ROI & Social Insecurity

Measuring the worth of social media continues to be a quandary. I’m not a super analytical person by nature, so the concept is not something I find fascinating. In general, I tend to value things that cannot have price tags placed upon them. I like the fluidity of social media; how one can follow a media trail and get lost or when the connections one makes today become even more valuable, suddenly, within the breath of a week. I don’t really want to put a monetary price tag on the value of a re-tweet, but sometimes, we must.

Measuring and Quantifying

What I do is hard to measure. In a perfect world, it wouldn’t have to be measured, but a perfect world it is not and so I find that the value of my work must be weighed somehow. I think that clients are having a hard time understanding that social media is still developing and it’s hard to accurately gauge something that is still such an unknown. I do get nervous sometimes, because that feels like an ambiguous answer like that could be seen as a cop out. Somehow it not just good enough to know how to master this media that has PR agencies and marketers bugging out, one has to be able to show pie charts of growth and other metrics as well. Ah, I can continue to whine, “But, but, but how……I mean you just never know..!”

I can confidently say that I have been involved in social media for almost ten years. Oh, it wasn’t called social media then, and could hardly be considered a recognizable career. The early days of communicating with others online in MSN Groups, emailing through Yahoo groups and methods of chats and boards were really no different than today’s Tweets or blog comments. We just had different tools and different names and it wasn’t quite so fast. If anything, for me, the speed of our online interactions has actually allowed me to spend less time interacting with my online community as I can be more effective.

Early Social Branding

For years, involved in many online groups, we all worked under the guise of anonymity. I still find it very interesting that we have all but forgotten that fear of being “real” online. Maybe I was just too much of an egotist, but I used the same “handle” everywhere I went until that name was synonymous to my feeling of identity. Now I realize that I was branding myself long before I had any idea what branding was. Did that seem like it had any value then? Nope, not at all, but when I get quoted in an article or on another blog by my trusty old Username, I know that what I did very naturally, worked. When I Googel that same user name and get completely bored long before I come to the end of that list, I know that I own quite a bit of internet real estate. Same name, same message, everywhere there was a discussion, same picture.. until a whole bunch of people knew me and my words long before I had a personal interaction with them. How much is that worth? I don’t know because I don’t work personally in numbers. I work in feelings and ideas.. and that’s one of those things that is harder to measure.

Probably like 7 years ago, I was involved on many a message board where there were many regulars that I “knew” and interacted with almost daily. While most people now have real friends connected to them on Facebook and such, on forums and message boards, no one really knew each other in real life. We wrote to each other, though, most honestly, most deeply, and we heard each other’s voices, and some of those people that I never looked at in the eye, know and understand the deepest recesses of my heart better than my own mother ever will. Did I think then to try and quantify my time and apply a value? No, it was just what worked for me at the time. I wasn’t trying to get anything really.. I was just interacting for the stake of the interaction.

A Complete Waste of Time

Now, here’s the funny thing; many of us there from the beginning are still around and like myself, have almost grown up in the internet industry. Some of the other regulars from here and there are now writing for places with impressive names and are good connections. We all link to each other’s things and pass on each other’s Tweets because of our communications and relationships that were built on what many people considered “a waste of time”.

If I had to quantify my activities then in a pretty pie chart to prove the worth of my time to a client; I would have been fired. There was no immediate return on the investment of my time. There was no way to measure the cost per impression. There was no way to even imagine the impact unless maybe if the stars were aligned right you hit a sensitive thread that exploded with controversy and you could count responses and views.

Intereaction: What was value?

Was it more than a complete waste of my time.

Do these things have value? Isn’t their value almost more than can be measured because you can’t just buy into situations listed above? Yet, all these things I had the opportunity to partake in due to those early relationships that “were a waste of my time”. Something that I could not measure, that could not be quantified, something that seemed unimportant, but for me, had so many very tangible rewards.

So you ask me now to prove the ROI of the work that I do, I really want to ask you to wait another 5 years or so when the connections I make for you today come to fruition beyond anything you could have dreamed possible. That’s the power of social media and the internet. In many ways, social media is like Lotto:

You just never know, but you got to be in it to win it.

And until then, you have to ask what is that dream worth to you?

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