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You can’t handle the truth! (About social media ROI.)

Fri 11th Jul 2014
By Todd
Social Media

As a social media manager I’m constantly sticking up for social media. In particular I often defend it from attack from larger companies. You know the sort; bigger businesses, companies that measure stuff, companies that need to analyse everything, companies that take moons to get sh*t done – companies that need to know the Return On Investment (ROI) of everything before they think about doing anything!

I prefer to get on with ideas while they’re fresh and current. I understand that larger operations can’t just implement every idea the intern has, but that doesn’t make it less frustrating for me. But then again, that’s a great benefit of using a small business like ours – we’re agile and able to be flexible when we need to.


You Can't Handle The Truth Quote

You can’t handle the truth! (About social media ROI.)

The thing that most large operations don’t seem to get is… you can’t measure the ROI of social media.


There. That’ll put the cat amongst the pigeons.

Social media is a wonderful tool and I’ve been using it for years for both business and pleasure. It’s created some amazing connections and helped us at JCF create our business. I’d say that’s pretty much a solid reason to use social media – because it works.

Now the reason most businesses fail at social media is the same reason social fails in their eyes for its ROI. Social media is not a sales tool and it’s not something you can measure accurately like you can with other processes in business.

Measuring ROI on social media has always been a bone of contention with the marketing industry.

Yes, there are tools that measure social. There are clever codes in bits of software and plenty of equations if you fancy them.

Yes, social media is digital so you can track stuff.

Yes, you can get graphs and numbers from dashboards – and who doesn’t love a pie chart with multi-coloured sections?!


But here’s the thing about ROI in marketing…


You can’t measure the reach of an advert on the side of a bus, and you can’t track the engaged readers of a newspaper advert.

Think about it. You’ve been more than happy to use adverts and other old school methods for years. Companies still advertise on radio, but they don’t get a pie chart to show who actually heard or paid attention to the ads. The radio, newspaper or bus company will have metrics on estimated eyes and ears that your marketing will reach – but it’s all guesswork!

It still works though. If it didn’t, businesses wouldn’t do it.

But when it comes to social media you have numbers, stats, and digital evidence to play with. You have followers, fans, retweets, shares, reach, favourites, +1s, time sensitive metrics, advertising targeted to genre and interests. With all this comes the obvious view that you can measure the ROI of all that posting and interacting.

But the results are still fairly meaningless. Sure, they show a popular post and a bad one. They can help you change your direction or post at better times and yes, you can reach the right audience and see if they clicked…


But they just clicked.


So what? Unless they came to your website and bought something from a social media post and you can track that on Google Analytics (which you can) then most of those clicks are just that. Clicks.

Clicks are just like stares. Someone can view your content but you can’t truly measure if that led to sales all the time. You can of course ask people to mention your ad when they buy. You can have a special basket code that you only shared on Facebook. You can track sales to a point…

… but what if you don’t do actual product sales?

What if you’re like us and you have a website with information about training and services, and really what you’re after is leads and connections? Then those clicks are indications of conversation and potential connections. Unless you track how everyone you deal with finds you (you should by the way; we do) then you’ll just be looking at stats from Hootsuite or Buffer.

Here's a pie chart for you ROI fans out there...
Here’s a pie chart for you ROI fans out there…


How do you measure the ROI in social media?


I tell you how we measure it:

  • Clicks to the website via social media channels that lead to clicks of our ‘goal’ pages (pages that we want people to land on).
  • Conversations. We look at our mentions, RTs, replies, likes, +1s, shares and all that to see how much ‘noise’ we’re creating.
  • But most importantly… we ask people how they heard about us. It’s classic but simple to implement. If they say someone referred us then we work out who they are and if we’re ‘social’ with them (usually that’s the case).

Here’s how you don’t measure it:

  • Twitter follower numbers. These are irrelevant if you don’t know for sure that they are all potential clients, customers or leads.
  • Facebook fans. Again, they’re pointless if they don’t interact with your page posts and updates, especially as Facebook now hides Pages that people don’t interact with.
  • How many likes you got for a cat video that had nothing to do with your business. Going viral is cool – if it’s got something to do with your business.


Social media is rarely about sales; it’s all about awareness of you, your business and your brand.


When you look at the big companies doing social media well you’ll notice a common trend; they don’t sell – they communicate.

The greatest thing about social media is that you can talk to (and listen to) your customers instead of selling to them. The problem with selling like we used to was that it was one-sided.

Advert out. No response needed.

