The One Lie Social Media Marketers Need To Stop Telling

By Cara Friedman

Nobody will ever deny that social media as an industry that has come a long way. Even since the beginning of Likeable Media, there have been astronomical strides in social capabilities and the ways that brands can leverage social media to grow their business. At the beginning of the social media phenomenon there were a lot of unanswered questions. How will this help my business? How can you prove sales through social media? Is my investment in social media really worth it? The list goes on and on…

These questions proved to be a huge challenge for social media marketers. You were able to watch fans grow deeper connections with brands, experience success stories, but had trouble attributing hard numbers to those successes. It became a default in the industry to rely on the fact that measuring ROI on social media isn’t always possible. After years of learning and gaining resources, not being able to measure ROI just isn’t true anymore.

I was at a conference recently where experts in the field and brands presented case studies and key learnings from social media and word of mouth campaigns. Conference attendees stared in awe as they soaked up how they can use these principles and apply it to their own brand. The number one asked question was about numbers. Conference attendees wanted to see real hard facts and numbers showing that these big investments were truly worth it for the brands. Instead of backing up their anecdotes with numbers, conference attendees got this instead:

Well as we all know, you can’t really measure true ROI on social media, right?!

Wrong. In fact, you couldn’t be more wrong. We have come too far to have social media marketers claiming that ROI cannot be measured. Is it easy to measure? Not always. Is it impossible? Absolutely not. I became increasingly frustrated hearing this over and over again. It sounded more and more like an excuse. Why are social media marketers hiding behind this lie? Are we afraid what we would find if we actually did try to measure the ROI? We shouldn’t be. Social media produces real results. We just need to find them and learn from it.

ROI is measured differently for everyone. The first step in finding the ROI of your social campaign is to find out the goals of your campaign. The first and last question you should be asking yourself is why. WHY are you doing this campaign? WHY are you investing marketing dollars on social media? If you can confidently answer that question then you can determine what the goals of your campaign should be.

ROI isn’t always dollars. So often marketers measure ROI in terms of dollars and dollars only. Depending on the goals of the campaign, sometimes sales isn’t the only number that matters. KPIs come in all shapes and sizes. ROI can be measured in sentiment, reduced call center times, share of voice, etc. When you think that ROI is only valuable if it ties back to sales, you could be measuring the wrong thing.

You need the right tools. You will be hard pressed to find a social network that a brand is using that doesn’t have some kind of measure tool available. Some are easier and more robust than others (i.e. Facebook Insights, Twitter Analytics) and others are created by third parties to help brands like yours show ROI (, Crowdbooster, etc.). Find the tools you need to measure your KPIs. Nobody said you had to do it alone!

The point of this rant blog is to open your eyes to the possibility of measurement. It is no longer acceptable to hide behind the lie that “you can’t measure the ROI of social media” because it’s simply not true.

How do you measure the ROI of your social media efforts? Share in the comments below!

Brian Jones June 16, 2013
Ironic that we're talking about lies in social media, and Dave Kerpen is one of the biggest liars around.
Dianne Kennedy June 14, 2013
Excellent! Thanks Cara Friedman. I know my social media works by the feedback, increased likes, comments and extra business I've gotten. I know it only came through social media marketing, because I do no other marketing. I haven't even physically networked for over a year. Therefore I definitely have a ROI and it's measurable.
Lisha Yost June 14, 2013
I agree that ROI isn't always just dollars. And sometimes social media ROI is something that you gain from indirectly, rather than directly.
Jeff Skal June 14, 2013
I agree. The reason why people say you can't measure social's ROI stems from their determinedness to assign a dollar value to the results. Which will never work unless you use social as a pure e-commerce sales vehicle, in which case you're "doing it wrong." Increases in brand recognition & favorability and purchase intent are great outcomes from social media.
Media3 June 13, 2013
that was good...!
Tyler_Hakes June 12, 2013
Just made this argument recently as well. The quote that people love to throw around: "What's the ROI of putting your pants on every day? It's hard to measure but there's negative consequences for not doing it." It's utter BS. It's scapegoating--avoid responsibility for success or failure. There are sophisticated and accurate ways to at least measure relative value. No excuses. But, I do have to add that I think we should stop using the words "social media campaign" to describe what brands are doing to engage on the web. A campaign is, generally, something that lasts for a specific and finite duration. Social media--in general--is everlong, to borrow a term from Dave Grohl. We may run social media ad campaigns (with a set budget/duration), but social media as a whole isn't a campaign. I think we'd all be better served to frame it as an evolving but persistent part of business in the 21st century (i.e., a strategy) rather than something that be turned on and off like an ad campaign.

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