What’s the ROI on conversations?

Kid's Talking

Have the Conversation

This post is dedicated to Huw Sayer, Gary Dickenson & Sally Ormond, following an involved Twitter discussion between us, over my recent post ROI in Social Media: Taking the Numbers Out of the Equation. And a subject Gary had covered in a post some 2 years previously: Why you can’t base twitter success and expertise on stats.

We were all in agreement. It’s the engagement that counts, “ROR – return on relationships”, as Sally suggested. That still left us with a dilema: Business needs to measure things. You can’t just say to the boss, have faith I am doing the right thing, it will all come good in the end.


Or can you?

We can’t predict earthquakes or their strength, yet we know they will occur. So we build properties in fault zones in a way that compensates. We prepare for the inevitable. Practise evacuation procedures. And know to stand under door frames or get out into the open. Can the same be true for Social Media? We know business thrives on relationships and engagement, which are built from conversations. We can’t predict the effectiveness of the conversations but we can do all we can to to maximise that, taking every opportunity to have a conversation. We can improve our customer serivce, make our company more open, garner customer opinion.

How do we do this?

What is being said about your brand or the hot topics in your industry that you can improve upon or add an opinion to? What’s positive and what’s neagtive? If you started to correct those issues and respond publicly what’s the likely response? If you started to answer questions with quality answers how do you think you will be perceived? See this is not difficult, it’s not a science. Of course, you need the tools to enable ease of communication and engagement. It could be Twitter, Facebook or even as Caterpillar found it may be more suitable to use old fashioned forums. Connect these into your CRM systems, monitor conversations and the results with applications like Raven Tools, cultivate the discussion, adapting where necessary.

Taking it to the HIPPO

The Highest Paid Person’s Opinion will count, he is going to want some numbers. But you are not going to talk about followers and fans, you are going to talk about engagement and discussions. About saved sales, highlighted weakenesses that have been corrected, positive customer feedback. Rate sentiment, have it as a key metric. Maybe 5 positives this week, 10 next. One metric I found useful was links to our content. Great content is engaging, one of the relationship builders. People link to engaging content, share it, spread it around and if you are publishing regularly as part of your social strategy you will see backlinks to your site or blog grow. As these grow so will natural search referrals, the two go hand in hand. Average time on site increases. Bounce rates decrease. Before you know it you are back to using standard site metrics to highlight the performance of your social activity.

Can you really do without the numbers? Well maybe at first, you need just a little faith.

Thanks again to Huw, Gary & Sally.

About Sean Clark

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  • Great post Sean. I think the social media and ROI debate will rumble on to eternity – especially while CEOs are so fixated on numbers. But as you say, social media is about engagement. In  the past if someone didn’t like your customer service or product they told a few friends. Now they have the potential to tell millions. That’s why monitoring your brand on social media is so important. By listening you will identify problems fast and (hopefully) put them right, giving you the reputation as a company that cares about its customers.

  • Sally,

    Listening, a new way to Market your company? Oh how we fail to listen, so often in life & business.

  • Good post @SeanEClark:twitter  – I particularly liked the earthquake analogy (be prepared, even when you can’t predict) – and the HIPPO reference. You are absolutely right about the need to change the terms of the debate – including changing the way people describe and measure certain activity. As @twitter-14614261:disqus says, engagement is as much about listening as it is about talking.

  • I think maybe the point of the question has been missed. The true ROI is impossible to measure, you can’t really measure the feelings of your customers, unless you’re a mind reader of course. You may however get a broad idea by observing conversations, mentions, interactions. I suppose ultimately you see the ROI in your bottom line  but as you say there’s a lot of initial faith involved.

    Some of the the ‘powers that be’ are currently like a very very large boat that is speeding in the wrong direction and needs to turn around and rethink but like a large boat that takes time it isn’t a car that applies the brakes and turns around quickly.

    Brands that are being successful at this are growing within a culture of engagement & discussion and all that goes with it.

  • Gary,

    These are exactly the types of companies that are likely to survive the long haul and certainly where many small businesses should be focussing their efforts. The story of Zappos in the book Delivering Happiness would be an advisable read for any business serious about making a difference in this competitive world.