ROIWhen planning a social media campaign, inevitably the question of measurement will arise. Now that we're realising that follow counts aren't the be all and end all, ROI in social media has become an increasingly fragmented and complex subject.

Depending on the nature of your campaign and the tools you're using to run it, you may feel that tracking leads, driven traffic, 'likes' or retweets are most important, or you may feel that none of these are helpful.

With so many options available to you, it's sometimes difficult to measure exactly how well you're doing.

Certainly social media should have a qualitative value, but it isn't necessarily to be found in ROI.

Instead, it may ultimately be more useful for campaign managers to focus on accountability.

There are several reasons why a shift in focus is needed:

1: Area of investment.

Marketers don't invest directly in objects. Instead, marketing is directed at people, at individuals with shifting priorities and allegiances. Market trends can be anticipated, and processes put in place to help manage them, but a successful marketing department shouldn't be following trends and sticking to set in stone processes.

Truly successful strategies are always flexible, and flexibility will always be stymied by an unrelenting need to meet ROI targets.

2: Tools don’t succeed, people do.

In general, marketers are supposed to show ROI in two major areas. Firstly, when investing in tools, and secondly when investing in advertising space, but do either of these provide true ROI?

Tools in particular provide the promise of quicker, easier management and measurement, and therefore increased output, but neither of these implicitly provides better marketing.

There will always be ads for software that will “run your Twitter on autopilot” or “massively increase conversion rates”, but frankly it will only do so if you're putting the right fuel in it to start with. Pushing a badly thought out campaign through maximisation tools will only spread negative sentiment more quickly.

Can anyone reading this honestly claim that the tools and software they're using has massively increased their conversion rates by itself? (And if by some miracle it has, would you admit to it?)

In other words the tool's effectiveness is entirely down to the marketer. Think about the last paid for tool you purchased, do you honestly have a way to tell if it's generating money for you?

Tools are enablers, they are not managers. True value lies with the team that utilise the tools and software correctly.

3: People change faster than ads.

So, how about advertising? Surely there's a straightforward way to measure ROI there?

Certainly. If you pay $15 for Facebook ads and get 60,000 leads then it's working, but again, is the advert the source of the value?

No. Instead the true value is generated by the team that decided how and when to deploy the campaign and the strategy, the content and the ideas they provided.

Although you can target and hone services like PPC or Facebook ads to within an inch of their lives to show ROI, it's still a constant juggling act. If your carefully constructed formula for success should change for some reason -and it will, remember we're dealing with real people in the real world here – then suddenly your campaign's a failure.

4: Too much data spoils the campaign.

By overly relying on statistics and data we're ultimately driving our campaigns towards mediocrity. Yes there's a risk of failure, but in order to truly excel it's important to occasionally put aside previous data and try new techniques.

Just because something worked before doesn't mean it will forever, and it certainly won't provide you with a new breakthrough strategy for new markets.

5: Different measurement for different departments.

Ultimately it's not unreasonable for managers to want some kind of ROI. Your finance department needs to know it isn't just throwing money away, but there may be a need for an organisational shift in perspective and a redefining of what we think of as real value.

Marketing departments are fundamentally different from finance for example, or R&D.

MD's and CEO's are charged with allocating budgets, providing extra input in specific areas in order to ultimately increase a company's total value. But when it comes to marketing there shouldn’t always be a solid, inflexible budget, or absolute numerical accountability.

Instead, marketers should rely on persuasive arguments and the ability to predict trends in order to justify budgets. If a business owner realises this and measures his marketer's performance accordingly then it opens up a world of flexible, workable experiments and new groundbreaking campaigns.

6: Track long term results.

Every strategic tactic doesn't need to provide instant ROI. Instead, marketing needs to be measured against ultimate business objectives.

All departments including marketing should provide profit, but if you want a successful marketing strategy, then the realisation that it may not always provide great ROI is an important one.

Instead of instant, qualitative ROI, think about how your marketing department provides your business with true, long term value and measure accordingly.

Matt Owen

Published 12 July, 2010 by Matt Owen

Matt Owen is a marketing consultant based in London. He was previously Head of Social at Econsultancy and currently runs Atomise Marketing. Opinions expressed are author's own.

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Comments (8)

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Paul Marsden

Matt, nice post and good caveats on drinking the ROI Koolaid.  Number Six is really pertinent - long term ROI on achieving business objectives, not simple transactions.

Nevertheless, I think not investing in ROI is quite mad - we need ROI numbers - financial return minus financial investment - in order to allocate budgets intelligently.

For example how do I know how much to invest in print ads vs. a social media campaign?  If I get a better financial return investing in print ads rather than a social media campaign, then I'd be mad to over-weight social media in my limited budget.

