Why is measuring social media ROI so difficult?

One of the reasons measuring social media is difficult because most of the time marketers / PRs / agency teams don’t set the objectives properly, and usually that’s because they don’t understand the problem and jump straight to metrics / numbers / charts. In fact, I’ve seen some blog posts recently expounding the do’s and don’t’s of social media measurement without any explanation or understanding of business context.

If you hear someone say: “Fans & follower numbers don’t matter” on a social media blog, CLICK AWAY IMMEDIATELY. This is the exact type of social media guru platitudism (yes that’s a word) you don’t need. Fans & follower numbers MATTER.

Now that I’ve started by being contentious, let me explain.

Most of the time, if you ask a client / marketing director / CEO what the objective of the campaign is, the answer is almost universally

Sell More Stuff (SMS)

Of course it is. If you’re:

  • an automotive company you want to… sell more cars
  • a FMCG you want to… sell more toothpaste, food, etc…
  • a politician you want to… sell more votes

The list goes on.

There are multiple reasons why this objective is not useful but fundamentally, it’s too big an objective and it’s not specific enough. For example, you can SMS by optimising your supply chain so that you can actually make enough units to meet demand. That has nothing to do with your social media campaign.

So whenever my guys tell me that the client says the objective is to SMS, I say to them, dig deeper.

And by digging deeper I want them to ask these questions:

  1. Who’s product / issue targeted at?
  2. What are the demographic / psychographic / personas who we are trying to motivate?
  3. What is it we want them to DO? This one is important. Spell out the next physical action we want them to take.
  4. What’s their current attitude?
  5. How are the social elements going to be woven into the campaign?
  6. Where do these people hang out? Physically, and online.

Once you know this information, setting an objective will be much easier and you will be able to see how your objectives for social media channels fit in to the overall picture and whether they can actually become the overall campaign objectives.

When I have this information I will often go away to do some additional desk research. I may use a listening tool to get an indication as to what’s happening out there. I may rely on research from a research house or tap my own networks for people who work in different parts of the company.

Once I have this information I take myself away from my desk and literally just stare into the distance for a bit and digest and distill the information. When the thinking is done, usually I come back with an objective that looks like this:

We will increase preference for Brand X amongst Young Women aged 18-24 by 15% in the next three months

By framing the objective this way, we can now set out to achieve it and ultimately serve the wider business/capitalist objective of SMS.

More importantly, you can measure it beyond the platitudes of “Generate buzz”, “starting a conversation” or heaven forbid “Engage our audience”.

This is the first in a series of posts regarding social media measurement and also appears on jonathannguyen.net