Like learning to love Klingon cuisine, social media has an ROI

Bruce Wilson

Here’s a long-ish comment I posted this afternoon in response to a interesting blog post by John Moore, CTO and SVP of Boston’s Swimfish, entitled More crazy talk, Social media, no measurable value but you have to have it?

John,

Thanks, this post is a solid contribution to the ongoing discussion about social media ROI. I flat out agree with much of what you and other commenters say, particularly the insight that people who don’t know how to derive ROI (or don’t want to try) declare it irrelevant. Here are four more thoughts for your consideration:

First, by way of analogy, what’s the ROI for public relations (PR)? So you get some good press. And oh, sales go up. To what extent are those sales causally connected to that PR event? Even when some click-track data can be obtained it’s impossible to know for certain how much revenue to attribute to certain real world occurrences, much of social media included. But there’s no denying that PR can generate revenue, and thus companies above a certain size generally invest in it without having a deterministic ROI requirement. How are one-off social media experiments any different?

Second, what’s the opportunity cost? Sure, social media channels can generate massive revenue (your Dell example). But what if the same resources were put into different channels? While this doesn’t moot the issue of ROI, the added complexity of comparative ROI seems to confound many people trying to make simplistic balancing-the-scales decisions.

Third, I have the strong impression that for many (most?) decision makers in many (most?) roles and companies, ROI literacy and business intelligence (data + computational resources) are too weak to cope with the question. (Perhaps someone working for a vendor in the BI field already knows if this is the case.)

Finally, I think the social media ROI question is a bit of a smokescreen. The biggest reason the question is so hot right now is because so many business people (C-level, marketing, operations, engineers – across the board) find social media at least partly alien and fear it’s inedible. I imagine it’s like being invited to a Klingon banquet. People who don’t have a clear understanding of social media mechanics and don’t want to take the time to figure it out are looking for an excuse to stay home.

As a social media consultant when entering into a client relationship I almost always begin by working though some strong negative emotions surrounding social media (particularly Twitter) which kick up “business” excuses for foot dragging. As more and more people develop a taste for it, social media campaigns should be treated like any other marketing campaigns: first they are experiments, then they become known quantities.

– Bruce

How much time per employee per day for social media?

Bruce WilsonI recently attended an interesting presentation by Veronica Belmont, a.k.a. @veronica (yes, she’s a Twitter early adopter) who is a celebrity in the online gaming sphere and has over 1.5 million followers on Twitter.

Her presentation was wonderfully succinct. Her (surprisingly) short slide presentation was useful while concise. Which left plenty of time for Q&A, where again she was succinct. For example, despite being on stage with a microphone and license to babble on, she answered several questions with a single word. Words like “yes,” “no,” and “hyper” (the latter being the quality needed for an effective online community manager).

Even so, @veronica says it takes her 4 or 5 hours a day to manage her social media. Of course, this is a major part of her job, and she’s a new media superstar to boot. The average individual doesn’t need to spend so much time on social media (more in a future blog entry). But for customer-centric companies it makes sense to have someone whose job it is to spend plenty of time engaging with customers.

For example, someone recently asked me how Zappos.com can afford to allow its customer service reps to spend virtually unlimited time with each customer (in one instance apparently someone spent 90 minutes just chit chatting with an elderly customer). I laughed and said: Zappos can’t afford not to. Customers will pick up on the vibe customer service reps are giving off. Customer service reps will give off the vibe they are given by their managers…who give off the vibe set by corporate management. Zappos’ vibe is to love the customer, for real.

Let’s face it, customer service reps aren’t professional actors. And even if they were, let’s consider method acting for a minute. I’ve read that Jim Carrey drives people around him crazy by being “in character” for weeks at a time when shooting a film. In other words, its hard to turn good, emotionally genuine acting on and off.

So as I see it, Zappos had a choice. Amazing customer experience: “on” or “off”. They’ve chosen “on,” and their customers have chosen Zappos. Which is part of why Amazon.com bought Zappos a few months back for close to a billion dollars.

[Thanks to the Social Media Club of Seattle for inviting @veronica to speak!]

The world is flooded with cheap writing by cheap writers. Is that bad?

Bruce WilsonGreg Sterling over at his Screenwerk blog recently posted an entry entitled “Is Crap the Future of Online Content?

I’m not a big fan of sloppy grammar and punctuation, bloated writing, or “junk” blog content targeting search engines.

But now that publishing is inexpensive, it isn’t controlled by a limited number of publishers (newspapers, magazines, broadcasters). Barriers to entry are lower and competition higher. We are closer than ever to experiencing a free and competitive market for writing, including both “reporting” and “editorial” content.

And while professional journalists may have been better writers on the whole, besides being relatively few in number they were largely bound by their publishers’ economic and political agendas, and their biases and lapses (as occasionally must arise) were largely hidden from our view under a veneer of ‘neutrality’ or authority.

If it’s true that an open market for writing now exists, then we might conclude that grammar and style aren’t as important to us readers as search engine optimization, “viral” taglines/ graphics, and distinct topical niches curated by energetic subject matter experts, a.k.a. bloggers — at least for now.