By Matthew Klein

January 13th, 2015

The “I” has always been the easiest part of the ROI equation. You invest a certain amount of time, money and other resources to specific tasks, channels and goals, and tracking it all can be relatively straightforward.

Regarding returns, you might be able to figure them out on an overall level–your balance sheet should be able to tell you whether you’re in the red or the black for a given period–but sussing out which investments led to which returns can be tricky to say the least. If your business doubles in value over the course of a year, how much can you attribute to the new CEO’s leadership, and how much credit goes to the increased coffee budget? Short of running your business like a lab trial (start by cutting electricity for a few days to measure just what impact it has on results), there’s no way to know for certain.

And it should be obvious that data is important, but it’s not the same as knowing how to use it.

ROI on social media

Social in a lot of ways makes things easier. There’s a record of every action you take, which is a good start. Social networks provide statistics for engagement, reach, audience, and more, which, with the right tools and perspective, you can pull meaningful insights from. And by adding tracking tools like Google Analytics, you can see how social marketing turns into traffic and conversions.

But (but!) there are things that you absolutely need to invest in on social that you won’t be able to measure the return on, at least not directly or in the short term.

We took a look at social ROI earlier, and Ronja, our head of marketing, said that some of these “softer” elements can lead to ROI on social media, even if they are not measurable. I would even say they’re the foundation on which direct, measurable returns are built. Many of these aspects, though they may be less immediately quantifiable, are important, even essential to your brand, and may make or break your chances of success in the long term.


A good reputation, like confidence on the karaoke stage, is difficult to come by and perilously easy to lose. The returns on your reputation are not always easily measured, but they’re unquestionably significant. Through steady work and good communication, and by living up to the expectations you set, your social presence can help you improve your reputation. This is true for more or less any activity your company might undertake on social.

If you have a social customer care program, it sends strong signals to your customers about what you think of them. The speed and tone of your response and your ability to solve customer issues effectively are a key factor in your company’s reputation.

For marketing or selling on social, are your communications clear, and are you upfront with your customers? Do you provide straightforward, useful product information? Are you too pushy, or too passive? Do you find ways to make the customer’s experience with your brand better?

Reputation is a question of consistency. It’s not always easy to get these things right day in and day out, and doing so likely won’t quadruple your revenues overnight, but they are the stuff on which a solid brand is built.


Your brand persona is intertwined with your reputation, but it carries with it its own set of considerations on and off social.

The “who” of a company can be just as important as the “what.” Like your personality determines in large part who you get along with, brand persona may make the difference in terms of what audiences your brand appeals to.

Brand persona is a combination of how your brand speaks, what it says, what it looks like and what it stands for. Think about the Justin Long Apple ads – his tone, the way he dresses, and most importantly how those things contrast with the PC all add up to the brand persona Apple wants to come across.  

Establishing and maintaining the continuity of your brand persona and the image of your brand is one of the most valuable things you can do, and it’s also not something whose impact can be directly measured.

Everything you do expresses your brand personality–the design of your stores and your product, the wording on your website, how your CEO dresses.  With a tv ad or your website, you have more or less total control over how you define and convey your brand personality and image. You don’t have to release something unless it’s satisfactory.

Things are a little different on social, however. It’s messy, it’s real time, and you don’t own the channel like you do your website (you can’t remove the blue from your company’s Facebook page. Even if, or perhaps because, you can’t control everything, it’s critical to get the details right.

Of course the images you use, and the content you create and distribute, on social play a big part in how people perceive you. But beyond that, your tone of voice, the number of exclamation points you use and other “little things” add up to form people’s impression of you. How’s your grammar? If it’s off, is it on purpose? How long are your updates, and how often do you crack jokes? The answers matter less than whether they are aligned with your goals.


It should be evident that it is worthwhile to spend time nurturing relationships on social media. The problem is that you can lose sight of the fact. Planning your content in advance, setting up a calendar, and coordinating between departments so you are on the same page are all outstanding ideas to build a strong social presence and increase your engagement. Just don’t focus on the stuff you can plan at the expense of what you can’t–spontaneous conversations with people in your social sphere, helping, surprising fans.  

Having someone who’s engaging in these conversations is critical–a social media manager or a community manager–but ideally, it won’t just be one person. People with different roles in your company can bring different things to the table in terms of building and maintaining relationships on social, whether it’s with customers, influencers, or even potential new hires.

They should have the time, training and support of your company, ideally its top management, to be connecting with people that can help your business grow and succeed on social, whether or not the returns are immediate.

Measure better

Just because things like relationships, persona and reputation are not as concrete as profits and loss doesn’t mean they’re not important, and the fact that they are not tracked as neatly or easily as your follower count doesn’t mean they can’t be improved.

If you’re aiming to increase sales, you determine overall targets, then your social teams get goals in terms of traffic and conversions. Likewise for branding, whether it’s in terms of brand personality, relationships or reputation. If you have a clear vision of your brand and your goals for it, you can translate that into guidelines and objectives on social. These may be more qualitative, and don’t need reviewing on a daily basis, but the people involved in social at your company should be briefed on them, and you can regularly perform audits to see how well you’re doing.

In business, there is an impulse to try to measure everything. It’s a good impulse–the things you can measure are the things you can track over time and in turn improve. But, in the end, you can’t cram an entire company into a spreadsheet, and some of the things that are hardest to measure are the ones that matter most.

Cover photo credit: Brad Hagan 

Understanding Social Media ROI

Effectively measure the ROI of your social media marketing so you can optimize it.


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