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The Indirect Value of Social Media Marketing

Written by David Harry   
Thursday, 08 May 2008 07:05

 VanGoghApparently the injury to Dave's hand has affected more than his typing. For whatever reason he's given me the keys to the blog and entrusted me for the day. Let's all wish him a speedy recovery, but do keep in mind the obvious opportunity to guest post here while his faculties may not be completely intact. Kidding aside, I'm sure Dave would appreciate a few more guest posts while his ability to type is limited.

The Immeasurable Value with the Greater Return – by Steven Bradley

A few months ago here on the trail, there began a discussion on the value of social media marketing. Specifically, looking for more information about the following:

  1. How to plan a program ( with a real-world example)
  2. How to time manage said program
  3. How to measure and manage costs
  4. How to measure it (KPI)
  5. How to determine ROI (return on investment)

The discussion continued, first with responses to the above questions from some offering social media marketing services and then with a look at the qualitative value of social media. If you need a refresher, you can read each of the three posts;

 

The Qualitative Approach

I want to continue the discussion, focusing mostly on the last of the posts above, the qualitative value of social media marketing. There's a tendency for some to want to find and measure the direct ROI that comes from playing in social communities, but most of the value is indirect and more difficult to measure.

The return is in the brand building and the networking. Those wanting to measure ROI seem more focused on the "media," but it's the "social" where the true value lies. In his post, Social Media Networking and ROI: How to Maximize Value and Minimize Cost, Maki observed that;

" It’s not easy to correlate the returns you receive with social networking. Any attempt at measurement will be inevitably incomplete. You can’t pin down every visitor and know how if networking has enhanced the way they feel about your brand. What you can do is to focus on improving your ROI efficiency, which means improving the rate of benefits you’ll get from the time or money spent networking. "

Focusing on your ROI efficiency and your rate of benefit is a better approach to me and a better way to understand the value social media delivers. To me it's more that each social interaction potentially leads to your next opportunity. It's not always possible though, to know where that next opportunity will appear and which or how many of your interactions led to it.

 

My Real-world Experience

Recently my participation in Twitter led to a request for a guest post at Search Engine People. The post was well received at several social sites and was subsequently discovered by someone who offered me a paid writing assignment for an article that will be published on the Online Merchant Network in a couple of weeks.

the qualitative effectI could attempt to measure the ROI as having made $X for participating Y hours at Twitter, but that misses the true value. The money is only a small part of the ultimate value that will be returned.

The one article has the potential for more and so the monetary value could multiply. There's also no way at the moment to know who will see the article or any future ones and where those will lead. I can look at both the guest post and the article and count the links in each I acquired and add in any new subscribers I receive for publishing in front of new audiences. Those subscribers may lead to more links and more subscribers and on and on.

It's impossible to accurately measure all of the return. It's also impossible to accurately measure everything that led up to any value I'll extract. It's easy to say that the article came as a direct result from the guest post, but was the guest post a direct result of tweeting? Was I really offered a guest post based on a few tweets or were those tweets simply the final piece of the puzzle?

Is it possible that having seen my blog or one or more of my profiles at sites like Sphinn, StumbleUpon, del.icio.us, or perhaps a comment I left any of several forums led to the request to write for Search Engine People. It might even have been a guest post I'd written elsewhere or even someone else talking about me on some social site.

There's really no way to know for certain which interaction or how many interactions it took to get from point A to point B. What I'm sure of though, is that none of the above events would have happened had I not joined the conversation at Twitter.

Again the value from social media is the connections you make and the series of events and opportunities those connections lead to.

 

Social Media Goals

Getting back to Maki's post for a moment he defined 4 goals of social media marketing:

  1. Increased brand awareness
  2. Improved reputation
  3. Personal Development
  4. Relationships with benefits

I'll argue that any of the above goals, while difficult to measure, are more important than any of the usual returns you can easily measure. Building mindshare will take you further than a #1 ranking for any term. It will prove more beneficial than a successful AdWords campaign. If I were to say SEO Book, what would your first response be? Probably the name Aaron Wall. Do you need a search engine to find the site?

