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How to Compute Social Media ROI

July 2, 2010 

I recently posted a chapter from my forthcoming B2B social marketing book that addresses the ever-popular topic of return on investment (ROI). The post has created quite a bit of discussion, so I thought I’d summarize my premise here and ask for your opinion.

ROI is one of the most misused terms in marketing today, in part because so many people are struggling to understand how it applies to social media. I worship at the church of Katie Paine, the measurement expert who argues that you can measure almost anything if you are creative enough. Measurements can usually be related to a financial outcome, and that’s when ROI becomes meaningful.

I’ve attended many conferences at which this topic has come up, and I’ve observed that when people talk about ROI, they usually speak in terms that have nothing to do with return. They talk about measuring friends, followers, repeat visitors, traffic and the vaguely-defined “brand awareness.” These are results of marketing campaigns, but they aren’t returns.

ROI is all about money. It is a simple ratio that defines investment as input and a financial result as output. If the financial output is greater than the investment, then the ROI is positive. If not, then you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do.

Calculating ROI requires good historical data and precise analytics. The free Google Analytics tool can tell you a lot about activity on your website, including where people came from, which pages they looked at, how long they stayed and what they were viewing when they left. When you match this information to financial outcomes and compare to historical data, you can create cause-and-effect scenarios that map to dollars.

You need to have some basic information about how activity on your website correlates to financial results. For example, to calculate the value of a webcast listener, you can divide the profitability of all business generated by webcasts over the last year by the number of attendees.

Then compute the average lifetime value of a customer. If you know that the average customer is with you for five years and spends $50,000 during that time at a 10% profit margin, then the average lifetime value of a customer is $5,000. If last year’s webcasts generated 100 new customer accounts, then webcasts created a lifetime profitability of $500,000. If you had to get 2,000 people to register for webcasts in order to land 100 new customers, then the value of a webcast registrant is $250. In other words, if you spent less than that amount per registrant, you should be in positive ROI territory.

Let’s look at one more example: computing the value of a tweet. Suppose your analytics package tells you that you got 1,000 visitors to your website from Twitter messages last month (this number is easy to track if you use unique URLs). You know that 200 of those visitors navigated to your order page. You also know that 10% of the people who land on your order page become customers. We already know that the lifetime value of a customer is $5,000.

Dragging out the old spreadsheet, we calculate that those 1,000 visitors became 20 customers at a total lifetime value of $100,000. We also know that we had to send 50 tweets to get 1,000 people to visit. That means that 50 tweets created $100,000 in value, or $2,000 per tweet.

In real life, of course, ROI isn’t this simple. There are many other factors involved in the equation, including the cost of sales, the net present value of money and opportunity costs There are also intangibles such as the cost of building a quality Twitter following that delivers 1,000 visitors with 20 tweets. You can make these estimates as detailed as you want, but the point is that many of the supposedly incalculable returns of social media can be quantified if you have good analytics and historical data with which to correlate them.

If you’d like more detail, read my chapter on this topic and please give me your feedback.

The Secret of Twitter? Use It

I recently wrapped up a research report for BtoB magazine about marketers’ use of Twitter. The 387 respondents to the survey delivered one clear message: The people who derive the most value from the world’s favorite micro-blogging service are the ones who use it the most. The 20% of respondents who attributed tangible revenue to Twitter were one-third more satisfied with Twitter’s value than those who are still awaiting sales. And successful Twitter marketers are also more optimistic about Twitter’s future. Read a summary of the findings here. You can also purchase the complete report, encompassing more than 30 charts, here (I make no commission on those purchases).

Tip of the Week: Windows Speech Recognition

I’m a big fan of speech recognition software. It’s helped me write four books in the past four years. I type 90 words per minute, but I can speak a lot faster than that. I’ve been using Dragon Naturally Speaking for several years. At $50 on eBay, it’s a great value, but if $50 is too rich for your blood, try Microsoft’s embedded Windows Speech Recognition.

Microsoft doesn’t exactly make this handy tool easy to find. In Windows 7, you have to navigate down to the Accessories|Ease of Access folder. Even then, Microsoft makes it appear that Windows Speech Recognition is intended only to manage Windows commands. However, there is a full-blown speech recognition engine inside that permits you to dictate documents and spreadsheets. I’ve been playing around with Speech Recognition for a couple of weeks and find it superior to Dragon in some cases. All you need is a basic headset, which costs about $15.

Just for Fun: @BPGlobalPR

“As long as we can get loaded potato skins at T.G.I.Friday’s, seafood can suck it.”

“We are doing everything we can to stop the information leaks in the Gulf.”

“Honestly, why are we still talking about the spill? Twilight comes out next week! Come join us in line!”

There isn’t much mirth to be found in the oil spill that continues to plague the Gulf Coast, but an anonymous Twitter user who goes by the alias of “Leroy Stick” has hijacked the identity of BP p.l.c.’s public relations organization to produce a viciously funny online persona called BPGlobalPR that spoofs the oil company’s efforts to manage public opinion while it grapples with the disaster.

Stick isn’t doing this just to be funny. In one of his few public statements, he skewered BP for trying to manage public sentiment around the situation. “I’m trashing a company that is literally trashing the ocean, and these idiots are trying to figure out how to protect that company?” he wrote in a post on Street Giant. The BPGlobalPR Twitter account has 10 times as many followers as BP PR’s real account.

By the way, did you know that the Deepwater Horizon spill is not the largest on record, at least not yet? That honor belongs to the Lakeview Gusher (below), which spewed 9 million barrels into the southern California desert beginning in 1910. The site of that spill is now a California Historical Landmark. At this rate, Deepwater will soon pass it.

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