With that comes a problem. How will you ever learn about what people actually want if you don’t listen?

No one built a relationship from a billboard or TV ad. Relationships are what drive sales, and we all know that people buy from people, right? (You didn’t forget that while you where creating a graph of Facebook likes, did you?)

Social media allows us to engage and build trust with our audience whether they’re a customer already or not. How do you measure trust and conversations or brand awareness and reputation? It’s not impossible but I’d argue you couldn’t measure all of it correctly to please most businesses.


I know this is going to upset you big guns but… stop measuring and start talking!


There’s a great YouTube video by Erik Qualman called the Social Media Revolution and there’s a powerful quote in it that says:

“The ROI of social media is that your business will still exist in 5 years.”

It’s not about measuring clicks and numbers of social followers, it’s about getting on and doing it, and doing it well.

Be social. Be a listener. Share content that people will share because it offers them value. And if you really do have to make pie charts and graphs to please yourself or others, then create one for your sales and growth. Keep an eye on that bottom line – that’s what everything should be measured on!

Now it’s over to you…

Pop a comment in the box below and tell us what you think. How do you measure your success on social media? Do you even measure it? We’d love to hear from you, so get commenting.

Need more help? Join us on our digital marketing workshop. Head over to our page now or book your tickets below…


Tags associated with this article

Social Media

6 comments on this article

  • Jo Hanson at 10:33am on July 12th 2014

    Hi Todd and Jo.

    I found your post on ‘You can’t handle the truth! (About social media ROI) Very useful. I have been on Twitter for six months now and found the knowledge sharing beneficial. I work in communications, so Twitter is a good platform for engaging and sharing tips and knowledge, having that direct contact with the experts builds that platform.

    Companies should see social media, as a good communication tool to reach out to a customer and respond to their needs and at the same time building invested interests with other organisations and key suppliers. It is good for advertising to a certain point, but not to the point where you are just talking at the followers, rather than any two way engagement.

    I don’t use stats on Twitter, simply because my contact is more on my profession, to use in my working role. I think it is interesting how some companies have customers through no choice of the customer, especially in the public sector, they may not want to follow the organisation, but they still have an invested interest to do so.

    So there is a real mix mash of why individuals or business have followers, sometimes it’s not always for the reason that the business think. For me it doesn’t on a smaller scale, so it is interesting to find that companies would measure there ROI in this way. Companies need to think about social media as more of an engagement tool, and they are deluded into thinking that the clicks and followers on social media can measure their popularity or success.

    1. Graham Todd at 10:35am on July 12th 2014

      Thanks, Jo – what a great comment!

      It’s a tricky one to sell from my perspective as our customers want to know what they’re getting from our work. I don’t blame them, but I try to educate them in the ways of social media and use some big brands as examples.

      I of course love the fact you can’t measure it because it means that I have a constant stream of confused businesses to help. But in the flip side, it’s often hard to convince bigger companies to invest and it does leave the door open to very bad social media companies who will never truly be held up for their work.

  • Louise Fox at 19:26pm on July 16th 2014

    Not to sound too much like Meg Ryan in ‘When Harry met Sally’, but Yes, yes & yes! Thank you for answering a question I asked myself only last week! I’m still fairly new to the wonderful world of Twitter (become slightly addicted) but have learnt very quickly, people don’t use Social Media to be sold to.

    Your 3 messages on how you do & don’t measure ROI is absolutely spot on.
    Thank you clarifying so many points that were making me over-think & start to question our activity & procedures moving forward.

    Thanks again.


    1. Graham Todd at 21:41pm on July 16th 2014

      Thanks, Louise. Glad it helped. Selling on social media certainly doesn’t work and I’m pleased you’ve grasped that! 😉

  • Tom Dillon – Silver Lobster at 9:21am on July 17th 2014

    I’m not very good at Meg Ryan impressions, (stop visualising it please) but just to back up your observations; a client that has recently engaged me to deliver some leadership coaching came to a talk I gave at the Trident Centre in Warwick. I’d never met her, spoken to her or connected with her before, but I’d advertised my Eventbrite event through Twitter and Linked-in and suddenly there she was. I guess what I need to do now is check which channel she came through. The point is the event was only advertised on those two platforms and here we are doing some lovely business together.

    1. Graham Todd at 9:53am on July 17th 2014

      I can relate to that, Tom. People always find us through random connection and I rack my brains trying to find out how they found us… more often than not it’s because of social media ‘noise’!

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