Social Media ROI & “Tweeting for Dollars”

Twitter DollarsLast week while discussing social media ROI, I made the statement that attempting to directly measure revenue from social media will mean the social media efforts won’t be effective. To be clear, as I went on to say in my post last week, I’m not suggesting that social media efforts not be monitored. What I wrote was that

There’s no direct link between time or money spent on social media pur­suits and rev­enue. Some­times there may be a direct return, but this is the excep­tion and not the rule. Social media pur­suits have a grad­ual but cumu­la­tive effect over the long term, which trans­lates indi­rectly to increased rev­enue for your busi­ness. The more directly you try to align social media with rev­enue, the less effec­tive it will be, because it vio­lates the most basic prin­ci­ple of social media interaction.

To explain the point, I refer to an article by Amy Jo Martin that came up (with critical intent) in Twitter conversation last week, suggesting that Return on Influence [is] the New ROI. I thought “Return on Influence” was a great phrase, because it actually describes how social media works, with influence leading to a potential financial return. The potential for a return based on influence and connection is what I mean by social media indirectly leading to increased business revenue.

While Ms. Martin’s article made some good points about social media influence, I still found the process a bit mercenary: “Divide the total revenue generated via social efforts by the number of social media fans and followers, and you get a per-fan/follower value.” This is in the context of attempting to sign a social media sponsorship deal on behalf of a celebrity, so such a measurement would have some meaning in that context. Unfortunately, it also taints the relationship. As soon as I — as a follower of Mr. Celebrity — have a value attached to me so that I can be pimped to a sponsor, I have to think that maybe the perceived relationship we have through social media is maybe not all that deep. In fact, the celebrity might even –gasp– be using me for his own personal gain. Somehow his tweets suddenly seem a lot less relevant. (Where’s that “unfollow” button?) Meanwhile, I’m wondering if you can calculate revenue-per-tweet.

Emphasizing the relationship between revenue and social media followers inherently incentivizes the wrong behaviour Outlining and emphasizing a direct relationship between revenue and followers or your relationship with them via social media inherently incentivizes the wrong behaviour. Social media at its best and most effective is built on organic interaction, not tweeting for dollars. Tweeting for dollars depersonalizes the relationships, and makes the whole pursuit less effective and less valuable.

It isn’t that social media ROI can’t (or even shouldn’t) be measured… it’s just that such measurement is the wrong focus when it affects the type and level of interaction one has through the medium. The first rule of social media is about authenticity, and once you start engaging in social media with an eye to connecting every tweet or update to increased profit, you cease to be authentic.