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Treading water and the state of social media reporting

Flickr photo credit: WoofBC

This one’s going to be short. Here we go…

Social professionals don’t get to decide that ROI isn’t important. Our clients and bosses decide that, and it’s usually coming from the right place. We can joke among ourselves about ROI-crazed executives and managers, but I think we all know that it’s pretty cool that our companies are putting any money into social–into us–at all. Of course they want to know what they’re getting for it.

That’s one end of the ROI attitude spectrum, the scoffers. I’m not going to devote this post to proving that social ROI can be calculated–that’s something they’ll need to do for themselves (before someone higher up asks for it).

At the other end of the ROI attitude spectrum are the obsessed. They believe in social ROI, as they should. But the way they think about it is neither sustainable nor scalable. To them, ROI is something that justifies what they’re doing. Sometimes it’s even a defensive calculation, as in, “I can’t believe they’re shrinking the social budget–just look at this ROI!” Most of the ROI-obsessed rarely have to play that card, because they’ve always got their finger on the number, which figures into all of their reporting, etc. But why tread water when you can swim? Both will keep you from sinking, but swimming gets you somewhere.

Reporting is good. ROI is good. They both have so much more to offer. Truth is, if we obsess on reporting-as-justification we only get a sliver of the ROI we could see if we used reporting as a basis for optimization. That’s right, improvement.

Social is the most dynamic, interesting development to hit business in the last few decades, and we’re using numbers in a static, one-dimensional quest for approval. Imagine if we decide to devote 10% of our reporting to justification, and the other 90% to improving what we do, and delivering more ROI than before.

Who would disapprove of that? Let’s stop treading water and see where swimming takes us.

This post started as a comment on Brian Solis’ blog. 

Ian Greenleigh
Author | Turning data into stories | Sr Mgr, Content & Social Strategy, Bazaarvoice | Former baby