The True ROI of Social Media

“I’m going to ask you the same question I ask all of you social people.”

Uh-oh. I knew what was coming. Three little letters. I played dumb. “I have no answer!” I cried, horrified. She smiled.

We were at a business lunch, having been introduced over a mutual friend and business associate, and had easily decided that the three of us make a formidable team. Aaron (with his many connections, strong client base and background in graphic design) and I (with my marketing agency background, many years as a copywriter, and social media addiction) had worked together on a few projects in the past. And both being right brainers had come up with some awesome fun ideas but just couldn’t seem to take them from concept board… to board room. Enter Alli (of the left-brain, MBA-clutching, society), a driven, data loving, go-getter.

Three professionals with a shared affinity for whiskey. Done.

But I digress. She had a question to ask of me.

“How do you measure the ROI of social media?” And before I could answer, she followed that up with: “Because no one I’ve asked has really been able to answer that question.”

No pressure Alli. Uh, pass the whiskey.

But even as I attempted to answer her question with some mix of intelligence, I could feel myself getting sidetracked, because there is no neatly wrapped 30-second answer to this question. This isn’t television, folks. Where we simply add up the Nielsen data and decide where to place our :30 spot.

So, Alli, let me try to clear up my answer for you. Because after all, I’m a far better writer than speaker. I think more clearly, here, on “paper.” And in case anyone else has every wondered the same…


Just like with any marketing campaign, the first thing I ask any client is: Why? Why do you want to run this campaign? What is your primary objective? The WHY is vital. If you don’t know the WHY, you can’t determine the HOW. And you won’t be able to determine measurements for success. There are many reasons a company might want to have a social media presence:

  • To build brand awareness
  • To introduce a new product
  • To reach a larger audience
  • To give personality to a “dry” brand
  • To provide a way for customers to reach you 24/7 (customer service)
  • To engage with your core customers in real time (build a relationship)
  • To provide helpful information about industry related topics (to become a thought leader in the industry)
  • To provide a portal for contest/sweepstakes/promotion entry
  • To help your brand appeal to a different demographic


The one thing you’ll notice that is not on this list is: Because everyone else has one. Not good enough. True, the numbers are staggering. And chances are excellent that whatever demographic you’re trying to reach, they are on some social media platform. But creating a Facebook page just because everyone else has one isn’t going to do you much good. What’s a “like” do, anyway? Not much if you don’t know what to do with it once you’ve got. Just like a cold call lead won’t do you any good if you don’t follow up with it. Knowing which social platform your company should be active on is also very important. Leverage New Media designed this Social-infographic to help you determine which is best suited for you.


Now that you know your WHY, and you know on which platform(s) you need to be active, you can determine how to measure your ROI. You’ll want to select the right tools to help you measure. I highly recommend using a dashboard tool like Sprout Social. But here’s the thing. The true value of a social media community is often undervalued. Companies want to measure for an immediate ROI, when what they should be looking for is the value of their social community. How do they find this? In a nutshell, Elasticity’s Brian Cross once explained it to me (okay a room full of professionals I happened to be among) this way: Take a closer look at your social community:

  • How many followers are customers?
  • How many of them can be converted to customers?
  • How many can be moved to higher tiers (additional or more expensive products, higher levels of service, etc.)?
  • What is the length of your relationship?
  • How much is a typical sale worth?


I would add to that the following: Beyond your community strength, look at your leadership standing in your industry. Are you asked to speak at industry events? Does your company name or hashtag trend? Have your sales increased since you became serious about investing in social media? How do you rank in Google searches compared to your competitors? Does your target audience know your brand name where they didn’t before? Are your customers satisfied with your level of service? Do you come highly recommended among your core demographic? Are online reviews favorable?

Yes, Left Brainers, You Can Look at “Real Statistics,” Too.DownloadPDF

Some of these measurements for success might include some of the following:

  • Newsletter sign-ups
  • Online purchases
  • PDF downloads
  • Filling out a contact form
  • Social interactions
  • Video views
  • Blog post shares
  • Quote requests

These are all things that can be traced to sales or pre-purchase behaviors. But don’t forget that your social community followers are your Brand Advocates. They are your tribe… Your unpaid advertisers and promoters. Remember the sales funnel? Your consumers’ Purchase Consideration phase consists of online research and social influence. They are getting recommendations from the influencers. No longer does your brand tell consumers what to buy. It’s consumers that tell others consumers (peers) what your brand stands for. So it pays to put dollars behind your social media community.

It’s All Social.


And remember… Your marketing efforts must be integrated across all channels. Your customers are everywhere – on mobile devices, online, at retail and on social platforms. You must be there as well. The lines are surely getting crossed, muddled and blurred. Soon enough, we will no longer have social media, mass media and print media. We’ll just have media. And it will all be social, in one way or another.

Take a look at what you see every day.

On TV, The Today Show has The Orange Room, with what’s trending on Twitter. On the Voice, Tweets from the four judges pop up on the screen after each performance or steal.

In magazines, like More, you can hold your phone over bar codes on some ads for more information, to watch videos, find out pricing, check sizing, even purchase an item or entire outfit right then and there.

Offline has gone online, and online has gone off, as we shop, live, eat, talk and play. Certainly we have some acclimating to do. We’ve got to find a balance at work and especially at home. But the future is clear, especially in business. Those who don’t understand the social landscape will surely be left behind. 

The problem is that many businesses are beginning to understand this – but what they don’t understand is what to do once they arrive. They stand in the corner at the party, not sure how to mingle. Or they are the obnoxious insurance salesman always trying to sell their wares, pushing their business card into everyone’s hand, rather than just shaking hands and getting to know people. The social aspect really is lost on some.

Agencies in particular tend to be impatient. Small B2B companies tend to not understand why they need to build relationships – they want to see sales right away – they want to know where the “ROI” is right now. Social media is not a fast sell. It is a building of relationships. The sales funnel has certainly changed. Businesses must understand that

 – in both the Consideration and Post-Purchase phases, where your brand ambassadors live. It’s been studied and proven that your customers on social channels are worth much more to you than those who simply purchase in store or online. Those who follow you, and engage with you via social channels are much more invested in your product and brand. They are your brand ambassadors. They are the ones who will provide recommendations, share your product information, give glowing reviews, and tell your story for you. They are worth your time. Social is money well spent. Build up your social community and you are building your future sales funnel.

And remember, too, that it’s ever evolving. As more strategies and tools are developed, we’ll have new ways of capturing analytics and will be able to dive deeper into how well our communities are working towards our WHY. 

Discovering your WHY can be difficult. I’d love to help you figure it out and then lay out a plan for getting there. Let’s put our heads together and create something fantastic!  Reach me directly at or 314.540.0705.


About Beth M. Wood

Beth M. Wood is a marketing and writing professional. She's been working in the marketing industry since the early 90s, and feeding her shopping habit with copywriting gigs since 2004. On August 1, 2013, she made the jump to full-time freelance writer, marketer, and social media manager. Beth is highly adept at creating and managing integrated marketing programs that get brands noticed. She's also well known for creating and maintaing a strong brand voice across all channels. She is a word geek, a grammar snob and a boot camp junkie. Which means she believes in giving 100% to every project she takes on - large or small. She earned her BA in writing from Webster University and serves as Senior Content Strategist at Scorch.
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