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The Value of Social Media Marketing

Written by David Harry   
Friday, 15 February 2008 19:00

A Quest to find meaning in a world of warm and fuzzy….

(be sure to catch Part II in the series)

There is one thing that can be said of me when it comes to Social Media Marketing (SMM); I am unconvinced. While it is fun and there is a certain level of glamour to it, ( 15 minutes of fame and all) I have been hard pressed to embrace it as a method of marketing that is appropriate for every situation. When it comes to Small and Medium Sized Businesses, (SMBs) there is often a need to have the marketing dollars return a positive cash flow in a timely manner.

Considering much of SMM is a branding exercise, that a strong social media profile can take time to develop and show any sort of potential return, often it is not an ideal match. The same can be said of budgetary constraints that mean attaining maximum ROI on the marketing dollar is paramount. Most small businesses have a limited if not nonexistent budget for branding activities. These concepts have fallen on deaf ears with some SMM people I know until only recently (yes, one actually conceded it “isn’t for everyone”).

Making sense of Social Media Marketing

 Along this path you will notice more often than not post after post about How to do your social media marketing. You will find plenty of SMM bloggers that sing the praises and give us little tidbits of goodiness to enable us to attract reams of (poorly converting) visitors to our websites and bask in the glow of a crashed server. But there is not enough information on;

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


Much like SEO, each situation is going to be unique and the key performance indicators would vary; this I understand. I still don’t see many in the community talking about how this all plays out in the end. There is no lack of data (surveys etc..) on ROI surrounding other areas such as PPC and SEO, where is it for SMM? What are the timelines to achieving a positive cash flow and what value can we expect from it? What are the common steps to getting to this point? Once again, being a branding activity primarily this will be VERY difficult to establish and furthermore, exceedingly difficult to justify for clients with shorter turnaround expectations for their marketing investments.


When in Rome 

Ok, let’s head on over to the hub for the cool kids of marketing, Sphinn, and see what’s around. We can take some of the more popular SMM stories and writers to see what exactly is out there and who’s actually doing it. See if we can’t crack this nut open a little wider.

Hot Topics; a sampling of the latest goodies.

9 Tips for planning a SMM Campaign – this is more of the basics such as; setting goals, researching communities, networking, monitoring and so on. It doesn’t mention the time required creating content, promoting it and subsequent methods for maximizing/measuring ROI.

the Inconvenient Truth about SMM -  Aaron (Wall) seems to touch on some of the downside issues but there is at least some light at the end of the tunnel for a focused campaign. Obviously nothing here relating to a positive value for our SMM understanding.

..and that was it for the Home Page, let’s go to the SMM section….

Bla blab la… RSS Curse, Stumble Trolls, Nowsourcing interview, blab la bla, Writing for Stumble, oh… that may be something;
  How to write posts for Stumble; hmmmm… standard fare here. I don’t see a mention that you should watch how long you spend on a post since STUMBLE DOESN’T CONVERT. I think you may want to tell a company that it is all for the glory not the bottom line ..ha ha ha… I jest. Anyway, nothing here about the business end…. Moving along…

The 10 Commandments of New Social Media – (what’s gives with the ‘new’?) this turned out to simply be yet another post telling me ‘How to be Social’… some elocution lessons if you will. I think that the 11th Commandment should be – Thou Shall not Seek ROI

…and so it goes. That didn’t give us much now did it? As I looked further down the list it began to look like advice on how to USE social networking/media sites and not so much on leveraging them as a marketing tool.

Heck, some of these would make nice FAQs for the sites in question, just nothing that would fit into a formal marketing plan.


Let’s try my old friend Google; SMM and ROI

Measuring the ROI of your SMM programs – I had hopes for this one. Turns out to be a sad case of Title Bait (nice work Google.. ). There is now mention of ROI and it quickly turned into measuring in ‘qualitative’ means… which unlike quantitative, is nearly impossible to measure, that is the nature of qualitative research and measurement.

