What Matters More in Social Media – Quality or Quantity?

You’ve may have heard this many times and probably even used the “Quality Trumps Quantity” argument when justifying your less-than-stellar social media results to your management. As  much as I believe in the quality argument, the reality is numbers do matter and here’s why.

Let’s take a very familiar example like dating. The more people you meet, the more likely you are to meet “the right one”. However, the argument can be made, it’s the quality of single people you meet that’s really important and not the number of “eligibles”.

Agreed. However, the assumption (and the hope) is that the few people that you do meet are of super-quality, thereby improving your odds of happily-ever-after, without any need to meet additional folks.

Let’s take the same example in the business context, you can improve your odds of success by reaching as many people as you can within your budget constraints (quantity) or reaching a highly targeted group of customers (quality). In the social media space, how confident are you of hitting that sweet spot?

Another underlying assumption for “quality over quantity” argument is that both are mutually exclusive, that more numbers mean lower quantity or vice versa. Can you really say that the fewer leads that you did capture were of better quality than the leads from a campaign that generated higher volume of leads?

Generalizations can be misleading and we have to account for differences in industry, business model, type of product/service, goals, as well as target audience. Whether reaching 100 influencers is better than reaching 10,000 customers will depend on your industry and business objective.

So going back to your original argument to your management that it’s really the quality that matters not the quantity, make sure you’re ready to back it up by showing that your conversion or engagement rates were indeed higher than if you had 10x the reach. If you can’t demonstrate that your business goals were indeed met by reaching a smaller audience, it’s a hollow argument and sooner or later, your business results will reflect that.

In my follow up post next week, I will discuss some simple ways to define your social media goals and how to measure what really matters.  Have a great weekend!

Why Social Media ROI is Still Elusive

eMarketer reported yesterday that marketers still aren’t measuring the investment on their social media investments,

Despite widespread adoption of social media, measurement still lags. Only 16% of those polled said they currently measured ROI for their social media programs.

Lately, it’s become very fashionable to talk about the ROI on social media. You hear the dreaded term everywhere – at conferences, in meetings, on research reports, at your child’s daycare (no kidding) so the question begs to be asked and answered - Why is social media ROI so elusive?

So, here are my top reasons (and please feel free to add your own below in the comments):

#1 This report and many others are making a very flawed assumption – these reports assume social media is a “program” and it needs to be justified like any other short-term program or campaign. Newsflash: Social media is not just a program, it’s a fundamental shift in way your customers and employees consume information and communicate. Social media is fast becoming as ubiquitous as email and when’s the last time your IT department did a ROI analysis on your email network?

#2 Should you measure, track the results on your social media activity? Absolutely! However, you’ll find that with any new channel, the “I” will always be substantially higher because you’re still making investments in this new media and may not have realized any of the efficiencies yet, so any ROI analysis on the new media is skewed. 

#3 In many cases, it doesn’t even make sense to do the financial analysis on some social media activities because it’s pretty much, the cost of doing business. Here’s an example: Adding social sharing tags to your email so your customers can share your marketing email with their friends and family on some social network is a no-brainer and as essential as providing an URL link to your website. It doesn’t justify a ROI analysis, although I would recommend analyzing the click-through/share rate. This is something you should do in any case, regardless of whether or not, any social tag is included.

#4 Having a blog or Twitter account is not a social media strategy. Social media success is dependent on the sum of different parts. Just like you wouldn’t utilize just one traditional channel to market your product or services, it’s ridiculous to think that one Twitter account or a blog by itself is somehow going to generate ROI overnight. That’s why it’s essential to remember that not everything that’s important in business (and in life) can be measured and just because  you can measure it, doesn’t make it important or relevant.

#5 I’ve blogged about this before, but social media will not solve your pre-existing business problems.

A guy goes to the doctor with a broken arm and asks, “Doc, can I play the piano once my arm has healed.”

The doc says, “Of course, you can!” 

The guy says, “Great, I never knew how to play (the piano) before.”

Bottom line, if you weren’t able to accurately track the results from your traditional marketing activities because of your internal tracking/lead management issues, you’re not magically going to start doing it just because you’re using social media.

One reality that most ROI proponents gloss over is that even the most traditional, established media activities don’t have a clear defined ROI. Not to pick on events but let’s look at event sponsorships like Golf tournaments etc.?  How on earth do companies measure the ROI on those or even television ads for that matter?!

Attribution was an issue with traditional media and it will continue to remain an issue, no matter which media you choose.

Trying to assign a specific dollar amount to any social media marketing activity is an exercise in futility because individually these activities are weak but done in coordination, these can move the needle. That’s also why marketing is still part science and part art.

Rather than looking at ROI on specific social media activities, marketers should be looking at their key business objectives, selecting/incorporating the right social media elements to meet those objectives, and then evaluating the overall results. Ultimately, what matters is not whether the social media activity was a success but whether the business objectives were met.

Purpose-Driven Social Media is Key to Elusive ROI

One question that consistently comes up in social media discussions is the one about ROI on social media activities or lack thereof. Social media practitioners across companies seem to be struggling  to  justify their company’s investment in social media and many even question the value of doing social media.

Donald Bulmer, VP of Industry and Influencer Relations at SAP  hit the nail right on the head at a panel discussion recently where he evangelized ”purpose-driven” social media as the key to successful social engagement.

When planning a new marketing or customer engagement activity, the critical first step is to define the objective for that activity and tie to a desired business outcome. However, this critical step is missing in many social media activities and is often an after-thought. 

Social media enthusiasts find it challenging to determine social media ROI is because there’s no clear purpose to their social media activity or the purpose is very fuzzy. Without a clear purpose, it’s challenging to gauge what resources will be needed for that social media activity and worst of all, it’s nearly impossible to measure if that activity generated any value.

On the other hand, social media activities that are touted as successful are tied to some specific business need. Two great examples are Ford with its Social Media PR strategy or Dell with the exclusive discounts  (lead generation) via Twitter. Both these companies identified a specific need and used social media to solve that need and drive results.

Many social media enthusiasts justify the lack of purpose or goal by saying that they don’t know what to expect since it’s a new media and they don’t want to be associated with failure. Unfortunately, failure comes with the territory when testing any new media or channel, and without a clear purpose, it’s tough to build support for social media within any organization especially to get executive buy in.

Moreover, it’s challenging to justify resources for social media within any company, if you can’t articulate the business need that will be solved by doing the said activity, which takes us back to the point that Bulmer made about “purpose-driven’ social media. The era of doing social media because it’s cool is coming to an end, it’s no longer acceptable to engage in social media just because “everyone else is doing it”.

Like any other media, social media practitioners will have to build a solid business case for their social media activity and demonstrate how it can be used to drive real business outcomes. Starting on the social media quest without any clear direction is a primary reason why social media practitioners find their projects floundering. As Yogi Berra once famously said, “You got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.”