By this point, almost every business owner in the country has at least considered the idea of social media marketing. Most have followed through with some social action, even if it’s just claiming a Facebook page or seeing what LinkedIn’s all about, but there’s still a minority who stays away from social altogether because they believe it to be a fad or a useless strategy. In both camps are people who insist that social media can’t have a positive ROI—or that positive ROI all comes down to luck.
It’s easy to think that. Unless you’re selling something with a paid ad, there’s no transaction on social media, and the most successful content and accounts are ones with astounding viral success—which one could partially attribute to luck. Still, with the right strategy, it’s possible to achieve a consistent and positive ROI in social media, and measure it with a degree of confidence.
Your first step is the easiest, because it’s all about setting the right frame of mind. Forget about all the fluff metrics that people commonly associate with social media success—including follower counts and likes. These are nice to have, but they won’t bring you revenue. Don’t get lost chasing after them.
Next, start building a foundation for your social campaign. This means claiming your profiles on the platforms you believe will be most valuable to your brand, filling them out completely, and posting on a regular basis. Your posts should include informative, entertaining, or enlightening content, and links to content on your main site. Between this regular syndication and engagement with the community, you’ll soon start attracting more people to your profiles and building a regular audience.
Next, you’ll need some means of acquiring revenue from your social media followers. If you have an e-commerce platform or if you sell a single product online, you can set up a Goal (or multiple Goals) in Google Analytics to track conversions. If you’re more service-based or a B2B business, you can consider setting up a specific landing page with a form for your users to fill out. The source of revenue is up to you, but it must be measurable—otherwise you won’t be able to calculate your ROI with any degree of accuracy.
Your last step is to bring your foundation—your loyal audience—to your source of revenue. The best way to do this is through a link or a promotion, but be careful not to alienate your audience with too much advertising. Your first and most important goal is to keep them informed and entertained, so keep any self-promotional material to 20 percent or less of your total posts. If your followers are loyal enough, you should see some traction almost immediately.
This is the most difficult step (and the reason why ROI is so complicated in the first place), but we’ll start simple and get into all the ambiguous, imprecise variables later on. First, calculate everything you’ve spent on social media; if you’re working with an agency or a freelancer, the costs should be easy to uncover and total. If you’re doing things yourself or one of your salaried workers is handling the responsibilities, you’ll have to track your time and figure out the costs that way. Do this for a set period—most people choose a month.
Next, you’ll need to calculate the total amount of people who have taken your desired action after following you on social media. For example, if you have a dedicated landing page with a form to fill out, specifically set up for social users, how many users eventually filled out that form? If you have a product you’re selling, evaluate your Goal in Google Analytics and drill down to find which segment of the audience came from social media channels. Eventually, you’ll arrive at a specific number of people who took your desired action because of your social media efforts.
From there, all you need to do is figure out the “value” of the action, and compare the value of all social media actions taken against your cost basis. If you see more value than cost, you have a positive ROI—but there are a few complicating factors to consider:
If your results are positive, keep finding ways to improve what you’re doing. If your results are negative, you’ll have to scrap something and try something new. There’s no hard science to succeed in social media beyond basic best practices, so it will take some time to experiment and figure out what’s right for your brand. Remain patient, and know that the early stages of your social media campaign are the hardest.