Social Media ROI: Preach the Intangibles

Getting lost in the 'noise' of social media

Over-hyped or untapped resource?

I’ll be the first to admit that within my ‘circle’ – social media has become a topic worthy of shrugs and eye-rolls. We’ve discussed and analyzed it time and time again, yet it remains at the forefront of almost every conversation. After all this time, it’s perception and value continues to be debated. Why should I spend so much time on the web? What value to my personal and professional brand can social networking provide?

For many of you reading this, your daily routine is saturated with Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Before taking your morning shower you hop online to catch up on your Google Reader and @ replies. It’s not a coincidence, there’s good reason behind the success of interactive web applications. There’s a method to the madness.

As many of us are ‘in tune’ – there are many out there who aren’t on board – they don’t ‘get it’. My fiance, for example, doesn’t see the point in tweeting and commenting on other blogs, which is fine. In fact, I recommend dating/marrying someone who isn’t a web junkie (assuming you are). You need someone to pull you away from the laptop and, you know, encourage you to go live your life from time to time.

Companies all over the world are bringing on ‘community managers‘ to establish and manage their social networking inititives. So let’s take a look at it from a business perspective. Say your company sells running shoes – you’re not on Facebook, you have no idea what a ‘tweet’ is, and you’ve never read a blog in your lives. How do I, someone fully engrossed in the Web 2.0 world, convince you to jump on the bandwagon? How do i present an objective and measurable ROI? I need to prove to you that spending 8 hours a day blogging, tweeting, and running keyword searches about your kick-ass shoes is valuable to your companies bottom line. How can I (or you) turn a non-believer into a tweet-loving maniac? Preach the intangible factors that lead to tangible results and profit.

Social media: It’s like looking at me after you’ve had a few drinks. Hot stuff.

Getting a company set up into the world of social networking is easy. A few clicks here, a few keystrokes there and you’re ready to go. But becoming engrossed and connected with an online community – that takes time. Natural time that cannot be rushed or simulated. The challenge: how do you put a value on the time invested? A potential client wants to know, “Will I make $500 for every 50 tweets? Will I bring in 100 new customers for every blog post I write?”

What arises skepticism in many is the intangibility factor of social media. How can I measure that a blog post sparked a sale? How can I determine the value of posting on Facebook instead of Myspace? As with everything, there is a risk. “Why should I spend $10,000 in social media when I can put it into TV, radio, print, and other forms of web marketing? Is the potential pay-off worth the initial investment?”It’s true that other mediums may be more ‘safe’, but every individual, freelancer, and business should be active online. Here’s why:

A rapidly growing community (with no end in sight)

Twitter’s  active users grew by over 900% in the past year. Facebook capped the 150 million user milestone in February, and the number of bloggers continues to skyrocket. The statistics don’t lie. The masses are on the web, and not a little, a lot. The average time spent on the Internet per household? According to a study in late 2008, an average of over 32 hours per week! It’s not rocket science: More people = more impressions = more impact.

Precise and efficient PR

We’ve established that pretty much everyone is on the Internet, and they’re surfing the information super-highway often: On average, around 30% of the day, every day. Filtering through all the ‘noise’ may seem like a daunting task, and it can be – but through social networking and search engine optimization, you can pinpoint exactly what (or who) you want to target. Want to find out what shoes people are recommending? Search (in real time) on Twitter for ‘best running shoes‘ and voila! Pages and pages of running enthusiasts for you to connect with who are out there, right now, talking about shoes. Can you do that with a newspaper? With a commercial? Out of every 100 commercial viewers or newspaper readers, you may find 1 who’s actually interested in your product or service. Social media allows you to actively seek out your target demographic and instantly pinpoint your marketing and promotional efforts.

Relationship building

They call it social networking for a reason. It’s about NETWORKING – reaching out,  introducing your image and brand to new people. Starting a (real) dialogue. It’s not about simply selling the shoes, it’s about engaging a conversation about everything that goes with running. What music do you listen to when you work out? Are you participating in any upcoming marathons? The key here is to be genuine and interested. Don’t make people think that you care, actually care! Customers are the life-force of your business. Once they like you – once you establish that connection, they’ll be more willing to invest in your product (ahem, that means more money).

Enhanced perception and community branding

What’s the real benefit of spending all this time establishing a solid social media presence? Through each step, each new Facebook friend, every new follower on Twitter, you contribute to your overall ‘community brand’. In short, you enhance the perception of your product or service by intimately connecting with the people who matter most – your potential customers. Social media allows you to not only pinpoint your target audience, but form intimate connections; get people talking, swooning, and falling in love with your brand. When you reach out and show a customer they’re appreciated, they’ll be glad to spread the word and sing your praises.

Do I have your attention yet?

So what does it all mean? What am I getting at? Whether you’re a Fortune-500 company looking to invest millions or an individual wondering if social networking is worth your time to promote a new blog – the proof is in the pudding. In the world of social media, you get what you give. The more involved and engaged you are, the greater response you’ll see. Money makes the world go round, but we’re seeing a ‘back to basics’ approach being taken by companies of all shapes and sizes. That means getting back to how they got started through interacting with their consumers and fans. Taking the time to establish intimate relationships with the community will pay dividends (in the form of real dollars) in the end.