social media roi - as i see it

January 20, 2010 · 0 comments

much of the accumulated mass of information on social media concerns roi, a favorite topic of the multitudes of experts, gurus and the like on the subject.

at times i think the focus there is more abject defensive posturing to an infant medium vs. pondering on the natural course of things. i make this statement because it is such a transformational vehicle that truly rattles the cage of established thinking and the roi justification is a a natural high ground that is unassailable.

i do believe that in whole or at least in part. roi is truly important, but we may have vaunted it before really understanding how social media works for the purpose of legitimizing the new space. that being true, then i'm fine with that discussion as it seems to have moved the needle, but we need to take the foot off the peddle some.

please don't take the above (and below) the wrong way, roi is absolutely important, but let's be fair about it, especially in comparison to other media. that's where i think all the friction comes from. it's so dramatically different than other media, we have to use roi as the only point of comparison. but social media has been impugned and held to a higher standard than the old ones.

i would lump in other digital media into the same camp in terms of standards it's held to. since the dawn of digital media, the underlying technology and trackability has been both a boon and a bane to the industry.

i'm going to re-iterate this because i could be made to be an roi hater, when i'm just a malcontent. media roi is incredibly important, but it must be fair and universal across all media. i'm also going to state that my major focus in the following is around brand advertisers. that's the field i play in and where so much of the money in advertising, and more broadly marketing, is spent. there is likely a different case to be made for retail or direct response advertisers, but they are a different beast and outside of the scope i want to tackle.

my qualm with social media roi is threefold
1) the measures are meaningless unto themselves
2) the necessity to validate social media is more pronounced than with other media
3) it is myopic to view it in isolation of other marketing efforts

meaningless measures
the measures that are bandied about routinely are mostly meaningless. what does a comment, a blog post, a tweet, or whatever really mean? is that really engagement? is it really making your brand more favorable to consumers? and how is any one of those things unto itself indicative of a relationship to a brand?

they might mean something on some level. it took some time for the consumer to do each of those, so there is some affinity, or it might be artificial if say an incentive was involved (ie. contest). it's not to say those things are bad, they are quite important to the ongoing dialogue around a brand, but i wouldn't use them as the best measures of social media efforts.

validating social media
as my tangents above would indicate, there is an asymmetry in the standards between social (and more broadly digital) media vs. traditional media. social media is beholden to far more scrutiny. might as well jump right to the main point of contention and the main driver of any business – profit.

i'll come right out and say it, when have we ever directly linked brand building efforts like a tv spot, a newspaper ad, or outdoor billboard back to a sale? don't think we have. we can interpret or assume that they are doing that, but can't completely verify it, especially down to a granular level of any one spot, ad, or billboard. yet, we are asking a contest on facebook to do just that. why? doesn't seem fair.

again, i think it's because we had to validate moving the industry towards a social media mindset but now we've established a double standard.

a big shortcoming of the industry so far is we haven't put social media alongside traditional media and tracked it on the same measures. it's always been directional at best for brand advertisers, but still very valuable. these are measures like favorability, purchase intent, brand specific metrics, and the like.

this is slowly taking root, and i for one am pushing this forward on my clients. it's the fairest way to judge social media, especially in light of my final point. let's shift our efforts to promoting these bad roi readings and into making better, more standard measures.

it's part of a whole
judging social media, or any media for that matter, in isolation is folly. every marketing and consumer activity contributes to and coalesces as the sum of a brand's existence, as it impacts consumers. in reality, no one part is ever on it's own in impacting consumers. none. so why are we making social media accountable on it's own?

all types of media – paid, earned and owned – work together to make behavioral change on consumers. this can be said to happen at any one time, but also over the course of time. it is really the entire history with the brand and all the messages consumers have ever seen that make an impact on consumers.

not even direct response or retail advertisers can escape this truth. it is everything in market and over time that impacts a consumers ultimate behavior – a purchase. while a consumer may buy something because of that one ad (and use the specific tracking device to measure it like a unique url) that is not the only way in which they decided to take action.

where this is likely to be solved is greater campaign integration of social media and more holistic tracking of those campaigns. then we can get reads on how all the paid, earned, and owned media associated with a campaign are working together in a meaningful way. we may also be able to isolate any media performing better or worse, but at least all on the same scale.

that, though, is slow coming. the research has been slow to integrate new media forms in their broad brand studies. or it's in there in a token way and certainly not as robust as say tv tracking is. which is fine, because we have many years of experience there to have that level of sophistication. so it will grow for social media, but in the interim we'll be left with a gap.

wrapping it up
if anything, the limited roi values we do and can assign to social media should force us to scrutinize traditional media even more. but it doesn't seem to be going that way.

part of the problem is, the many who write on social media, that's all they do, so it is only seen in isolation. that's why i'm a proponent of not segmenting this work out to specialty shops, but rather holistic media companies (like my own) who see the entire picture of paid, earned, and owned media.

