ROI, SCHMAR-OI, it’s not about return

I saw a post (a Tweet as it were) on Twitter by a supposed Social Media Guru recently lamenting the lack of a way to definitively measure the ROI of efforts by companies to use Social Media to further their marketing goals.  My first reaction was – GOOD, I’m glad that there is no way to measure the ROI of becoming engaged in Social Media. In fact, I hope that the lack of an ROI discourages those who are trying to use it for commercial gain to give up and wander away, Tweeting to themselves as they go

Social Media was not invented for use by companies to push products, at least not initially and not directly. There was a pragmatic recognition that some form of revenue generation had to go on to support the ongoing development and operation of the site. Most started by setting aside some screen real estate for ads and a way to make a buck. Eventually most of the successful Social Media sites moved to add other revenue generating features to their sites – games and other opportunities to spend money with them or to push products.

There are few sites left that still pursue the innocent (the ad people would say naive) goal of just giving users a place to meet and exchange messages or pictures or whatever with each other. There’s no ROI in that and you know what – the users don’t care.  That’s not what it’s about for them.

One reason that there is no apparent ROI is that we’ve become a society with an amazing ability to tune out the junk that we don’t want to see hear or read. The Madison Avenue types have tried all sorts of tricks to force us to read their ads or click on their ads – there are sticky sites that capture your cursor and won’t let you leave. There are the sites that try to force you to sit through their ad video before they show you the video you are trying to see and there are many other tricks. I usually click all the way out or stop the browser, if I have to, to avoid these traps. It’s a huge waste of time.

So, there is no easy way to measure an ROI for social media. I’m OK with that. That’s not what it should be about. The “return” that social media users get from participating is measured in the relationships that they create or reinforce within the small circle of people that they are trying to reach. That’s enough return for them and for me.


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