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Using social ROI to measure relationships is just wrong

While many may agree that social media is not for everyone, the bandwagon of businesses in the social space continues to gain momentum. And with social referrals increasing in the last quarter of 2013 according to the AdobeDigital Index, it is not unreasonable to hear more businesses asking about being on some social network or the other.
However, as with the adoption of any new medium or service, the question of Return on Investment (ROI) is soon to arise, seeing as the decision of which medium to adopt hinges on whether it will bring in any positive returns. The problem here is that often these returns are measured solely in monetary terms, even when the reasons for taking up the medium are tied directly to some other business objective. For many online businesses these returns translate to leads generated, in order to maximise their Revenue per Visit (RPV).

For instance, a business will provide some customer support services on social media in order to cut call centre costs. The costs considered are often around infrastructure, including telephones, rent, etc, without considering the costs of hiring the right personnel. The returns expected are meant to be reflected in the financial statements. As such, more businesses get onto the social bandwagon expecting to literally see money generated without considering all possible costs incurred.

Often the social function of the business lies solely with the marketing department, even when the business objective is linked directly to the sales or customer services department. The expectation to generate leads then lies completely with someone who is not equipped to do so. Obvious as it may seem, this is not the biggest problem in this scenario. The problem lies with the expectation to generate sales through social media.

In fact, according to Monetate's Q4 e-commerce report email outperforms social in terms of conversion rates. This was made evident by the number of sales driven by social media during America's Black Friday. This is because by nature social media are meant to facilitate leads, not to generate them, often referred to as lead nurturing - which is the process of building a relationship with potential clients, even though they might not be looking to make an immediate purchase. The idea is to leverage the relationship that already exists rather than seeking to immediately create one, acknowledging that the need to make a purchase may not be immediate, yet availing yourself to be top of mind when it does.

Most businesses tend to believe that the relationship they form with their customers ends when a sale is made. On the flip side, for most customers the relationship with a business is started when the sale is made. By blurring the lines of where the relationship starts or ends it becomes easier for you to nurture the relationship from infancy and thus nurture the lead from consideration.

Much like with your friends, Facebook allows you to manage your relationships. And while new ones may be created through it, it is still a tool to manage such relationship. Similarly, Twitter allows you to monitor and influence conversations that may involve you. In your influence you may start new conversations but it is still only a tool to start the conversation. It is in understanding what each medium allows you to do that you can understand the sort of relationship you have formed with your potentials and how to leverage it to make conversions.

And so, unless you can really tie some monetary value to a relationship, it would be very difficult to calculate ROI from social media from a monetary perspective, and wrong. As a business you need to stop being preoccupied by the rands-and-cents of the medium and be more concerned by how you make it work for you and your customers.

The marketing relationship is as different to the sales relationship as it is to the after-sales relationship. Your approach then, to social media should not hinge so much on the ROI as it should on the relationships you build. This goes beyond calculating variables as fleeting as "the value of a like or follow."

Once you have the right people nurturing the right relationships with the right audience, then you may measure ROI the right way.


About the author

Tshwaraganang Tshikedi is a digital analyst at NATIVE VML.

NATIVE VML's press office

NATIVE VML is a digitally-led full-service marketing agency that strives to forge deep relationships between its clients and their customers.