Recently, Robert Strohmeyer wrote in PC World about “charlatan” social media consultants providing little value to unsuspecting clients. This in turn kicked up a twitterstorm of controversy, largely among the denizens of social media who make their living selling social media consulting services (an aside: it annoys me that at least half the conversations on Twitter are about Twitter; the self referential nature of the tool does little for its credibility).
Behind Stohmeyer’s complaint is the belief that “for a smaller business, the benefits of social media are far less clear, and the relative costs can be much higher.” As a social media watcher and consultant myself, my clients routinely ask about return on investment, ROI, for launching a social media campaign. While pricey tools, like Radian6, offer some level of measurement (what’s the ROI on measuring ROI?), the truth is clear ROI models optimized for social media have not been developed, and old models do not apply. For one, social media, unlike traditional marketing campaigns, offers unprecedented interaction with the market. Not only can a person or company market their brand, they gain access to free market information (and more tools are in development that will help companies mine the VAST amount of data social media users are generating).
For another, the ROI bomb is often dropped into conversation as a shorthand image explanation for “apathy” or “fear,” to help people get out of a course of action. While I can measure the ROI of a new compact fluorescent lightbulb, or the addition of automation equipment, the ROI of attending a networking meeting, for example, is not measurable in the same way. Not every action can-nor should-be measured with Drucker-inspired methods.
Lastly, should this social media phenomena pan out as a viable tool, which it will, in ways we are only starting to understand, the cost of NOT creating a beachhead today will become apparent after it is too late. Social media, done right, is a low cost, low risk tool. Of course, with the uncertainties caused by a nascent industry in rapid growth, those of us who educate and council on social media strategy owe our clients high integrity and strategic thought leadership. Teaching what the the latest widget is and how to set up accounts is of little value. Teaching companies how to create viable, long term marketing stories using the tools, however, is valuable. Helping companies rationalize their existing social media “strategy” is going to become important. Many companies, either rushing to show their hipness, or having no clue how to reign in social media-wielding employees, have allowed the creation of an out-of-control social media presence, all firing and no aiming. Implementing a holistic approach will create efficiencies and make the customer experience better.
In the end, social media experts are not those who have substantially more experience than you, since that’s simply impossible in this new, and rapidly evolving space. The responsible expert is the one who helps you blend social media into the bigger picture marketing strategy, and helps you define and execute upon your underlying business objectives, with an eye on the long term prize.
This post originally appeared on SiliconANGLE, Silicon Valley's best community blog.