Is 400% ROI valid in the world of social media?

16 01 2011

Everyone in conference marketing uses the same 400% ROI target as the ultimate metric. It’s been around for a long time, built on years of direct mail experimentation, data from multiple companies, thousands of events and the use of solid direct marketing principles.

But is it relevant in world dominated by social media and the web?

A recent article from Prashant Suryakumar on Mashable outlined the new metrics for Social Marketing, it’s a great read and really made me think (Thanks for sharing AP!). The article covered 10 main points to build an infrastructure for measuring the constantly evolving nature of social media, and I kept wondering how is it relevant for the strange little world of B2B conference marketers and the impact on our 400% industry benchmark. Here’s my take on Prashant’s main points:

Invest in data: As an industry I think we do a good job of investing in and using data, we track and measure everything. But the unstructured nature of social media data from multiple sources in real time is a big challenge. We have trained our marketers (& managers) that X action equals y response, a closed loop, and whilst that may never have been really true, we lived our lives by and made ongoing investment decisions based on those results. The nature of the conversation in social media and multitude of touch points, make it very difficult to say your tweet, or face book group, gave you an ROI of 400%. More than ever we have to step back and look at the overall results and contribution of these new channels, we need to present an overall picture of our reach and find ways to value that reach in a context management can understand.

Real-Time monitoring:  I think the challenge for our marketers here is real time response, Twitter is a torrent of information, social media is 24/7 and our marketers may not be the subject experts in the conference topic. On top of that they are already very very busy so they are likely to not dedicate the ‘listening’ time required to really monitor the conversation. There are lots of monitoring tools out there that help but ultimately social media has to become a team effort, we need product expertise, customer service involvement and marketers to all be part of the conversation.

Sentiment Analysis: How would your boss react if you said, bookings are behind last year by 30% but our sentiment is up by 50%? I am going to guess she would not react well, and you would then spend a lot of time explaining your sentiment metrics. In terms of events, and delegates (or sponsors) for that matter I think we are better spent using a net promoter type approach. We have used the net promoter score extensively and I think that’s the closest we could get to a sentiment or intent to buy or re-buy.   

New Metrics:  This is the most critical aspect for me, and the biggest challenge to the 400% ROI benchmark. New metrics naturally abound, being a great example, but educating management on what they mean is critical. I also think given the nature of our business the new metrics must be linked to revenue, even if it’s a contribution to the overall outcome, we must get better at drawing the overall impact of our marketing, taking into account multiple touch points. That said, the number of followers, members, fans or likes means little if the event isn’t profitable.

The interplay between buzz, branding and sales:  This is part of the age old question of ROI from PR. I think it’s a little like religion, you either believe or you don’t! I believe, but I also know a good event will be good with or without a group on LinkedIn. But a group on LinkedIn with lots of influencers can help make a good event great.

Testing mechanisms: Conference marketers have been traditionally good testers. But I think we have been slow to apply our testing methodology to social media, and I think we have done a poor job of defining success, often using metrics that are too narrow and not taking a broader approach.

Behavioural segmentation:  This is a hugely untapped area for conference marketers, particularly niche b2b conference marketers. Online marketing in general allows significantly more targeted activities, and social media allows an even greater degree of behavioral targeting. For example, targeting people who are members of multiple event groups on linked in.

Crowd Behaviour: Who wouldn’t like to trigger “flock behavior” in a mad rush to register for your event! This boils down to knowing more about your customer, again something we have not done enough of in the conference business. We typically know the basic demographics, job title, geography, industry etc, but not deeper buying, reading or social habits.

Product design: Crowd source your next conference agenda!

Integration into existing business models: Herein lies the real challenge; we need to incorporate some of these new metrics into the PromoProfit, Hit Rate and ROI trio that we have been using for the past 20 years. We will need to measure/find influencers, develop life time value, gauge buzz, develop online community numbers (members, followers, fans, likes etc), equate brand equity to long term profit and start to seriously consider more SEO metrics.

The industry as a whole is struggling with the measurement of social marketing, our historical experience with the definitive nature of direct marketing and our 400% benchmark has clouded our ability to take in the big picture and measure the smaller, but just as important contribution of being part of the conversation. I think this is even more important if you plan to keep your event in your community calendar every year – You need to be part of the conversation, how you measure the impact is challenging. We need to add a fourth metric to our PP, HR, ROI bag of tricks.

What will your fourth metric be?




3 responses

17 01 2011

Any tips on encouraging crowdsourcing? Would you, for example, recommend employing any incentives, or does this devalue the overall quality of contributions?

17 01 2011

Hey Rich,

Thanks for reading and commenting!

No short cuts and no easy tricks as you know. It starts with having a great product or great piece of content that’s highly relevant and provokes interest from the crowd. I have some other links and stuff that i will also send.



25 01 2011

Great post, Jason. Very insightful.

I genuinely believe ROI is now completely on a new frontier of understanding. It requires a real paradigm shift in marketers’ mentalities. We’ve been – as you mentioned – trained to such a degree to measure ROI based on tangible variables that it is now so deep in our bones only surgery can remove it!

It is no longer about the cost, but the conversation. Communication metrics have taken over conversion metrics.

What this means for B2B products and services is that in the near to short-term future – and with increasing competition in an already saturated industry – a marketer will be more concerned about how much and how many people are talking about and sharing his brand and product.

How does one measure success from that? I don’t know. Will we find out soon? Yes. Everyone worth their salt in this new land is trying to figure it out. Pretty soon, someone will.

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