If I had a dime for every time that question has been asked of me, well…. I’d probably have earned about $17.00. It’s a good question, a fair question, and one that I’ve had a hard time answering…until now.
For a long time now I’ve maintained that providing a true ROI is a challenge because there are so many variables to consider when it comes to calculating a return. How do we universally agree on a metric that by its nature is very subjective? Our attempts to place a measure are typically limited to quantifiable “cosmetic” measures including clicks, likes, comments, and shares. For now, this might be enough to satisfy our initial curiosity as we find comfort in quantifiable items that are easy to count and measure. However, to properly place a value on each single item, every tweet, every like, every comment and share…well that’s a little more challenging. How a click, a like or share translates to a sale is elusive. Do we have the same expectations of a billboard on the side of the road or a bus station advertisement? Probably not, and yet when it comes to social- we want to know if it’s worth it.
Within the financial services industry, calculating Social Media ROI is more problematic because we compare social to more traditional prospecting methods like cold calling, direct mail, seminar marketing, and door-to-door prospecting. Financial professionals are hard wired to expect a defined rate of return on ALL activity and the traditional methods are all quantifiable and measurable.
Take cold calling. Financial advisors could easily justify their time working a list of prospects by following a defined formula that went something like this:
Buy a list of 10,000 names, and make 10,000 calls. If I do that X number of people will answer the phone, Y number of people will agree to an appointment, and from that I will secure Z number of clients that lead to $$$ number in production. The same process would follow for direct mail, seminar marketing and door-to-door prospecting. As a result, successful advisors radiate towards the prospecting method or methods that deliver positive results and they prefer.
For the Gaxiola Financial Group, seminar marketing was our preferred method because it was the most social and fun. Both Kim and I liked standing in front of a room and presenting investment strategies and approaches to retirement planning. I knew that if I bought a list of 3000 names and sent invitations to every person on the list I would at least get 30 people or 1% of my list to show up. From there, all we had to do was illustrate the value we provided as advisors to get the 2-3 clients we needed to make the whole process worthwhile. Although it worked, it was expensive and took a lot of time. I knew then that there had to be a better way, and it was staring me right in the face every night when I went home and logged on to connect with friends and family on Facebook and LinkedIn- social media (insert holy choir A-HA! moment music).
Aside the compliance concerns that most face and address working with a solution like Socialite by Actiance, the mathematical translation of activity to production with social media is not as clear cut as other prospecting methods. However, I think increased presence and activity on social leads to increased exposure and more opportunities. I also believe that over time, and as social media usage grows, the number of success stories based on presence and participation will increase. Success in this industry is the most effective catalyst for change, and social will be no different.
However you quantify social media- the prevailing wisdom is that each company, organization should determine its own set of performance metrics and measures of success based on its objectives. So if you want to build awareness, go for likes and shares. If you want to build engagement go for comments and re-tweets. The subject of content is so embedded in the conversation and value of social we recently released a white paper on how it fuels the engines of social networks.
BUT TO ME- That’s not the REAL ROI of social. I think it’s a lot more qualitative.
It was in the shower, and don’t laugh because it’s where I get some of my best ideas, that I had my “a-ha” moment. I started to think about my social experience and the time I’ve been using the various social networks. Out of curiosity I went to www.twuration.com and found out that I had been active on Twitter since April 5, 2008 or about 5 ½ years. I checked my Facebook Timeline and found out I’ve been sharing since April 2007 and on LinkedIn since January 2005. I was a actually surprised that I have been on all three networks for more than 5 years, and reflected on the number of changes and upgrades I’ve seen on the platforms in this time.
I thought long and hard about the time I’ve been online and asked myself “has it been worth it?” I literally sat down to honestly assess my personal ROI using social networks these past 8 years.
My conclusion? I have a lot to be happy about.
Not only has social media provided me a profession and career that I am passionate about, but my life has been enriched by providing me deeper relationships with friends, family, colleagues and new acquaintances. It’s also reintroduced me to people that could have easily fallen out of my life had it not been social networks. Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter have connected me to the world, to people and to ideas.
For example, earlier this year the high school I attended in Australia had its 25 year reunion and although I was unable to attend, I was able to experience it vicariously through Facebook postings and a special group site that was created for the occasion. The access re-connected me with people I hadn’t seen or talked too since graduation. Despite the distance in time and miles I was able feel reconnected with classmates and learn about their professions, families and lives.
In March my sister had a baby girl and through her social postings I’ve witnessed her first smiles, cries and attempts to crawl. I’ve also tracked my nephews and nieces wins on the playing field, their homecoming photos, Halloween costumes and the milestones of their lives. Conversely the dusty photo albums of the past and boring family slide shows have been replaced by digital albums on Facebook and videos posted to share with family and friends. We celebrate life on Facebook, and we celebrate it together. What’s the value of that? What is the ROI on memories?
When it comes to business, connections from every corner of my career and world are available via LinkedIn, and Twitter provides me endless opportunities to meet new people. As a matter of fact some of the best professional contacts I’ve made in the past 3-4 years have come from a social online relationship first that have led to one of my favorite activities- meeting in real life (IRL). There is something surreal about meeting someone face-to-face that you’ve only known through social postings and the only natural reaction on seeing each other for the first time is to embrace. I never understood how people could actually meet and have a relationship online until then…honestly.
To say social has enriched my life would be an understatement, because it’s provided a window to the lives, values and activities of everyone I am connected too. It AMAZES me that I can have this level of reach and influence from the convenience of my laptop or mobile phone. A global reach that scales time zones and borders and that is constantly on. This is the 21st century!
This assessment may seem simplistic, but it’s honest. Is my life better because of social? Have I seen a return on the investment of MY time? The answer is YES and YES. Social works for me, and I am enriched by participating daily. It’s part of the fabric of my everyday life and helps me feel connected to a greater community. I know that social is not for everyone, and would not expect others to share the same level of passion that I do. But if you ask me what the ROI of social is for me- I won’t need a $ to validate it. It’s priceless.
How about you? How has social media enriched your life? Please share your comments.