Social Media ROI, Viral Marketing, and Immunity

by Brian Carter January 18th, 2010 

I'm preparing a talk for the Austin, Texas branch of the American Marketing Association, and my topic is Social Media ROI (especially versus SEO and PPC).

Social Media

Social Media ROI

My emphasis in advertising and marketing is ROI. I haven't worked with Fortune 500 companies that have money to burn. The best clients we have are vigilant about how much money comes back from the money they spend on marketing. They want to know how the ROI of every advertising and marketing campaign compares to the others.

I'm always thinking about how to increase the results from Social Media marketing. I'm unsatisfied with increasing fans and friends, just as I would be unsatisfied with PPC or SEO that simply drives traffic to a client website. What matters is conversions, cost per conversion, and ROI. Fans and friends and clicks are part of the process, but we can't stop there.

Note: in this column I'm talking about Social Marketing for new business. I would treat social media applied to customer service and social media for upselling existing customers differently. I believe these latter two have great potential.

Social Media

The Upfront Cost of Social Media

As we design social media campaigns for clients, we spend a lot of time:

  • Brainstorming big ideas
  • Thinking through visitor psychology
  • Making sure sufficient incentives are in place to drive people all the way to conversion

The corresponding questions we ask are:

  • What would really turn people on, and fit the client and customer?
  • Are real people really going to do what we're suggesting? Would we do it?
  • Why should they do all that for us?

Maybe you can't ensure a viral response , but you can plan incentives and tactics, and hope that the combination creates a viral response.

In the process, I've started to wonder: is it always going to be this difficult? It takes a lot of creativity, brainpower, collaboration, and most of all time to conceive these campaigns. There's a cost to all that.

What's more, we may be tempted to follow the old advertising paradigm- agencies don't get paid for all the upfront work.  Clients may be loathe to spend money without first seeing an inspiring idea that makes sense. And if you're in-house, you might have to do the same work by yourself to convince upper level management to devote the money and resources.

 refresh

Is Social Media Success Repeatable?

One of the things that gives SEO and PPC their positive ROI is repeatability. It takes less labor and less cost over time to get started if certain strategies work reliably and can be applied and re-applied to new campaigns. A lower start-up cost means an increasing ROI.

But is social media repeatable? I suspect the strongest viral campaigns and most attention-grabbing advertising derive a fair amount of their effect from novelty.

A potential problem with social media is: if copycat campaigns don't work well and you keep having to come up with something completely new every time, then conception/development time never shrinks, and ROI never increases.  You may streamline your conception process, but the cost savings from that are not as huge as those that derive from repeatability. That means social media remains expensive. Whatever ROI you're seeing after 6-12 months may be the extent of it.

The solution is to be good at quickly conceiving complete, new, powerful ideas. Likely, only a few will achieve that and they'll charge more for it. The cost problem remains.

A caveat: what I'm talking about is social media marketing for new business. I think that social media as customer service is smart, and social media efforts with previous customers to increase repeat business and customer lifetime value is a hot opportunity area.

We're Immune to Your Viral Marketing

An interesting related concept is this: if novelty is a large part of what makes effective social media marketing, isn't there a sort of immunity that people develop to previous campaigns? This fits with, for example, how Hollywood keeps having to push the envelope with new directing styles and technology to keep people coming to the box office. Yet there are also formulas (myths and archetypal tales). We sometimes feel we're being manipulated by the same old story with different actors and a new soundtrack, but sometimes we don't care, especially if it's skillfully executed.

I suspect the repeatable advances in social media will be strategic combinations of platforms and technologies (e.g. tweets that lead to a webpage with a social element that incentivizes you to spread a message to your network like this Hershey's Trick or Tweet campaign, or Dell's Outlet Twitter account approach for big brands), but the campaign's theme, words, ideas, and images will need to be novel.

The Post-Hype Social Media ROI Picture

hype Still, I wonder, after the initial hype surrounding social media dies down, in say, two or three years, how will the ROI look? Will we find that copycat campaigns don't perform? Will the less creative social marketing efforts be abandoned when they can't justify their cost? I believe social media customer service and social media customer upselling will survive. But will social media for new business ever beat the ROI of SEO and PPC?  I'm skeptical.

Brian Carter is Director of PPC, SEO, and Social Media for Fuel Interactive, a full-service online marketing agency specializing in the hospitality, medical, and legal verticals. Brian will be speaking January 21st, 2010 for The American Marketing Association- Austin, Texas.

Brian Carter

CEO of FanReach, Brian Carter has been an Internet Marketer, speaker, and social media trainer since 1999. Brian has been quoted and profiled by Information Week, US News & World Report, The Wall Street Journal, and Entrepreneur Magazine. He is the author of the book How To Get More Facebook fans. He is both an adwords consultant and a facebook consultant. Check out his his free Facebook Marketing 101 course, and the full FanReach Facebook Marketing and Advertising course.

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One Response to “Social Media ROI, Viral Marketing, and Immunity”

  1. I think social media marketing will more than justify its cost when SEO and PPC alone does not work to 'make a brand hot' or 'convert a large number of new customers'.

    I don't know the cost of the 'Old Spice' social media marketing Ad was but no other SEO tactic could have produced the same excitement and convinced women today to buy their boyfriends, the cologne their dad's used to wear!

    As for ROI and repeatability, they ended the Isaih Mustafa campaign…but who knows, after a year or so, they might bring him back and people will be curious enough on what he would look like and say next. Will he be as cocky? Or will he be a sensitive soul? Or would he be in a relationship then and talking about it? Will he be wearing 'Old Spice' for his wedding anniversary?

    Consumers have always built long relationships with ad personalities and if a social media marketing campaign manages to create a cultural icon then ROI would increase.

    Novelty (or twist to an old idea) has always been difficult criteria which marketing people need to consistently meet to stay on top of their game.
    But every year I think there would be a social media marketing Ads from professionals and amateurs alike that will manage to bring this to us.

    And I don't think social media is a craze or hype that will become less relevant, or become secondary again to TV & Prints Ads in distribution. People are after all social beings and we like to be connected, be part of what is happening, and to have what our group or the group we want to belong to, think is hot or cool.
    .-= Mathew from Video Marketing recently posted: Website Design Basics =-.