10 steps to prove the ROI of social media marketing

21st Mar 2011

All marketing should prove its worth. Social media marketing (SMM) is no different.

Unfortunately, research suggests that a majority of organisations are ‘dabbling’ in social media without any form of strategic plan. Many also have no effective tracking of how successful, or otherwise, their SMM is. This lack of measurement means that it’s difficult to prove return on investment (ROI) of SMM which leads many to question its value.
The ROI of SMM should, therefore, be a responsibility of every marketer engaged in social media marketing.
But where do you start?

Step 1: Start with your vision

Start by deciding that you can and will prove ROI. This is possible if you align your SMM so that it supports the organisation’s overall vision. This vision may be the aspiration to ‘be No1 in our marketplace’ or ‘To grow turnover by X% within three years’.
With a clarity of vision, you can choose how SMM will support the three key objectives of all businesses. These are, of course, to:
  1. Make money
  2. Save money
  3. Increase customer satisfaction
The challenge of SMM is to trace it back to these fundamentals. Thus, whilst it’s fine to engage in SMM to build ‘brand awareness’ it’s of little business use unless it translates into making or saving money.

Step 2: Map your customer touchpoints

When you’re clear about your vision and key objectives, you can map your SMM onto your customer touchpoints.
A customer touchpoint map describes how and where non-customers, customers and other stakeholders experience your brand before, during and after a purchase. 
A customer touchpoint analysis will highlight where SMM could play its part in moving people from being non-customers to loyal advocates (an essential element of SMM success).
For example, you may decide that SMM could help by drive visitors to your website. User generated content (UGC) on your website - such as positive ratings and reviews - should reassure those new visitors and encourage them to buy from you.
SMM could also provide an opportunity to build a community of interest around your products and services. A community that continues to buy from you, refers others and provide an excellent source of customer insight.

Step 3: Identify your social media pre-cursors

Of course, just because someone ‘re-tweets’ one of your tweets does not mean that you’ll see a sudden spike in sales. The response to your SMM will be more complicated than that.
SMM is less cause-and-effect and more like overlapping ripples on a pond. SMM generates interlocking layers of responses. Responses that occur before you see the behaviour(s) you’re looking for - such as increased web visitors, a rise in sales and repeat visitors.
You need to draw up, therefore, a list of your social media pre-cursors. These are the actions and responses in social media you will need to spot before you reach your objectives. 
Let’s imagine you hope that your Facebook pages will provide a new stream of prospects to your business. Your socal media pre-cursors would, therefore, include a growth in the number of Facebook fans, an increase comments on your updates and more people adding their own content.
If you were adding videos to YouTube, in the hope of building brand awareness perhaps, you would first need to see an increase in the number of Views, Likes and Comments.
Unfortunately, in themselves, your social media pre-cursors are not valuable financially. Nevertheless, you must monitor and track a growth in these pre-cursors before you will any hope of achieving your objectives.

Step 4: Conduct your social media research

It is only once you have finished your thinking and planning, that you’re ready to conduct your initial research. Use the following tools to determine how visible, respected and influential your brand is online.
  • Website analytics e.g. Google Analytics - An important starting point to determine how much of your visitor traffic is coming from social media. Your analytics software.
  • Blogosphere monitoring e.g. - Bloggers are key influencers online. Use Technorati or Blogpulse to find out what, if anything, they’re saying about you.
  • Twitter monitoring e.g. Tweetdeck - Twitter acts as an early warning radar to the rest of the social Web. Use Tweetdeck, Twazzup or Monitter to check out this essential service.
  • Social networks e.g. Facebook - Spend some time searching through Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Ning sites to discover what’s being said.
  • Discussion forums e.g. Boardtracker - Discussion boards have been around a long time. They provide a rich stream of information that can stretch back a long way.
  • Social search engines e.g. Social Mention - A little hit and miss at times but specialist search engines such as Social Mention or Samepoint or Addictomatic, can give you a useful overview of social media.
Don’t take too long over this initial research. Unless there’s something serious to attend to, such as negative comments in a discussion forum perhaps, move along quickly. At this stage you’re trying to form a snapshot of what’s out there.
You can dig deeper later.