let's also consider the primary function of social media - relationship building. like any human relationship, it takes time. most don't get married or make a friendship on one encounter, however intimate. we are challenged on the roi because it has to fit nicely in a fiscal year. well, that's not realistic with social media.

so sometimes the equation doesn't balance because our efforts may be realized later. take for instance higher involvement categories where the time between purchases is longer. it's hard for any media to accelerate that, but ongoing presence over time will be valuable when that window opens. yet, we still hold accountable social media to an unfair roi standard.

in closing, let me re-iterate that i'm not an roi hater. a realist, yes. it is just another media form and only part of greater efforts. so, say it with me now - campaign roi, not social media roi.

disassociation of information - travel edition

January 12, 2010 · 0 comments

i'm not a big traveler by any stretch. this past vacation was my first in 7 years (my honeymoon) and only by virtue of having won the trip (otherwise it would have been longer). i like seeing the sights, but it's often very shallow for me so i'm not keenly interested.

you see, i'm a big nerd, information junkie (most often a useless information junkie) and somewhat history buff. i like knowledge, but too often that knowledge is disassociated with the physical object or site you are seeing. some people like just being there and seeing it, but for me, what makes it interesting is all the information behind it which is located in a library, or online, or in people's heads and not all at the source.

that's disassociation. something i've been meaning to write about for some time and will shortly about a number of other things. digital solves the disassociation.

sure there are tour guides (or small tour books), but that's still very superficial. maybe enough for some, but not for me. also, the tour guides can't possibly speak to everything and perhaps i'm interested in something they don't know about or isn't part of the tour. if i'm looking at the mona lisa, that's great, i can see it's well painted. but the real interesting part is about da vinci, the time it was made (all the cultural and economic influences), the style, who it was (though i don't think that's known – bad example), and how it got to here (changing hands, restoration, preservation, etc). if it's a building, then the architect, the style, why is it important (who used it and for what), factoids about its features (hidden symbols or what-have-you) and anything else notable.

to me, this type of information is most valuable when presented with the thing of note. you can behold what you're reading and see it with a much more informed viewpoint. it's much more powerful to solidify the imprint in your brain of the object along with its corresponding background

as a fun little bit of synchronicity to go with theses thoughts was all the talk about the changes in the mobile world, namely Android and the Apple tablet. both of these technologies and whatever else becomes of this unfolding landscape are precisely the answer to the disassociation.

imagine going to an art museum or in my case a site of the mayan ruins, and renting out a tablet or downloading a digital tour guide to your mobile device. there you'd have the breadth of information of your location to make it a complete and informed experiences. you become your own tour guide and build your experience as you wish with vast knowledge on the subject matter and also the inputs of everyone else (as noted above).

aside from renting a device or downloading something, the evolution of location based services has a huge impact on the travel industry. aside from that wealth of information being accessible instantly as your location is determined, there is also the casual tourism side of things. walking down the street in a foreign place just opened up a whole lot of opportunities with LBS.

information is freedom, and the new digital tourist will have the freedom to take in as much or as little of the experience as anyone could want. and the ever emerging mobile platforms will be driving force to combat disassociation of information.

vacation connectedness

January 11, 2010 · 0 comments

i'm sitting here in the cancun airport after a week long vacation (first in 7 years) in the mayan riviera. i've got a few hours as our return flight has also been delayed, albeit, only 2 hours compared to the 14 hour delay for our departure. i thought i would take a few minutes and write some thoughts on connectedness, especially as it pertained to vacations.

unashemedly, i love technology. i love it always being around and feel somewhat empty if it's not within arms reach. i was derided by many (including my wife) for checking facebook and twitter and posting therein. i see no problem in doing this, so long as it doesn't take over your trip – which it didn't. it's simply staying connected with your social graph and the real world. you being at a resort is but a respite from reality.

i see little difference between using downtime beside the beach/pool to be on a wi-fi connected netbook (my acer aspire one) or iPod Touch and reading a book or magazine as some would state. the coming onslaught and proliferation of e-readers are going to throw those people who cling to that belief into a tizzy.

in my mind, a vacation is not a vacation from technology as many would see it. technology is an integral part of everyone's life and a part that i don't want to vacate from. there's still some stigma there that i don't understand. my various devices allowed me post pictures daily and exchange fun comments from people thousands of miles away. i was able to stay up to date with the 100+ or so rss feeds, which as fellow readers can attest, just a week away is a mountainous backlog. my netbook gave me plenty of opportunity to do some much needed writing both by the water and on the plane. there was also ample time to catch up on a backlog of podcasts and explore new ones.

technology didn't impede me taking day long excursions to mayan ruins, just amplified it by sharing with others. it didn't stop me from drinking (many) cervezas by the pool or eating mightily. it didn't stop me from relaxing, but gave me a relaxing activity that fueled a lot of thoughts (or maybe people want to be free from thinking). technology enhances. it's only when it overtakes that it's problematic.

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