How Marketers can Successfully Determine Social Media ROI

Social media ROI: the struggle is real.

Many executives don’t understand the value of social media and most brands don’t have an answer, either. Some C-suites aren’t buying that “engagement” translates to business success. Executives want marketers to translate metrics into precise revenue. Some marketers use industry benchmarks or hire expensive third-party research companies to run studies. Brands with substantial budgets have also worked directly with Facebook and Twitter to prove out their success. (Facebook’s recently launched in-store advertising and location options are an example of their efforts.)

It’s important to remember that traditional media has had decades to prove their return on investment. Businesses are accustomed to these measurement metrics from television, radio, and print media. Even if some of those metrics aren’t entirely believed, executives have used them for decades to show marketing value. Social is now being held to a similar standard—even if it’s the equivalent of shoving a round peg into a square hole.

Traditional media has had decades to prove return on investment.


Social success is more than likes and comments. At a minimum, social media has engaged impressions—your audience liking, commenting, and sharing, versus merely passively watching or reading an ad—and can reach prospects more cost-effectively than traditional media.

A more holistic understanding of real social return on investment comprises three elements: return on investment, return on influence, and return on engagement. And that plays out differently in the four key areas where we see social media having the largest impact.

4 Key Areas We Discuss Most with Social Marketers:

  • Brand Building
  • Innovation & Experimentation
  • Social Care
  • Risk Management

Instead of looking solely at ROI for each of these areas, consider your challenges and ask how social media can solve them. Take a step back and ask what your goals are and then choose the right social tactics to achieve those goals.

As a business, consider your challenges and ask how social media can solve them.


1. Brand Building

The Transportation Security Administration has one of the most popular Instagram feeds on the platform because they took what could have been a mundane process (airport security) and injected humor. However, because they aren’t driving towards in-store purchase or revenue, it makes it tough to show how they impact the agency’s mission.

When you can’t tie to direct revenue, here are our suggestions for showing impact:

Measurement Basics:

  • Track audience growth
  • Measure share of conversation

What you should really pay attention to:

  • Are you moving the needle with your audience?
  • Are they sharing your content with their followers?
  • Are they talking about you to their followers?
  • How many non-followers do you reach?

One step further:

  • Growth in search volume
  • Growth in direct web traffic

2. Innovation & Experimentation

When the NFL chose to broadcast their games on Twitter, people wondered why. Network television draws a larger audience. But, Twitter offered the NFL a chance to increase their reach and interact with new audiences. Innovation is critical for learning and growing, but it’s the toughest to measure.

Measurement Basics:

  • You’re breaking new ground and there aren’t rules here

What you should really pay attention to:

  • Your Gut

One step further:

  • This is about throwing ideas against a wall—the very nature of experimentation is to try new ideas and then measure the results.

3. Social Care

Dozens of articles tout the value of social care – from cost efficiencies to answering customers in their preferred channel. There is always potential for these interactions to be shared, broadcasting your brand’s personality and values. Examples abound from Wendy’s to Best Buy on just how this happens. It’s critical to set your team up for success and then measure away.

Measurement Basics:

  • Response time
  • Engagement and visibility driven by outbound messages

What you should really pay attention to:

  • Are you cultivating audience-driven passion?
  • Is there more brand love loyalty content being created over time?

One step further:

  • Bring in Net Promoter Score to demonstrate activation of high-value customers

4. Risk Management

Donald Trump and “Me Too” have changed the nature of risk management on social media. Trump’s proclivity for sharing his thoughts has impacted many brands and industries in 2017. And the last few weeks have seen a handful of high profile people fired for sexual misconduct.

Social movements make their voice known quickly—and that’s in addition to the typical range of challenges that social marketers and public relations teams handle daily.

Measurement Basics:

  • Establish volume and sentiment benchmarks
  • Create triggers to alert when conversation moves above the norm

What you should really pay attention to:

  • Monitor known influencers who are aligned against your brand mission. In a crisis they will likely be driving and amplifying the message.
  • Monitor brand advocates to see if they are supportive of your position and sharing your messaging.

One step further:

  • Set-up triggers for Trump and “Your Brand”
  • Set-up triggers around trending issues (like “Me Too”) and your brand.

We’d love to hear how you’re measuring ROI in your organization. Here are 5 tips from Smart Social Summit attendees discussing social ROI in their companies:

  • Start with a small paid social marketing budget to prove your theories and share that success.
  • Regular communication/meetings are important. Don't just send your reporting around and expect people to read and digest. Brands who are seeing success are meeting with teams (beyond social) to review data monthly and are aligning/resetting goals & success KPIs at least quarterly.
  • Connect social to the rest of marketing ecosystem and look at overall ROI for your entire marketing mix.
  • Social care was the reason why some executives sat up and took notice of social media. Once they saw the inbound volume and the types of issues being dealt with over social, they saw that as its own form of ROI. Once they saw its value there, it made them take the marketer's ROI more seriously.
  • Tagging links with web analytics continues to play a key role in making a connection with proving social ROI by showing a direct connection from social media to lead generation, sales, and brand interest.

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Boasting 20+ years experience in marketing from direct mail to web design, email marketing, and social media, Patricia also co-founded and managed a start-up, where she was recognized as leading female entrepreneur. Acting as a digital business consultant to Spredfast prospects and customers, Patricia draws on her wide knowledge of social strategy, from best practices to content strategy and influencer programs.