The Elusive ROI of Social Media

By Stevie Sleeter, Content & Social Media Manager

Published: April 25, 2016

ROI. Return on investment. The conundrum that both plagues marketing departments and intrigues senior executives. The one thing that we all desire to make crystal clear, but remains clear as mud, especially when it comes to social media.

Layer in multiple channels, multiple KPIs, multiple brick and mortar locations and the ability to tie a fan, follower, like, comment, share or retweet to actual dollars becomes increasingly difficult.

Increasingly difficult, but not impossible. On the surface, connecting social efforts to increased sales isn’t inherently clear. Think about it. It’s hard to say when a digital conversation influences buying behavior. But then, the same can be said for sales. In-person sales conversations are not responsible for an immediate sale, rather an extensive and ongoing sales process results (eventually, and not always) in incoming dollars. The same is true for social media, yet we still put undue pressure on identifying its ROI on an all too frequent basis.

Lucky for you, if you are in the situation where social ROI is requested, there are simple ways to better tie digital conversations to sales.

Tricks to Finding ROI

There are a lot of articles around the web that claim to help with this issue, but offer no clear action items or direct ties. Consider the following tips and tricks for your next report to better show social media ROI:

  • Digital Coupons: One of the most obvious ways to tie social efforts to in-store sales is leveraging digital coupons. When setup correctly a campaign that drives social communities to coupons specific to that group is easy to track, provided coupons are housed on a private landing page, linked to using UTM codes and shared strategically with niche audiences.
  • Tie Social Campaigns to Change in Sales: When social media plays a significant role in digital initiatives it’s easy to see correlations between social activity and year over year sales. The real value comes in leveraging social media to create campaigns around specific products or services. Take a grocery store for example. If you create an awareness campaign around a specialty type of steak, fostering conversations and looking at changes in product sales shows a close correlation of success.
  • Create the Ability to Download In-Store Order Forms: Just like leads gathered through form fills, its easy to track PDF downloads and prints. Have an event going on in your location? Or a product or service that customers can order? Add it as a PDF on your website, add the word ‘Online Download’ somewhere on the form, and use unique campaign URLs. Here you can track downloads via analytics and validate actual sales in-store.

All of these help to clearly tie social media efforts to business growth. The key in any situation is to set your goals before hand. Reach, site traffic, leads generated, sign-ups and conversions or revenue generated are all very different goals, achieved through varying social strategies and vastly different ROI measures.

Finally, consider this. ROI is important to some. But maybe “ROI is the wrong term to use. Instead, accept that calculating a specific financial return is not immediately realistic and focus on measuring the overall impact a brand’s social presence has on its relationship with customers.”