into your CRM system. The same holds true really for anything. Bosses have always wanted their employees to be accountable. Social is big, expansive, and complex, but in the end it's still a small part of someone's job. You need to prove your worth. 

margieclayman 5pts

@bdorman264 Exactly right, Bill. You hit on so many things that current marketers and consultants seem to be missing. People can't guess what you want them to do. If you don't have a call-to-action, people won't act, necessarily, at all, or in the way you want them to. But there are ways to "make the ask" without being rude about it. For example, I know that you're in insurance. If I mentioned something was going wrong and you said, "Well, we have a policy that..." I would not be struck dumb by that kind of engagement. In fact, I would appreciate your expertise and would probably be *more* likely to work with you.

It's a big grey area, but so many people in social media treat it as "this or that."

cendrinemedia 5pts

@margieclayman Before you can offer a special discount or a white paper, you need to know who your audience is. 

Most companies start doing social media without a plan. They just hope that their self-promo messages will get the hears and eyes of prospects without doing the proper research. That's what I'm talking about.

That's why I mentioned that we should stop talking about ROI and focus a little more on what will help us stay in business: people. Without them, we are nothing. 

I personally prefer the term ROR (return on relationships). 

cendrinemedia 5pts

@lindyasimus What would you do in "real life" to ensure you can succeed? It works in the same way. 

Social media is about people, so you should definitely focus on people first. When you do that, you increase your chances of them trusting you. 

cendrinemedia 5pts

@lindyasimus Yes, I agree. You focus on people before the dollar sign, which makes a difference. You build trust before expecting monetary results.

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