Step 5: Collate the information

If you’ve just begun SMM, you’ll probably dig up very little about your brand. Obviously, if you have been heavily engaged in SMM you might have lots of material to go through.
Collate your results into whatever format makes sense for you. Tabulate the number of mentions you found, the number of comments on your content, the percentage of negative verus positive ratings your products have received, the number of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter followers you have, page views on your blog, the volume of traffic from SM into your main site as a percentage of overall traffic and so on.

Step 6: Analyse the information

Once you’ve pulled your data together, draw out useful observations and conclusions.
You may be able to determine the total size of your audience by adding up various ‘populations’ across different SM platforms. Although people will view your content in several places online, you may also be able to tease out the percentage of your offline or ‘real-world’ audience you are reaching.
You should also try and judge the level of ‘Influence’ you have. You can tell this by the number of (positive) comments your blog posts receive or how many times they are bookmarked in Delicious or Stumbleupon.
You could also judge how interesting your brand is online or by how often key online influencers post about you. These influencers will be those respected bloggers and twitterers (usually the same people) with large and loyal audiences.
If you’re looking for increased visitor traffic, you could check how much traffic to your website is coming from SM. And if you’re looking to SMM to generate sales, you could see how much of that traffic is converting into enquiries, leads and sales.

Step 7: Seek insight

Whatever you do with this data, don’t drown in it. Be focused about what you’re looking for. Remember, reporting is not an outcome. Seek insight instead.
What you are really looking for is what drives behaviour. What types of actions - that you could imitate or initiate - encourage people to act. What type of content does your audience find appealing? Which topics start them talking and which do they ignore?
See if you can tell how long your web videos should be or which types of photo content to produce.
What you’re looking for is not only volume of activity but the quality of activity. Or, to put it another way, which type of SMM will create a reaction in the direction of your objectives. If you can spot this, you can focus your efforts in crafting the type of content that interests your audience(s).

Step 8: Draw a ‘line in the sand’

When you have collated and analysed your data, you will need to make an important decision.
You will need to choose a point in time or data point in your figures that you choose as ‘Ground Zero.’ To put it another way, choose a point at which you’ll describe as ‘Before we started SMM’ and ‘afterwards’.
This baseline will be what you will now use to monitor the effectiveness of the SMM activity that follows. Only by choosing this, somewhat arbitrary, Baseline, will you have any chance of spotting trends and proving the ROI of your SMM.

Step 9: Begin your social media marketing

Focused by your goals, objectives and baselines, you can now begin, or re-start your social media marketing in earnest.
Launch that blog you’ve been planning. Start tweeting. Post your videos to YouTube and ramp up the updates to your Facebook and LinkedIn communities.
If you’re like many marketers, you are probably both excited and overwhelmed by the potential of SMM. However, unlike many marketers, you are now better prepared to make an and spend less time analysing and more time creating.
Because content creation is what it’s all about.

Step 10: Conduct regular ROI analyses

At regular intervals, conduct the same social media research as you did before. Using the same tools, this should be a rolling programme of monitoring. A programme that should run alongside your normal web analytics reporting and analysis.
By conducting regular monitoring and reporting, you will soon build up a vital database of information. You should start seeing trends in the direction of your goals and objectives. Trends that you should see began from the Baseline(s) you chose before.
As long as you’re truly committed to SMM and stay the course, these trends should all be positive and in the direction of your goals. Unlike the majority of marketers engaged in social media not only will you be tracking your efforts, you will also be able to prove ROI too.
Andrew Lloyd Gordon is an online marketing expert, speaker and trainer. For further information visit his website or his Twitter handle, or his LinkedIn profile.

Replies (1)

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By its_me
22nd Dec 2011 10:44

Social networking for branding your business and reaching your customers has become almost mandatory. If you do not get aggressive then this platform could help you promote your products with great results. Another online method to get to your customers is through classified ads; for reaching my customers in Nashville I prefer Nashville classifieds.

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