SMM Success Metrics – wow… nice one again Google, there is next to nothing here that wasn’t covered in the first one really. Once again, more qualitative suppositions, than there are quantitative metrics.

Measuring ROI from SMM – jeez… this one is from Neil Patel (yr old post) and even Andy chimed in. These are not metrics for ROI guys, at least not in any conventional sense. If you read the comments you can see the problems I have oft highlighted as the business model of RSS subscribers is limited at best.

Measuring Social Media Marketing – ok this one is getting somewhere. I am not a huge fan of engagement metrics, but at least they are reasonable benchmarks. There is also some mention of SM Metrics, which are a tad hazy and remind me of a recent Blog Benchmark post. This post comes closer than any others so far, but still not quite over the top.

 Show me the money!

I have spoken in the past about areas of SMM that cross over with SEO; links being the most viable. This is in no way a concise metric for measuring the value of social marketing though. At least for the SMM industry I certainly hope not. It can also not be about benchmarks such as subscribers as that means it is limited to sites that have content worth syndicating. It can be about brand recognition and market reach, but that would omit smaller companies with limited budgets for said activities. So what is the value of SMM and where does Show me the moneyit fit into the marketing tool box?

You can see the dilemma here; no clear path to understanding the benefits. I dare say formal programs are hard to find and even less is written about key performance indicators and tracking time investments for purposes of actual hard costs and how one offsets them. Could this be the Achilles heel? Is there a reason there is little in the way of chatter to this end? My recent Beer Break has me all the more curious

Is social media marketing for everyone? Or is it merely the lack of formal goal setting, tracking and expectations to blame for some grumblings in the marketplace.


Does Anybody Know?

All of this had me thinking... Recently Lee was gracious enough to add my blog to his Big List ( with some kind words) and I had mentioned in the comments that;

“ While I appreciate the ’social marketer’ tag, it’s not much more than passing interest still and I don’t generally provide the services- still a search geek at heart… makes me wonder about how many SMM Bloggers actually do? I know a few of the ‘cool kids’ in the medium that don’t actually provide said services professionally… is an interesting convo…hmmmm… ”

to which Lee relied;

“ … You bring up a good point. There are a lot of SEOs who pay lip service to social media as a subset of services, but all they really do is submit/vote on social news and bookmarking sites. Most of the SMM bloggers are no different.

At the same time, there are several popular/opinionated social media bloggers who don’t “advertise” that they provide consulting, but I know that they do on a personal basis. ”

I guess we should next try and get some formal opinions on this from those in the know right? I have been asked on a few occasions about doing SMM but have yet to take on any formal contracts as I find the expectations of many SMBs are out of line with what I perceive to be the intent and value of social marketing. I also believe that SMM works better in some situations than it would be for others. But what do I know?


What do the Pros say?

So who among us are professional SMM providers? Maybe some of those folks will be able to clear the muddied waters for us. I decided to contact a few folks and ask them;

  • Do you actively offer Social Media Marketing services and roughly how many clients do you currently service?
  • What size is the average client’s enterprise? SMB? Corporate? Fortune 1000?
  • Do you offer it as a branding activity or as conversion lead asset?
  • Do you track the man hours and content creation costs? What other costs are involved?
  • When you ultimately pitch the service, does ROI get involved and do you sell it more based on qualitative KPI or on quantitative? That is to say are there hard numbers or is it more about further understanding the consumer base and increasing brand reach.
  • If you are tracking, what types of analytics applications do you employ and what primary and secondary metrics are tracked?
  • Do you feel SMM is viable in any situation? Or are the market and budgetary constraints to be considered?
  • Is there anything you’d like to add to the discussion?

We shall see what responses I get back, so be sure to ‘Stay Tuned’ for the next instalment.

If you are a Social Media Marketer that is interested in putting you thoughts in the ring, feel free to contact me - try and keep it civil.( I will use the best of what I get for publication to be sure :0).

 (be sure to catch Part II in the series)


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