A recent article on MediaPost reveals that a third of marketers “see ROI” from social media. It isn’t immediately clear exactly how they are coming to that conclusion, but I have a feeling they measure it in many different ways – some of which we’d find pretty amusing.
I know that there are hundreds of companies that would rush to dispute the headline to this post; they have built their own businesses on their claimed ability to track direct results from advertising and communication budget dollars poured into social media maintenance. And that’s fine. I’ve had plenty of experience with those clients that need to see numbers to believe, even if they don’t fully understand what those numbers really mean.
But while the “agency executive team” side of me understands the need to be concrete, I’m still a creative guy at heart. And the best creative people never really lose the confidence they feel in their gut instincts. I don’t have any magic formulas for how much money (either raw dollars or as a percentage of budget) your company should “invest” in a Facebook/YouTube/Twitter presence, or a real time effort to monitor those and other channels. It depends on far too many variables, including your product, your marketplace and – in no small part – the smarts and creativity of the people to whom you entrust the challenge. But I know the effort is “worth it.”
For many decades, the same situation existed for national “brand image” campaigns in traditional media. You didn’t run a flashy spot for the all new Chevy Tahoe and tell the dealers to staff up for the next morning. Everyone pretty much understood that you were working on many levels of the selling cycle – softening the path, getting potential buyers to notice the vehicle, maybe even getting it into their consideration set. Research tried, of course – but it was difficult to determine how much you were truly accomplishing – but there was no doubt you were doing some good. That’s not an agency “cop-out.” It’s simple reality, and the best clients understood it, even if they didn’t like it.
Agencies understandably didn’t want their efforts to be judged merely on sales, either, since so many other variables affected that. So we all agreed on the old “Dagmar” principle: defining advertising goals for measuring advertising results. Did the campaign build awareness? Improve perception? Convey benefits? If so, mission accomplished. The rest was up to dealers.
Fact: those traditional media are still important, and perhaps still most important. Newbies too shallowly trained and skilled may think the sexier social media space is the only important one; believe them at your own and your company’s risk. Having said that, I am excited and intrigued by what social media can do for a campaign. Its very (relative) newness makes it a breeding ground for new and better ways to use it. Some companies abuse it, jumping into conversations with a tone-deaf insensitivity to the space and turn potential customers off. Others are better at the listening part, and find clever ways to earn acceptance and an enhanced respect and loyalty from prospects. That may ultimately be the only real way to measure social media. Broad communications and engagement surveys afterward, as compared to a baseline before.
But I believe it is still in a “trial and error” mode. Contrary to what some pretenders will tell you, we don’t know for sure how much a “Like” or a “Follow” is worth. (A recent tactic by Burger King in Norway adds to this discussion.) But the goodwill of an intelligent, creative presence and dialogue in those channels can add plenty of texture to customer attitudes. (In some cases, its the only exposure to your brand they will get; in others, it can and should expand the same tone and personality you demonstrate in other media.)
So, things are percolating in the ever-expanding social media space. Creative ideas welcome. Outlandish experiments, fine. Superficial, blundering attempts? They’re okay, too – they make a good baseline against which better thinking can be appreciated (oops, almost said “measured.”). And for now, I believe (and remember, I’m a creative guy, so I’m sure I’m right) – that that better thinking is delivering results for those who employ it. It’s not measure by anything you can really count – but you can recognize by the “that’s cool” reception it gets from your most important targets. You’ve made a friend. And gut instinct – not a numerical formula – tells me that’s an increasingly necessary step on the path to earning both a sale, and a loyal customer.