The Best Response to Whats Our Social Media ROI eMetrics

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Ever get the question? "What's our ROI on social media?"

Now the forehead sweats come. You don't have any dollar sign attached to an answer, so you're screwed.

Maybe not, according to Jeffrey Doak, vice president of social measurement for Team Detroit, a 1,500-staffed agency whose major client is the Ford Motor Co.

Throw a question back at that vicious board member.

"If stakeholder is asking that question of social return-on-investment, I would ask them back, 'What's our social media strategy?'" Doak told CMSWire after his presentation at the eMetrics Conference Wednesday at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston. "What is it that you're trying to accomplish in social media -- and then I'll tell you what we're getting out of it."

All About Strategy

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That's where organizations suffer -- many just don't have a strategy for social media, Doak told CMSWire.

He spoke to an audience of about 200 yesterday. This conference is held in multiple spots throughout the year in conjunction with other analytics conferences and run by Jim Sterne, chairman of the board of the Digital Analytics Association.

"Fundamentally," Doak said, "ROI should be a measure of a financial input and a business output. Typically I think it works great for direct marketing but social's very fuzzy, unless you're using social channels as a direct marketing channel. It's about figuring out what your 'R' is -- what's your actual return -- and what your 'I' is, your actual investment." 

Investment may be the community managers you put in place or the money you spent on a tool. 

"Your return may not be sales," Doak said. "It may be building advocacy for your brand, which you can measure through your listening. Or it may be gaining a fan base and how that can help when running a campaign to distribute your message."

If your reason to get into social media was to "gain fans," then measure your return against that. "You can't say we got into social media because we had to, and now I want sales," Doak said.

All Vendors are Equal

So speaking of those social listening tools, we asked Doak about the marketplace. His thoughts? There are no standouts. They're all the same.

"The fundamental thing a listening company does is pull in data from essentially the same source," Doak said. "They do a little cleaning and indexing, and then they display the numbers. Their secret sauce is that they would have sentiment analysis and topic analysis and things like that."

The problem? He continued:

Those tools aren't usually very good and certainly not as good as you sitting down and coding that yourself. It's time consuming but frankly if you're only measuring 300 to 400 tweets you can code four or five variables and do it in a couple hours. You're only saving a couple of hours to trust a tool that's probably not trustworthy."

Find the quickest, easiest and cheapest way to get a good string of results and hand code it yourself. Ignore the pitches on sentiment analysis and topic analysis, Doak said -- it's all about ease of use and speed.

Jean-Francois Monfette, a digital analyst from Montreal, Quebec, attending the eMetric Conference, agreed there is little differentiation between vendors.

"All vendors are the same because they all connect to the same source through APIs to get the same metrics from the networks," he told CMSWire. "They just package it in different ways. Ask what they 'can't do' or don't have access to."

Finding the Right Vendor

So if they're all the same, who do you go with? The one that knows your business objectives, and not the one with the flashiest demo, the experts agreed.

Vendors will tell you, "We can tell you what your customers are thinking about," Doak said. "And that's all very exciting, but at the end of the day, if it isn't solving a business problem you have or adding to your bottom line, then it's just another visualization tool."

Ask this question during the vendor demo, Doak said: "What business problem does your tool solve for us?" What's the typical vendor answer?

"Usually it's, 'we can deliver consumer insights,'" Doak said. "And they can but only because they are a middle man with data," he told CMSWire. "I'm the one delivering consumer insights by looking at the data. ... I can't remember the last time a social analyst ever asked me what our social business objectives are."

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eMetrics conference host Jim Sterne.

Don't Trust Social Sentiment

Sterne, the host of this 64th eMetrics Conference, told CMSWire after Doak's presentation this morning that data analysis comes down to trust.

"Do you trust your data?" Sterne asked. "With transaction data, that's like 97 percent trust. You bought that. You believe that. With customer service data there's a human element so there's some wiggle room there. It's lower. With social media sentiment. I trust that about 52.5 percent which is just enough to make it useful. It is directional and interesting. But is it actionable? No. We're never going to get there."

Why? When you have human sentiment scoring, they only agree 86 percent of the time, "so you want a machine to do that? No."

"Understanding human language is the first artificial intelligence problem we've been trying to solve since the '70s," Sterne said. "And it's impossible. It will always be. Language changes. Sentiment is 'of the moment.'"

Title image by Robert S. Donovan  (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.