Monday, February 15, 2010

Who actually says this anymore?: "Social media doesn't need ROI"

When this article in BrandWeek showed up on my Google alert, I was pleased to see one more mention of the Trop 50 campaign BlogHer did with Pepsi in their pages. BrandWeek has consistently pointed to that campaign as an innovative example of social media engagement in action.

But the opening two paragraphs gave me pause, including this statement:
Is all this Tweeting, blogging and Facebooking paying off? For some proponents, the question is irrelevant. They agree with the view encapsulated in the social media bible The Cluetrain Manifesto -- markets are conversations. Companies have to participate in the conversations where they're happening, ROI be damned. Their dismissal of metrics is summed up in an oft-repeated question, "What's the ROI of putting on your pants on in the morning?"

And a further description of the "social media faithful at conferences and on blogs" to whom the above statement about ROI and pants would be "music to the ears" of.

But here's the thing: Really? Who says that anymore? I go to a lot of social media conferences. I see a lot of social media "gurus" in action on blogs and Twitter. BlogHer talks to or works with a lot of social media-focused industry organizations.

And it seems to me that social media ROI is the hottest topic out there. Now, the article is spot on that there isn't one set of industry-accepted success proof points out there, let alone one set of industry-accepted measures for each of those potential proof points. But I think now, years after the publication of the Cluetrain Manifesto, the concept of ROI in the social media space is taken seriously by any serious practitioner.

This casting of fear, uncertainty and doubt reminded me of the very dramatic article from BusinessWeek last December, Beware Social Media Snake Oil...which at least found someone specific to quote to support the notion that social media evangelists think ROI doesn't matter or can't be measured.

It's just not my experience that such evangelists reflect the majority mindset anymore. Actually, they haven't for a long time.

BlogHer launched its Business-focused conference back in early 2007. Case studies have been a part of it from the get-go, and we have a couple of requirements for the case studies presented:

  • We want a 360 degree view of the campaign: Someone from the brand to talk about what they wanted and needed. Someone from an agency or consultancy firm (if applicable) who helped the brand execute. Someone who participated in the campaign as a user...a blogger, online community member etc., who could talk about what worked or didn't work from their perspective. We actually won't present a case study featuring only the paid vendor talking about the great work they were paid to do...that's a sales pitch.

  • We also want quantifiable results. Not just feel-good stories. The brands have to be there, and they have to be willing to share. That is, I admit, the tough part sometimes. Brands usually know exactly what went right and wrong...they just don't always want to show & tell.

  • Nonetheless, as far back as 2007, and each year since, we've found plenty of such case studies to spotlight.

    Sometimes the brands measure success in reach (and what's wrong with that, after all)? Sometimes in revenue. Sometimes they take the traditional tools of pre- and post-campaign surveys or focus groups to measure things like brand awareness and affinity.

    My point is that I see a sea of measurement-focused fiends out there, trying to transition this industry from one that gets "experimental" budgets, to one that gets marketing dollars in proportion to the attention it gets from consumers.

    Am I missing the army of ROI-doesn't-matter "gurus" out there still plying their trade?

    Am I going to all the wrong (or, I might call them right) conferences?

    And mostly: Am I naive for thinking that the "accepted measures of ROI" for some other kinds of marketing campaigns...say Super Bowl ads or sponsoring a sporting event or a full-page ad in the New York Times...are accepted, but as likely to be no more meaningful to the bottom line than some of our nascent measure of ROI in the social media space?

    You tell me.

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    It is a rather bizarre claim, especially when Facebook is driving more traffic than Google.
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