The past couple of months have been interesting. The conversations around the ROI in Social Media have increased. Understandably.
On more than one occasion, I've been caught in the middle of a debate discussing the value of Social Media within the organization or a debate about the value of Social Media in terms of building a brand. My default position on Social Media ROI is based on something I've heard Richard Binhammer over at Dell say on countless occasions. Binhammer believes that ROI is both an accounting term and something that needs to look at every aspect of the business (and not just one department). His preference (and mine too!) is to look at corporate business objectives and figure out from there if there is a way for Social Media (or any other Digital Marketing platform) to help the business achieve those goals.
My personal experience tells me that there is always some kind of way to make it work.
As pragmatic as that may sound to you (and let's face it, if you're reading this Blog... or any Blog... you're already a believer), I've often been confronted with senior executives who think the ultimate value of doing anything in Social Media is the free advertising. Now, before you go snorting whatever beverage is in your hand right now all over the screen you're looking at, it's a sound argument. The logic is that as long as a brand is being mentioned anywhere and everywhere (and that the brand is not paying for it), than it's as good as free advertising. And yes, we're making a general assumption that what is being said is both positive or neutral (and not negative).
Pushing that further, if a brand wants to do their own thing, and not just sit back and let their consumers talk them up for free in Social Media channels, it's also free and simple to do it on their own. Afterall, how much does it cost to set-up a Facebook page? Free! How much does it cost to tweet? Free! How much does it cost to post a video to YouTube? Free!
Get the picture?
They're not wrong... and that's why they're doing it. It's free, fast and easy (plus, if you're not serious about the channels, it doesn't take much time, cost or energy to get an intern or entry-level person to do the manual labor). In my first book, Six Pixels of Separation, I had a section titled, In Praise of Slow. The point of it? Slow simply means that long-term results take time. Building relationships where people actually talk positively about you take time. Building trust, credibility and alliances takes a whole lot of time. The only shortcut and the only free lunch is if you use these channels as a repository for everything you're doing within the broadcast media channels (and hey, if that works for you and people care about that type of engagement, more power to you). If you're starting a Blog and you pre-load posts with made-up questions, or semi-edited snippets of old press releases, you're not really adding much value, and you are not speeding up the process for you to become successful (because it's not authentic and valuable). In fact, you are probably slowing it down - it will take you even longer to correct course and build the right conversation.
If the only corporate imperative is to do this for the free advertising, something tells me that Social Media will, undoubtedly, let you down. Hard.