It’s hard to be in social media these days and avoid tweets, blog posts and webinars on the Return on Investment of “Social Media”. Apparently, marketers have to be taught how to sell the importance of “Social Media” to their CEOs. And research after research shows that marketers are allocating more and more of their dollars to “Social Media”. They would love to be accountable for that investment.
And that’s a good thing, but let’s be very clear here. Social Media do not take incremental budget. They’re essentially free. That is exactly why so many people, business and civilian, have embrased Social Media wholeheartedly. It doesn’t cost any money.
It’s free to create Twitter and Facebook accounts, launch blogs, build a LinkedIn profile, and attract followers. There is no marketing money involved in browsing the web for relevant communities to contribute to. I won’t raise a Purchase Order to ask a question during a free online seminar, would I?
You just need knowledgeable staff, with some time on their hands, great content for them to share and discuss, and a seasoned community manager with a content strategy in his back pocket.
“Hold on! Stop! Wait a second there! You said it was free, and now you tell me to go hire a seasoned – seasoned! – community manager, for the love of Christ?! And that guy will probably consult with an expensive agency, wouldn’t he? And he will be telling knowledgeable staff on how to behave online, at the risk of distracting them from their real day job?!? You don’t fool me: There is a cost to Social Media after all, and a sizeable one, if you ask me!”
Indeed, that does represent a considerable cost. But can’t you free up that money by sizing down your paid media staff, and investment? You know very well that social media will bring deeper brand connections, more engaged customers, and higher return on sales. Wouldn’t it be a great thing to have the whole company involved in external communications ?
O, and by the way: When was the last time you really, honestly calculated the ROI of your corporate website? Your customer event? Your email newsletter? Your Google AdWords campaign? Admit it: There is a whole host of things that are being taken for granted in marketing and communications, where nobody ever asks for ROI. We do it, because we do it, and don’t think twice about the money we spend.
As to Social Media: You need money to create great content, not to get it out to your target audiences.
It’s true, in marketing and communications, ROI is about the only metric we can bring forth to prove our raison d’etre. If you can’t produce it, you’re being earmarked as just another cost center, a parasite sucking the life out of sales operations and profitability – and you will probably face budget cut after budget cut for the rest of your career in marketing (if you’ll even have any). In Marketing, and even more so in Social Marketing, we need to show the ROI of every step we take.
But you know what: I bet your CEO isn’t even subscribed to your email newsletter, and she hasn’t set foot inside your corporate website for ages, either. So don’t worry about selling Social Media to your executive staff. And please don’t tell the researchers that you’re allocating 250% more budget to Social Media in this calendar year. You’re not. You’re investing in great content. The rest of it is free.
And there really isn’t a better Marketing ROI around, is there?