Stop for a moment and think how powerful that is. No search was needed, not money spent per click, not TV nor magazine advertising. That's mindshare alone. Admittedly Aaron didn't build that mindshare through social media, but there are others who have. That's the ultimate benefit of social media marketing. If I can't measure the value or the return directly - so be it.

I'll leave you to consider some of the above for now and if Dave is willing I'll hang on to the spare key to the blog that he's handed me. I'm not quite ready to give it up and let's face it, with only one hand to fight can he really take it away from me?

Hopefully it won't come that and I'll be welcomed back to add a few more thoughts to the discussion.

 

Dave Speaks; well, well… considering my Doc looks poorly at the prospect of me hitting anything for the near future.. it’s a safe assumption - U win... I do agree there is often still more emphasis on quantitative desires with social spaces than is likely warranted. I believe there are a lot of SEOs or other marketer types in SMM that are simply used to quantifications; adaptation is still slow. A worthy discussion to be sure…

If you have the time, feel free to saddle up again soon … was a great ride ;0)

 

… and for those riding along today with us (heyyuup) check out Steven’s Search Marketing Blog and grab his feed!

 

Comments  

 
0 # Andy Beard 2008-05-08 12:50
You can measure a huge amount more than is currently measured, just the technology to do it hasn't come to market.

If you want to take it to extremes, it is possible to come up with an algorithm that will reward me for any revenue generated based upon the likelihood that my comment helped bring in a search visitor.

it is quite possible to track traffic coming from this comment back to my site, and give Dave a share of any affiliate commissions earned from his referral traffic.

If you measure things enough, you can come up with a value of leaving a comment here in real monetary terms.

People who say it is not possible to measure just aren't marketers ;-)
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0 # Dave 2008-05-08 13:10
Hey Andy - that is certainly true in a perfect world and in later research I looked into private corporate social communities which enable great product development cycles and more... so there are many ways it can be utilized.. just much of branding is hard to put real metrics on..

Beyond branding there is the whole 'engagement metric' problem... we're just not there yet as U mentioned.

... as for being a marketer, I stand by being a humble search geek :0
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0 # Steven Bradley 2008-05-08 13:16
True enough Andy. I know if you put enough technology in place you can track a lot.

But what about the case where someone sees your comment here and doesn't click. Then they see another comment on another blog and still doesn't click. Maybe it's 5th comment they finally click. At that point your comment here isn't being measured as having led to the click, but I'd argue it did play it's part in getting the eventual click.

That's where I think things can't always be measured. I agree a lot can be measure, but there are always some things that play a part and have value, that we won't be able to accurately measure.
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0 # Christopher Wellbelove 2008-05-10 15:38
I an constantly being asked to demonstrate ROI for this type of activity.

Returns on Social Media should be looked at in a similar way to traditional PR. 'The return on attention' or 'mindshare' gained from engaging in Social Media, with the resultant coverage from blogs, fans of Facebook pages or videos viewed is on par to the column inches of coverage in newspapers and magazines.

The difficulty is the people working on social networking within companies are either from a technical or marketing background, where ROI is measured in a different way. As it is recognised that this activity is effectively on-line PR the acceptable ways of measurement should and must change.
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0 # Andy Beard 2008-05-14 19:16
It is actually possible to measure that tracking scenario of you reading a comment here, and then reading a comment somewhere else, and then clicking on it.

For all you know Google is already doing it
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0 # Dave 2008-05-14 21:26
@Andy - sure, but accurately measuring/assigning intent and engagement are not so cut and dry. It could be a matter of months or secondary media that also play into the building of the brand.

Assigning too much value of web metrics in terms of brand building can make a mess of potential KPIs and mislead a researcher. So while they 'can' be measured, I wouldn't put a ton of weight in them.....at least not with secondary qualitative data (surveys/focus groups)...

2c

tnx for dropping back BTW.. ;0) C U on the trails... :Pinch:
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