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What is the Big Question in Social Media Marketing Everyone is Afraid to Ask?

The big question that is often asked about social media when it comes to investing money, resources and time is “what is the return on investment?”What is the Big Question in Social Media Marketing

Some pundits will say that is not the right question because it is like asking “what is the ROI on your phone?”. Others will say social media should stand up and be measured in its own right. The challenge though is that we live in a multi-channel marketing world and the path to your sales door for your product is not a straight path and easy to measure.

It is not unusual for a company or brand to have the following digital channels and tactics that are all engaging, marketing and selling.

  • Email
  • Paid search ads
  • Organic search results
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Blog
  • Slideshare
  • LinkedIn
  • Pinterest

And I have only just started and haven’t even mentioned Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr or a multitude of other channels.

These are all working to drive the prospect to your business and buy your product or service.

But there is also another question.

Should the first click or the last click get the credit?

In our social and online world seeing that your friend  liked a certain brand could lead you to visit that Facebook page and click on a link that offered a discount for their product that took you to their online store. You didn’t buy but left the site.

A week later you do a Google search for the brand, visite the site and buy the product.

Who gets the credit? Google or Facebook?

Research by Adobe analyzed 1.7 billion visits to the websites of more than 225 U.S. companies in the media, retail, and travel industries. It shows that the ROI for social increases significantly if the first click attribution is accepted.

Using first-click attribution for the retail websites we analyzed, the average visitor from social media sites delivered $1.13 in revenue. In contrast, when using last-click attribution, the average visitor from social media generated $0.60

In the end both contributed.

Is social media about engagement or selling?

“Social media’s” main role in this online marketing game is revealed by the first word in the  phrase. It is about engaging first and selling second. It is human and social. Do this well and selling your product becomes easier. Your content will define your brand. It is achieved with images, videos and content that humanizes your business.

Social media’s value is not always captured by first-click or last-click attribution models. This value includes:

  • Brand awareness
  • Customer loyalty
  • Engagement through social conversations
  • Engagement due to content
  • Offline channel transactions
  • Personal referrals due to awesome content that adds value

These are hard to put a value against but they are real but soft metrics and should be in your marketing tactics tool box.

10 Examples of Social Media ROI

So what has been the results achieved from social media marketing? Here are a few examples.

10 Case Studies of the ROI of Social Media

Infographic source: psoshul.com

So what about you?

How do you use social media? Is it more about engaging than selling?

Does your CEO need more hard facts and wants to see the ROI before they commit the resources and cold hard cash or is creating brand awareness and customer loyalty valued?

Look forward to reading your stories in the comments below.



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Jeffbullas's Blog


  • Matt Crawford

    Great headline Jeff. Important subject matter too.

  • The phone analogy is a good one. I’ll have to use that next time.

    • The phone analogy does resonate. Social media is more about communication, being real and adding value. It is also about improving your SEO with social signals, content that is shared and growing your digital assets. What value you do you ascribe to that?

  • Thanks for the comment and the Slideshare link. I will check it out. 🙂

  • Wow Jeff, This is an amazing info graph with solid results. Thanks for the info! Like you said, hope CEOs around the globe will be more open towards using social media as a very powerful tool added to their marketing efforts.

  • thanks for examples.

  • Great article Jeff. I think believe it or not social media although moving fast it’s just to early to tell. For those of us in SM we know and see its true value /ROI but how it’s quantified with the tools we have in place for old media makes it confusing for business owners. I feel it is part engagement & selling but both in a subtle nature. Our world is in a different more collaborative time and will be for the next 20+ so as we grow in this digital, sharing culture SM will prove to be more & more valuable as time goes on. Take this article for instance social allows me to post my option thus enhancing my brand & selling myself and eventually my services.

  • Good explanation, Jeff. True that, in social media the keyword is engagement. Social Media is more about letting people know what your brand is all about and taking their views about your brand, ROI should always come secondary. More over it somewhat helps in increasing the search engine rankings too.

  • Luke Hancock

    Love the phone analogy and infographic Jeff! I always laugh when ROI advocates call engagement advocates, social hippies. I think if you’re investing your time into social strategies, they should tie into the bottom line. Engagement isn’t enough.

  • Very interesting article, thanks Jeff. But it seems to me that the infographic doesn’t tell us about the ROI. It tells us about the impressive results those companies achieved, but it doesn’t reveal how much they invested to achieve those results, so we can’t do the math to calculate the return on investment. The definition of ROI = (Gain from Investment less Cost of Investment) divided by Cost of Investment.

    • Hi Miss Kay!

      You’re 100% correct, so let me apologize regardless, as your feedback will help us make more compelling, less questionable material in the future!

      We actually took the approach to show the staggering returns, and to show them using diverse industry examples which involved little to no investment required aside from time (With the exception of the Cadbury Wispa of course, whereas there was a clear investment in manufacturing the 18 million bars, although with the volume of demand for it’s return, it was quite low risk in most regards).

      AJ Bombers owner personally executed the social effort there, in the case of Vitabiotics, rather than spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in R&D, products were launched already having hundreds of thousands of fans…

      Hopefully you noticed we did our best to show diversity in co. size, to show that it’s not just big budgets/big affluence who’s finding success in well executed social.

  • Further to my previous comment about calculating the ROI – I’m not saying it’s easy or that I know how to do it. I always wonder how companies calculate the dollar value of their investment in social media. Do they count just the budget that they’ve allocated to a specific short-term campaign, or do they also include a percentage of the cost of people’s salaries, website design and maintenance and domain name registration, office rent, electricity, phone bills, travel…? And over what period of time do they measure the costs and the results? As you say, Jeff, “the path to your sales door for your product is not a straight path and easy to measure.”