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Miscalculating the ROI of Social Media

In Ed Schipul’s Personal Brand Era presentation to the PRSA Georgia crowd yesterday, he cited stats about the of success of small business owner Gary V’s venture into social media marketing as highlighted in popular Social Media ROI: Socialnomics video. The issue I discussed with Schipul afterwards is how the example perpetuates the idea that social media is free. Here’s the mathematical flaw:

$15,000 in Direct Mail = 200 new customers

$7500 for a billboard = 300 new customers

$0 on Twitter = 1800 new customers

Wow! Who wouldn’t jump to twitter with that math? But we have to recalculate the costs here to find the dose of reality.

While $15,000 probably includes design, production, list rental and postage not to mention possible test marketing efforts, it is still a lot, especially if the value of a new client is only $25/each.

$7500 for a billboard could be a one month rental in a prime area or design, skins and a multi-month rental in a lower rent market (I currently have a client spending just $500/mo for a board in a suburban market). New customer value at that same $25 and you’re breaking even.

1800 new customers with no cost? 18000 of those $25 clients is a fabulous return. But wait a minute.

How did you get the content on twitter? Who wrote it? How many tweets were involved? What did you tweet? Where did your tweets send them? To a website where you had to develop content? Who recorded or wrote that content? What was the cost of the person monitoring your tweets or tweetdeck? What was the cost of the developer creating landing pages for your tweets? And for the copywriter writing your content?

The idea that social media is free is a bit of a smoke-and-mirrors proposal. Social Media has great potential to promote your company, especially with the right offer and to the right audience. But don’t kid yourself into thinking it is free. Budget and plan for it accordingly and you will reap far greater ROI than if you treat it as a “free” medium. And remember, sometimes direct mail and outdoor still have a place in your mix.

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