A couple of years ago Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff came out with their book Groundswell, including a terrific chapter on the measuring of ROI of blogs. I adapted their approach and created an online Social Media ROI Calculator. Olivier Blanchard then wrote a particularly vituperative blog post ripping it apart – in a way that I had never had anything I’d written ripped apart. I was totally traumatized appreciative of the critical response.

In his blog, Olivier intimated that if we were patient, he would come out with something of his own – and sure enough, his book Social Media ROI has just come out.

So, I really want to dig into this book and tear it apart provide a thoughtful critical response back, right?

Well, first off, despite the book’s title, Social Media ROI isn’t all about measuring ROI. In fact, the majority of the book is about developing a social media program, integrating social media, and then managing a social media program. The last section of the book is about metrics and ROI in particular.

And I’d really, really want to tear this book apart like to be critical, right?  Well, I can’t do it.  It’s well-written and thoughtful.  Rats!

I imagine the book was written for stakeholders who might be responsible for bringing their organizations into the 21st century in regards to social media marketing and optimization. And to that end, I’m not sure this is THE definitive book.  After all, a quick search on Amazon in business books for “social media” yields well over 38 thousand results. In fact, it’s somewhat amazing that any author alive can convince a publisher to come out with another book using “social media” in the title.

What the book does offer is some unique and even poetic approaches to thinking about various aspects of social media. In the management section, Blanchard writes, “Distilled down to its core, social media program management is simply a product of purpose fueled by opportunity: The purpose is to help an organization perform better, provide a higher degree of value to its audience, stakeholders, fans, and customers, and drive organic and sustainable business growth”.

Regarding ROI, Blanchard writes, “ROI can only be calculated after the investment has yielded a return.  It cannot and must not be estimated beforehand.  Ever. Under any circumstances.”  Perhaps I don’t understand the nature of this prohibition, but I find myself questioning this “rule”.  After all, isn’t there a lot of value to be had from undergoing the exercise?  Of thinking through the potential outcomes?  ROI calculations and discussion of all of the various assumptions that can be made, in my experience, can be a tremendous basis for discussion.  For instance, in our piece on the ROI of Awareness:  a user would need to provide some numbers for sales conversion and marketing size.  Pretty difficult numbers to come up with in some businesses. But what is fundamentally wrong with asking, “If we are able to affect customers in this stage of their relationship to our company, what would the likely outcome be?”

I would even venture that we could benefit from looking at the impact of social media on all of the various stages in the customer funnel, from awareness to the new model for the advocacy loop. We could also consider the impact on Total Lifetime Value, brand equity, and corporate valuation.

The famous translator of German philosophy, Walter Kaufmann, wrote a trilogy of books talking about how certain philosophers were great, not for WHAT they thought, but HOW they thought.  That’s what I like about Social Media ROI.  There is a LOT here to make me think about social media in some different ways. It’s a thoughtful and even provocative book – I recommend it to not only marketing managers, but other key organizational stakeholders as well.  There are too many executives out there still shaking their heads, and not understanding that Social Media isn’t just a passing fad, it’s rewriting the rules of business.

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