Sure social media marketers shouldn't get more hung up on ROI than traditional ad industry (where ROI is difficult to measure), but the burden of proof is on the challenger, not the incumbent - we want their budget!

And of course, it's nice to say social media campaigns should be done as well as traditional advertising, but in the real world if you do one thing it's instead of another. What we need, IMO, in the world of social media marketing is our version of the Effies,

about 8 years ago

Matt Owen

Matt Owen, Marketing Consultant at Atomise Marketing

Thanks Paul, overall I agree, there is a definite balancing act to be carried out. Ultimately I feel we shouldn't rely on instant numbers in order to plan long term goals (there is after all something to be said for short term profit as well), I do feel there's a tenedency for marketing departments to get too entrenched in data as they constantly try to meet targets. Instead, a good manager must think hard about how to balance the two and not always demand instant returns. In other words: Experiment, and occasionally be willing to fail.

about 8 years ago


Stuart Witts

Are we also missing one of the most important indicators of success? Excitement! How often do we factor in the benefits of excitement when working out our spreadsheets and measurement indicators? Surely it’s one of the most important markers of success and a damned fine ROI. Excitement is infectious. It generates it’s own energy field. When people are excited they take chances, they support one another and MAKE THINGS HAPPEN.

about 8 years ago

Stuart Witts

Stuart Witts, Tall Man with Glasses

Are we also missing one of the most important indicators of success? Excitement!

How often do we factor in the benefits of excitement when working out our spreadsheets and measurement indicators? Surely it’s one of the most important markers of success and a damned fine ROI.

Excitement is infectious. It generates it’s own energy field. When people are excited they take chances, they support one another and MAKE THINGS HAPPEN.

about 8 years ago


Joanne Jacobs

I agree that becoming too obsessed with ROI is an extraordinarily bad idea, but of course we should be clear that the main problem with ROI is that most organisations measure the wrong things.  The alignment between objectives for a social media campaign and what is actually measured is often so far off course that ROI reporting - even for a 'successful' campaign - is effectively meaningless.  

I think it's far more useful to be clear on what campaign *failure* looks like, rather than campaign success.  At least that way you know when to change your strategy.  

about 8 years ago


Barry Mills

This post, and several comments, demonstrate a fundamental lack of understanding of what ROI means. But also, inadvertently probably, demonstrate the dangers of placing ROI responsibility in the hands of people who don't fully understand it.

What you should have said, and possibly meant, was "reasons not to obsess over ROI tracking software". Then I'd agree wholeheartedly. But to do anything you don't believe will generate a positive ROI is, by definition, wasting money.

Sometimes, you have to be prepared for the scenario that the ROI won't be directly measurable. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist. ROI just means that you ultimately get more back than you spend, one way or another. It might come from measurable things like clicks or online sales, it might come from harder (but possible) to measure things like brand awareness or perception, or customer loyalty. Often, you can't meaningfully attribute these things to one marketing activity - how customers feel about your brand or whether they remember it at all are rarely determined by a single touch point. But what you CAN do is a "sanity check".

You can look at the measurable elements of ROI like clicktracks and say, "OK, they justify half the spend, or whatever, so what do we get for the other half?". You can look at the overall impact of your marketing spend in terms of new customers, increased retention and brand awareness, and apportion values to each, plus maybe other goals you have. Then you look at the portion of your spend under scrutiny and ask whether it's likely to have had at least a pro-rata impact. ROI is not a tick-box reporting exercise, it's a way of challenging your thinking to get the best value for your spend. There's absolutely nothing that makes sense that can't be justified on ROI grounds if you think about it carefully. It can't always be 100% proved by software (actually, it can't ever be 100% proved by software, despite what the vendors tell you), but that's no reason to try and ignore it.

about 8 years ago


Seyoum Abay, Head of Digital at Sales & Marketing

I am so glad for Barry's comment. Thanks Barry! Perhaps if we focused on ROI like if it was part of a Business Case and we asked the question...what are the quantitative and qualitative targets/benefits of the campaign? The problem many people actually do this on EVERY campaign? Specially a Social Media campaign. There is no problem experimenting...that's just part of marketing....but like R&D....if we're going to pump money into R&D....we need to define, measure and optimise what works and cut what doesn't. Take Market Research for example...we take it for granted that if done properly there is a definite ROI. But we don't obsess about its financial ROI...why(?)....because it isn't in an experimental phase like Social Media marketing is. Perhaps we've all just become complacent...

almost 8 years ago



There'll be a lot of bankrupt businesses pumping money into adv. that doesn't produce results with this advice

almost 8 years ago

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