The Truth About Social ROI #EarnedMedia #SIM #CRM
I don’t believe that there has been any real ‘maturation of social media ROI’, just that the variables for measurement have become more meaningful.
I’ve also made it a point in my work as a brand strategist and a social technologist – as well as someone with a creative storytelling background – not to look at the consumerscape through a clinical lense. In facing the challenges that inherently lie within the triage of paid, earned and owned media, I think a lot of the hard data we’re exposed to is irrelevant, mostly because, from a user perspective, archetypes are constantly changing and segmentation now exists within a cross-functional and a cross-vertical (or ‘horizontal’) paradigm, and has for a while.
It’s reflective of the times: Behaviors and attitudes are attributable to the flow of information, not brands or products. Sure, there are marked differences between brand and product engagement, but the story around engagement paints an entirely different picture, and one that is distinctly of its own merit.
When a brand asks, “What kind of consumer are you?” what it really should be asking is “Who do you share with and why?”
Social Influence Marketing (SIM) is unearthing some interesting truths about sharing and community mapping. In essence, what we are all discovering is that communities share uniquely and in ways that often defy archetypes. Why? Because information sharing – i.e. the dissemination of content in the form of video, text, audio and/or pictures – has what several researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have described as an “emotional communion” effect on people. In other words, the development of stories and their phenomenal qualities of adoption change the constitution of who we are as consumers, online or off.
Think about it. Each consumer, each person, is a part of an ecosystem. An ecosystem represents a community of people, and other communities of people they are connected to, ad infinitum or a cyclique. Ecosystems are essentially blind to the types of media that we consume. However, they are not blind – in fact they are quite sensitive – to the ways in which we consume them. This means that whatever website, portal, platform, mobile app, display unit or social network you choose to offer up as a part of the consumer journey is, at the end of the day, representative of a touch-point that comprises the same channel as all the other paid, owned or earned media it coincides with... it’s just that the behaviors exhibited within those touch-points vary, but are nonetheless tied together through a compelling consumer experience.
Which leads us to attribution and everybody’s favorite albeit elusive little beast, ROI.
There are two main types of attribution: direct and latent. Direct attribution shows us sales correlates between a user and his or her past behavior. So, for example, “Bob” is a part of my database and I know that I can reach out to him in a social environment, such as a Facebook fan page. I can use any number of DR or DM methods (such as email) to tell him about a new promotion, or, I can simply direct him to the fan page to interact with some exciting new content that speaks to his desires about, say, product performance. Bob is a part of a control group, or associated with other control groups, that I can actively monitor and attribute his likenesses and behaviors to historical behavior, such as the fact that he has visited a store this many times and through a referral of friends in his network. Ultimately, I know that Bob is likely to purchase my product either through a direct offering, or, by engaging him in a compelling story where the intent to purchase is activated through a direct call-to-action. Regardless, he can share that experience with his peers if he so chooses, and will likely benefit from that experience in some profound way in the future.
Latent attribution shows us the true value of a person’s social graph and the respective communities that operate within it or alongside of it. Latency often calls to engagement as the source of activation, but does not preclude a sale from being a part of the consumer experience. In the case of “Bob”, we might find that he is resistant to promotions and is far more interested in interacting with his peers, sharing information with them and following their advice when it comes to using products and/or purchasing them. If we are stonewalled in following his activity within Facebook (due to privacy restraints, for example), we can match his persona and respective behavioral and attitudinal attributes to others outside of Facebook and within other social environments. From there, we can make very educated and somewhat calculated assumptions about who his alliances are with and why, as well as how he shares information and for what reasons. And if he wants to purchase something, then he can, because he knows where to find the product and where to elicit the opinions of peers and experts.
You’ll notice there are no real formulas mentioned here.
The rules for engagement and conversion vary, as well as the windows we have to activate them. The only constant we know of, truly, is that any relationship we want to build or strengthen takes time. How much time? Who knows. The variables are abundant and the opportunities are boundless. Direct or latent attribution can lead to a point of sale or conversion. What neither of them can do is tell us why “Bob” might not be around tomorrow. That depends on the relationship we have with Bob, and what he wants to tell us during the course of that relationship.
You’ll also notice that I have referenced the words story, experience and engagement several times. Regardless of whether our analysis and subsequent media execution of attributes are direct or latent, the relationship between brand and consumer, and the relationships between consumers, are entirely contingent upon experiences that enlighten the individual and his or her respective groups to some degree... Something that makes the eyes pop, the lips curl, the mouth water and something, perhaps intangible, that urges the mind to look at the world from a new and different perspective. This is why disciplines like digital anthropology, experience mapping and adaptive analytics are so critical in the mix of brand solutions that we offer to clients: behaviors and attitudes live along, and cross over into, areas that are ethereal (what some might consider to be spiritual) in nature... We can’t plan for them so much as we can adapt to them.
This is also why the creation of meaning is the lifeblood of any brand. And why content, as well as its development, curation and/or adoption, is so vitally important. Without it, there is no possibility for ROI. Further, the stories that unfold across multiple channels – whether pushed through a sales funnel or not – are the linchpins that build relationships. And as we all know, relationships are everything... Especially these days.
I would even argue that relationship-building is no longer a function of marketing, rather a manifestation of sound publishing – storytelling that harks back to the days of strong editorial guidance and journalistic integrity. In other words, finding a product is easy, but what I hear about it and from whom is what activates my intent to purchase it, all of which speaks to the strength of the brand behind it. And these days, it’s not enough for a brand to talk about things it thinks matters to us, it must enlist the opinions of those who have spent time out in the field, digging in the trenches and understanding the experiences that culminate in our ongoing fascination with the human condition. If you don’t believe me, just take a closer look at what brands like Coke, Nike, Red Bull, Levis and Wells Fargo have been doing.
So is ROI the Return on Intent? Intelligence? Insight? Or, is it simply the investment we put into relationships, some of which we may or may not be able to monetize?
What we do know is that all of it relies on our dedication to consumer relationships, and the relationships they share. Or, more simply, people. And as a marketer, if you can accept that brands are people, and that people are media, you’re already one step closer to developing meaningful relationships that can last, and bear the fruit of a worthy and equitable investment.
[Many, many thanks to my colleague, Sheena Warmin, @sheenn, a highly talented Experience Architect who produced the image in this piece...]