The honeymoon phase is over. Marketers are beginning to look for accountability from their spending in social. "What's the ROI?" It's probably not a foreign question to you at this point. If it is, then God bless you, and however long you have before it's asked.
We jumped into the space head first in an attempt to stake a claim in the new frontier. The cost of entry was so low, and the standards so undefined; everyone had a bit of fun. We wrote the rule book as we went along. And nobody asked questions. It was an exciting few years. But as experimental as the budgets still appear to be, clients are starting to ask questions about where their money is going.
An argument can definitely be made that budgets simply aren't large enough yet to justify holding it to the same level of accountability as other forms of major media spending. But why not? The fact is, if you spend money advertising -- regardless of platform -- you expect some kind of return. The KIND of return is where we as social marketers have stumbled.
This conversation was as inevitable as the discussion about the birds and the bees. It was coming, and you knew it. So, you either pled ignorance or prepared a pandering response. Where we messed up was in trying to give them answers. Instead of telling the truth, we said social can definitively deliver against your bottom line goals and then some! Then we ran off to build measurement tools in an attempt to back up our statements.
The truth? Unless you're linking sales figures to coupons distributed via social, there's no way to make a DIRECT correlation between what you do in social and a scaled effect on your bottom line. At least not yet.
Cue the cries of horror and verbal pelting.
So what the Hell is social good for? It's good for all the same reasons as television and magazine ad spending. Social is a branding tool. Nothing more. Nothing less.
The sooner we stop treating it as a direct marketing tool for sales, the sooner we will begin to see more amazing work that will far outpace the engagement of any television ad ever made.
I don't mean to discount the value of social. In fact, I ask that marketers begin to look at social the same exact way you do your beloved television commercials. You can't really link it to sales -- but people see it, and it's important. Without it, your brand awareness would plummet. The difference is, social is interactive, intrinsically viral, and is more reliably measurable.
At my current employer, we've been developing a platform for measuring the effectiveness of your efforts in social. What the platform DOESN'T do is tell you the ROI (in dollars) of your social escapades. What it DOES do is attempt to translate all the chatter about your brand into familiar top-line brand building metrics -- brand awareness, brand love, brand mindshare, and brand advocacy.
But would you look at that. Not one metric ties what you do in social to moving the sales needle. And it should stay that way.
We've all been chasing the same pipe dream of correlating your $400,000 spent on social to a $600,000 spike in sales. But can you honestly say that every sale following a TV ad campaign can irrefutably be attributed to that 30-second spot? You can't, because television is a branding tool. The case is the same with social.
Stop trying to squeeze out of it what you can't, or you'll end up killing it. Social is good for many things. Running interference for your call center. Kicking off campaigns with people at the center (not your product). And yes, even ousting dictators.
What it's not good for is putting in two dollars and hoping to get three back. So, marketers should stop expecting it. And the sooner we stop telling them they can, the sooner we can move on to making work that gets people thinking about brands in ways they never have before.