Social media ROI sucks! (Or, you can prove anything if you send out a survey)

Posted by Christopher Hosford on Mar 6, 2014 8:21:00 AM

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By Christopher Hosford, editor-in-chief, HosfordGroup LLC

Social media marketing is now precariously ensconced as a more-or-less mainstream marketing channel. Companies try to dutifully engage with customers and prospects on all the main social channels, plus as many of the secondary ones as possible. And even with concerns over social metrics, the rise of content marketing has rushed in to boost social’s street cred. After all, content is the “fuel” that drives the social media engine, right?

But things can get murky when marketers are asked to rate social media in terms of contributing to business goals. Social distribution of content and messages isn’t considered all that effective in providing business value to companies, according to a recent analysis by Forrester Research.

According to Forrester’s “Q3 2013 North American and UK Digital Maturity Online” report (based on an August online survey of 395 marketers), onsite ratings and reviews are rated No. 1 in providing the greatest business value to companies. Following in 2nd through 7th place are paid search, email, branded communities and word-of mouth (tied), branded blogs, and online display advertising.

LinkedIn was rated eighth out of 13 channels and YouTube was 10th, followed by Google+, and Twitter. In last place: Facebook, whose problem (according to Forrester VP and principal analyst Nate Elliott) is poor targeting and static-image ad units.

Forrester Marketing Channels Survey

B-to-b marketers have had issues with Facebook for a while, but what accounts for the poor evaluation of LinkedIn, a perennial b-to-b darling? And YouTube in 10th place? With all the hoorah over the appeal of video? It’s hard to believe.

That’s why I don’t believe it.

First, this array of channels reflects a certain compelling reality: It’s a highly integrated landscape. Some of it is direct marketing, such as email, display, and PPC search. Some of it is branding, such as blogging and YouTube. Some of it is pull (social), some push (display). And all presumably reinforce each other in providing marketing content that delivers cogent messages in a variety of venues and with a variety of purposes.

Next, the wording of the question—“How satisfied are you with the business value your company has achieved by using each of the following marketing channels?”—is heavily weighted toward channels with more or less obvious ROI attached to them (email, search). Others are more subtle branding channels with more difficult-to-measure metrics.

And lastly, the range of rankings in the Forrester survey is extremely close, and may paint a picture of marketer satisfaction that doesn’t reflect reality. Consider: marketers were asked to rank all these various channels on a scale of 5 to 1, with 5 indicating extreme satisfaction with the channel and 1 extreme dissatisfaction. The top-rated channel, onsite ratings and reviews, nabbed a score of 3.84, while last-place Facebook received a score of 3.54.

This is hardly a rejection of social media or even Facebook. It’s just what you’d expect from a survey in which marketers are forced to rank from top to bottom, whether they like it or not.

Bash Facebook all you like; there are plenty of alternatives out there. But don’t be quick to dismiss social media. It’s one of the key means of distributing marketing content and messages, plays nice with other channels and—as we get better at understanding the links between sentiment, online behavior, and predictive analytics—will begin to offer more clearly measureable ROI.

Christopher HosfordChristopher Hosford is a frequent guest blogger for ViewPoint. He is editor-in-chief and head writer at HosfordGroup LLC, a New York City-based content marketing agency. Christopher is former East Coast Bureau Chief of Crain’s “BtoB” magazine, and former editor-in-chief of Nielsen’s “Sales & Marketing Management” magazine. He can be reached at

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Topics: Marketing Strategy, Guest Blogs, Social Media

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