Saturday, July 31, 2010

Social Media, ROI, and Stinky Cheese

I'm going to throw Blogging best practice on its head here and ask a question at the start of my post. Do you think ROI can be measured for a Social Media initiative?

I believe it can, but I think it's going to be a completely different equation. It'll be kind of like the difference between the US Gross Domestic Product and Bhutan's Gross National Happiness. Most of all, I think that measuring the ROI of Social Media will have to depart from a numbers-based system. The "investment" is going to have to be refigured as the investment in Social Media is a) often not financial and b) does not remain the same for any duration. That'll be kind of tricky. But the really tricky part will be measuring the new "return." Let me use myself as an example to illustrate that point.

What is that SMELL?

When I reformatted my personal blog into a professional blog, I decided to add Google Analytics so I could monitor my progress. I won't say this is a user-friendly process. It's doable, but there may have been a bit of swearing involved. Anyway, when I first started blogging, I would check Analytics every day. Since I was starting from, well, nothing, anything that happened showed as progress on that mesmerizing blue graph. And if you want to talk about influence, you don't need to go to Fast Company. I was very lucky at the beginning of my blogging days to have some very gracious heroes of mine retweet links to my blog, and boy did my Google Analytics love those days!

As I got more involved in conversing and sharing and less involved in pure stats, I stopped checking Analytics as often. In fact, quite a bit of time elapsed between my check-ins to my Analytics page. So, two weeks ago I decided to see how I was doing. Two letters describe what I saw. P. U.

These stinky results were quite a surprise to me. My blog seemed to be getting more comments, I was receiving a lot of really nice and gracious compliments, and people were generally telling me that I had a good thing going here. But this was Google Analytics. I mean, GOOGLE! They can't be wrong!!

What Means More To You?

I decided, especially after receiving some very good thoughts from the lovely Ann Handley (aka marketingprofs), that there were a couple of things to consider.

First of all, Analytics systems are not perfect. They are really really good, and they give you building blocks on how you can improve things, but they are not perfect. I can say this with 100% confidence because my Analytics once told me that I had zero visitors two days in a row, two days that I actually received a handful of comments. How could people comment if they weren't there? This made me a little suspicious.

The other thing, though, is that my Google Analytics numbers don't really matter to me a whole lot anymore. I mean, if I see that the average time spent on my blog dives to negative 7 seconds or something like that, I'll take it seriously. I still like to monitor what kinds of posts people seem to find the most interesting. But even if I didn't have access to these Analytics, I would feel that my blog has become successful because I am getting out of it what I want. I am having good conversations with people, I am sharing ideas, and again, thanks to very gracious people with more pull than I, I'm even getting seen by people who are not directly tied to me, which is pretty cool.

Fans and Followers and Connections, Oh My!

This logic carries across all of the big Social Media sites. Are you unhappy with the number of followers you have on Twitter? Are you lusting after 29,999 more contacts on LinkedIn? If so, have you asked yourself why you're unhappy with those numbers? If you had 150,000 followers on Twitter instead of 50, how would your life be different?

It's easy to think, from a business perspective, that the more followers you have, the "better" you are doing, or the more likely you are to increase sales. I must humbly disagree. There are currently about 500 people following me on Twitter. I follow around 370 of them. What is that margin of difference about? Not everyone who follows you is really going to further your business success or provide for you the kind of experience you want. You might have someone following you because they follow anyone who says the word "dog." You might have a few spam-bots following you. Those sure aren't going to help you. And then you have people who follow you solely because they want you to follow THEM. That's why numbers don't equal influence. Numbers do not lead to Social Media success.

What is the Social Media ROI equation?

Back to my original question. Can you measure ROI in Social Media? I can tell you that so far, the return on my investment, which has been lots of time, has been a massive amount of education, meeting and getting to communicate with truly brilliant and inspiring people, sharing really enjoyable conversations, being able to benefit from graciousness shown to me by others, and building connections that might lead to friendships, partnerships, collaborations, or all of the above. If you are a business, you might be building a team of brand evangelizers.  You might be spreading the buzz.

Compared to solid things like "clicks" and reader response cards and actual in the pocket sales, these things can seem pretty darned fluffy. But I think this is the new currency when it comes to Social Media. Social Media moves fast for a long time. It takes awhile for a flower to bloom, even when time lapse photography is used to speed things up. It takes awhile to build new relationships and new networks, too.

Do your Social Media stats stink by your standards? It really only matters if this is preventing you from accomplishing what you want to accomplish. How do you measure that? Well, that's the real question, isn't it?

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