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Social Media Costs … More Than Just ROI Calculations

Social media costs. Yes it does. One way or another, there is a cost that is (or should be) associated with social media efforts. Determining and measuring that cost isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but if you took the time to determine your Social Media Marketing Goals [1] and established metrics for Social Media Measurement [2], then you are well on your way to understanding the financial (and resource) impact of social media.

Why are social media costs so challenging to measure? Social media is about more than just ROI. Unlike areas of a business that have very specific and direct cost and revenue associations, social media costs are a combination of your goals, metrics, direct costs and time; of which, many of these may actually be soft measurements.

Along with hard measurements, social media costs include many soft measurements. I think of hard measurements as those that are very defined and clearly measurable. Let’s say that it costs you $100 to have an article written, or maybe you write it yourself, in which case you can calculate the amount of time for research, writing, editing and eventual publishing, based on your salary. We might even be able to regiment that someone will spend exactly 3 hours a day, 5 days a week responding to blog comments. Again, we can associate some hard cost measurement to these activities.

However, social media is largely associated with soft measurements, and therefore, is as much about the value of the activity as it is some ROI to be gained. Unlike the examples above, time is often hard to directly measure because, unless you have dedicated staff where you can directly associate 100% of their time and salary, social media activities will often happen when they happen, often in small chunks or bits of time.

Even then, time can still be a soft measurement. Social media success is based on networking, relationships and conversations, which often have to happen long before they are “needed.” To get some great content pushed out into the social venues may take time invested to build up rapport and connections with leaders within the venue. To drive fans, followers or links to your content or website takes time invested in participating within the venue; just like blogging success requires commenting on other blogs as much as it does writing great blog posts.

Sure, you can measure the creation cost of content used for social media activities, but your metric for success may be in inbound links to the content or improved rankings within the search engines. How do you directly associate that value to sales, leads and revenue?

Social media often operates on a soft timeline. While some activities are done with a specific time goal, such as tweeting a sale that ends tomorrow, many of the activities done today may not have a specific timeframe and could pay off immediately, in a week, a month or even 6 months or more from now.

If all this sounds challenging, you’re right. If all this sounds like I’m saying you don’t need to measure impact, results or costs of social media, then you might want to go back and reread the previous blog posts.

In fact, I’m saying quite the opposite. Because of the soft measurements and the incredible time suck that can come from social media – admit it, we’ve all sat down to take 5 minutes to read a blog post, tweet something or interact in some way, only to see an hour or more fly by – establishing metrics and measuring your social media efforts is critical. Without measuring results and the costs associated, you have no way to determine whether a certain activity or venue is valuable. Just realize that ROI may not be the best way to qualify social media activities. Social media is about connecting with your audience and that’s a value measurement.

Looking for some more thoughts on measuring social media? Be sure check out these great posts by Don Bartholomew, Social Media ROI Part 1: Framework [3] and Social Media ROI Part 2: Research Approaches [4].

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