Are We Really That Obsessed With the ROI of Social Media?

Are We Really That Obsessed with the ROI of Social MediaThe social media marketing industry is still in its infancy and with that comes loads of people making decisions they shouldn’t be in charge of making.

I was on Reddit recently and came across a thread in the social media subreddit about someone having to report social media metrics and numbers back to his boss.

We’re talking about things like:

  • How many times the company’s name was mentioned on social, forums, etc. that month.
  • The raw number of new followers and fans the company gained.
  • How high Reach was on Facebook.
  • How many mentions the company received on Twitter.
  • And so on…


I like numbers as much as the next guy, but this obsession with meaningless metrics from people who seemingly have no idea how social media works (the previously-mentioned boss) is counter-productive and leads to the opposite of effectiveness and efficiency.

People seriously record how many times their brand was mentioned on the Internet?

That hurts to think about.

As if knowing the raw number of times your company’s name was mentioned matters in the least bit.

I’ll probably get beat up by some social media folks out there, but sometimes things are extremely simple and we over-complicate them solely for the sake of inflating our egos:

Common sense dictates that the ROI of engaging, caring about, and listening to your customers is higher than ignoring your customers.

(This thought can probably be attributed to someone else. If you have a source, please leave it in the comments.)

Replacing the Hard Work with Easy Work

You don’t need to spend 20-30 minutes generating a bunch of meaningless numbers and putting it into a fancy report format for your boss.

There are so many more productive things you could devote a half hour to…

  • You could be brainstorming, outlining, and writing great content that captures email subscribers and leads.
  • You could reach out and engage your target market on your social channels, showing them your company genuinely cares about its customers.
  • You could reply to people and thank them for sharing your past content.
  • You could draft a new series of email follow-up messages to keep your subscribers active and engaged.
  • You could develop strategies for gamification and other fun things that get your audience active on social.

The list goes on for days.

While We’re Spending Our Time Pulling Raw Data…

How about we start trying to figure out how many phone calls we get every day?

Hey, maybe we should reconsider having customer service representatives. We can ignore our customers. They’ll be okay, right?

How many items were returned this month at our retail store?

How many of our employees showed up at the company party or picnic?

How many times did customers walk down the cereal aisle this week?

Anything can be recorded with numbers in business. That doesn’t mean you should spend time making a report.

If You Insist, At Least Make the Reports Meaningful

The reports don’t have to be entirely useless. They just happen to be under the current paradigm that most people with oversight responsibilities view them.

The problem is the people asking for the numbers and the people putting the reports together stop prematurely.

They see a nice table showing percentage growth in fans or followers from May to June and think “wow, those numbers are great!” or “hmm, that’s not good. Do something about it.”

Here’s the thing…

If you insist on devoting a half hour to pulling the numbers, devote another hour to investigate what the numbers actually mean.

Take the data, process it into information, then take that information and inject it into your marketing strategies. Use it to understand your customer. Follow up the question of “how many?” with “why those numbers?”

Manager: “So, our company’s name was mentioned 133 times this month?”

Now where was it mentioned and why? What kinds of words were people using…fun, annoyed, emotional? Was sentiment positive or negative? Is there a way to minimize the negative sentiment or highlight the positive sentiment? Can we put together a strategy and tactics for minimizing/highlighting this sentiment?

Manager: “Our traffic spiked this month and it looks like social channels contributed a lot.”

Big deal. What did people do when they got to the website? What pages did they visit? Did they subscribe? Buy? Share a blog post? Exit the site immediately? Were their experiences good or bad? Why?

Manager: “It looks like we had higher reach and more engagement on Facebook this month.”

What form did that engagement take? Can we read into the intensity of peoples’ desires to engage based on how often they commented vs. Liked an update? Are the people participating on the page happy or pissed off? Were there any PR problems recently we need to continue addressing publicly and on social?

If you’re not going to put in the effort to understand the numbers, do yourself and your boss a favor and put that half hour into something productive instead.

Make the Reports Meaningful or Stop Wasting Time

Do you agree or disagree with the sentiment that most social media reports being generated aren’t used well and don’t come close to illustrating the ROI of social media?

Is it all a waste of time? Should we even bother trying to attach a vague number to the ROI of social media, when the alternative is to ignore our customers and what they’re saying?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

If you have a friend or colleague who complains about having to generate these kinds of reports, would you do me a favor and share this post with them? I really appreciate it and I think they will to.

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  1. The first part of this post (that a lot of these metrics are meaningless) I completely disagree with, but the second half (finding out the ‘why’) brought me back on board. I think a simply the second part – ‘Make reports meaningful’ – would have sufficed as the entire post.

    For me, metrics are incredibly valuable. Do I want to know how many people walked down the cereal aisle this week if I own a grocery store? Damn straight I do! How did this compare to last week? Last month? Last year? How do cereal sales compare? What type of customer is most likely to buy as they walk down that aisle? What did the purchase before and after the cereal isle? (Interesting article regarding this type of retail targeting:

    I track a ton of metrics for online marketing efforts. Not for the upfront numbers necessarily (how many people came to my site in July doesn’t mean much to me), but for the meaning behind those numbers and to discover trends (how have site visits progressed over the last six months). A random spike or drop won’t worry me, but a long term downward trend would, and that trend wouldn’t be visible unless I tracked all of these metrics on a regular basis.

    My personality-type is driven by data, which is why I’m an avid supporter of measuring efforts. Totally up to the marketer in question though; I’m not here to judge anyone else.

    (On a side note, this is a really interesting topic. Could provide an interesting debate within #SMPro; would love to hear everyone else’s thoughts).

  2. Will Russell says:

    Not sure why my previous comment says ‘Guest’!

    • No clue. Everything is going crazy today with all the HostGator problems. Just glad the blog is finally back up…

      Thanks for the input 😉 I was hoping this post would get people talking.

  3. “If you insist on devoting a half hour to pulling the numbers, devote another hour to investigate what the numbers actually mean.”

    A thousand times, YES!

  4. I use monthly stats reports to track if we’re actually attracting the right kind of audience for our clients with our efforts.

    If the numbers move the way we expect them to – our strategy is working. If the numbers move some other way, I’d better figure out what’s happening so I can leverage it 🙂

    You’re absolutely right when you say that the ROI of social media goes beyond simple numbers – I call them aggregate stats: two or more numbers combined with context have meaning. One number in a vacuum means next to nothing!

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