Return on Interaction

I think as a whole we are ready for a rethinking on how we use social media for business.  The Facebook privacy controversy is only the latest in a string of events that leads me to believe that nobody knows how social media is going to play out much less how effective it will become in driving sales for business.  Especially for small businesses with limited budgets.

The day that Google figured out a way to monetize search led us down the path of looking for the best way to advertise against content.  The next innovation was to create online communities where people could create and share content for free. This inspired Utopian visions of democratizing information to empower consumers with choice and hold business providers accountable. While I feel both business providers and consumers have benefited enormously from these technologies, there remains an enormous amount of chatter to filter through and the jury is still out on the profit potential with running social media campaigns.

Don’t get me wrong, social media is an incredible toolset to pull us all together, let us share, inspire transparency and provide for accountability, but you have to admit, to the small business owner, participating in the social media revolution has to be an overwhelming thought.  When they think of marketing, they think of where is the return and how soon will it arrive.

Clearly social media marketing is not so cut and dry. More of it has to do with experimentation and trial and error than hard fast rules on return.  So with the incredible amount of “chatter” generated from social media and the amount of time investment required for your content to be found and acted upon what is a business owner to do? Either break out your checkbook to do it right, invest the time it takes to create volumes of quality content, or redefine your expected return.

Let me explain.

If you are looking for an ROI (Return on Investment) by participating in social media, be prepared to spend both time and money and be patient. But if you are looking for an ROI (Return on Interaction), with the right tools you might be pleasantly surprised.

Do you find value in communicating effectively with your prospects, your clients, or your staff? Then sharing quality information through a blog is a good idea. (It can be far more effective than sending out individual emails if your objective is inspire feedback.)  Do you like the idea of keeping your community updated on your latest business developments or activities? Then Facebook, Twitter or YouTube is a great way to share and add to your community.  Are you the business owner who likes to hear feedback on how your company is performing and listen to ideas to improve your products or services from clients and employees?  Then the feedback loop offered through social media can be incredibly effective for any size business.

Does any one of these activities add immediately to your bottom line?  If your bottom line is only solely based on revenue, then probably not. If your bottom line factors in the importance of reputation, effective communication, and awareness, then quality time spent on quality content might prove to be profitable for you.  Don’t misunderstand, there still will be an investment in learning how to use social media properly as well as the time it takes to create the content.  But if your motivation lies in wishing to communicate more effectively, then this is a long term investment to improve your company culture as opposed to a short term marketing investment.

I personally have found the process of creating content to be revelatory in off itself.  Every time I write a blog about what we are working on, conduct a video interview with a peer or share my thoughts on a podcast, I am forced to think about my overarching message. “What do I want to communicate with my audience to help them relate more effectively to what we offer” is something I think about every day. Whether you like it or not social media is forcing us to work more on how we relate than how we persuade. I can’t count how many small business owners I have spoken to who fight this tooth and nail. I don’t blame them though. The hype machine makes it sound like Social Media is the magic pill for their business. It is not. It is merely a tool which if used properly can be an incredible catalyst for communication as well as a great audience builder.

What are you looking to get from Social Media. A Return on Interaction or a Return on Investment?

I would be interested in hearing your take.