The old saying “No good deed goes unpunished” is a reflection on a sad but often accurate fact: those who do good deeds are often not rewarded for them.

Enter social media, which is giving good deeds a new lease on life. Need proof? Just ask Panera Bread.

The Nashua, New Hampshire location of the popular bakery chain took the time to make life a little more enjoyable for the grandmother of a gentleman named Brandon Cook. The Yahoo TrendingNow blog explains how Panera Bread went out of its way to help Cook and his grandmother:

Apparently, Brandon’s grandmother is not a fan of the soup that was being served at the hospital, and really wanted a bowl of Panera’s clam chowder. Only problem: The chowder is served only on Fridays.

So Brandon called Panera and was told by the manager, Suzanne Fortier, that they would make an exception for his grandmother. When he arrived at the store, he was given a box of cookies as well as the requested chowder.

Thrilled with the treatment he received, Cook took to Facebook to tell his story and praise Panera Bread. The result: his post has been liked more than 585,000 times and generated over 24,000 comments in just a week.

The secret to social media ROI?

Many brands are struggling to quantify how much ROI their social media initiatives are generating. Make no mistake about: given the amount many brands are investing in social, this is a huge problem that must be addressed.

But an inability to calculate social ROI doesn’t mean that social media doesn’t have productive capacity. In the case of Panera Bread, the decision by a single store manager to do a simple but good deed for an ailing woman has arguably generated far better results than most planned and/or paid social media initiatives. Can we put a dollar figure on Panera Bread’s return from the publicity generated by Cook’s post? No, but given that Panera Bread didn’t spend a cent buying Facebook ads or paying somebody to tweet, the dollar figure doesn’t really matter.

The lesson here: good deeds often get noticed, and in some cases, they’ll capture attention far and wide. That doesn’t mean that Panera Bread-like examples are the norm, or that every good deed will resonate with hundreds of thousands of people. But Panera Bread’s experience reinforces the business world’s Golden Rule: build a company where employees treat customers well and those customers will be far more likely to return the favor — some times in ways that far exceed what any marketer or strategist can ever be expected to deliver.