Seth Godin is, again, correct: companies have a hard time with social media because it’s a lengthy process rather than a short, well-defined event.
No doubt, events are easier to manage and to justify because the time lapse between the event (a conference, for example) and the results (we got X leads in our database following that conference) is short and so the return on your investment is easy to measure.
Processes take time, and as Mr. Godin observes, they build results for the long haul. It’s much more difficult to measure the return on your social media investment, because you do it for many months – sometimes for years – before it starts to pay off. How can you quantify that? How can you convince corporate executives or small business owners that slowly building relationships with their audience, gradually getting the message out there about their product or service and joining conversations and dialogues in their space will eventually translate into more sales?
It’s getting better actually – when I just started out doing social media, back in 2008, I often had to work hard to convince potential clients that they needed it. Many were skeptical. Now, everyone wants social media – there’s no argument about that – but there’s still dissatisfaction when it comes to proving social media’s worth to the company.
One answer is that not everything can be quantified or translated into dollars and cents; some forms of marketing have a bigger-picture value of brand recognition and customer loyalty that although cannot be easily quantified, is still very valuable to the brand.
Another answer is to try and quantify social media results using software such as Argyle Social, that attempts to connect social media efforts to actual sales.
However you choose to deal with the question of social media ROI, remember that social media, a form of marketing that engages potential customers in direct conversations, is a long-term investment. You won’t see results right away – that is, if you want real results. If you’re after “more Twitter followers,” well that’s easy – but worthless. Instead, what you want is to build real, lasting relationships. It’s a lengthy process that takes time and is thoroughly unexciting, but it works – as a long term marketing strategy.