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Social Media ROI – Article Roundup

Social Media ROI - Twitter

Last Updated: April 2019

The Twitter bird wants to know: How do you calculate social media ROI for your business?

It’s not always easy to measure the financial benefits of social marketing campaigns as hard and fast numbers. But with help from the resources below, you’ll be able to set social marketing goals and report on your program results with greater confidence.

Measuring Social Media Marketing

20+ Social Media Marketing Articles and Related Resources

If you follow the topic of modern digital marketing measurement, you’ll probably agree with this:
 
Evaluating social marketing effectiveness can be pretty tricky.
 
Even so, marketing teams who run the best social campaigns include specific goals and quantitative metrics to help guide and refine their social tactics. They use social media measurement tools, ROI calculators, templates, and other resources to help gauge social campaign results.  
First, a little background: 
 
I regularly work with Google Analytics to measure digital marketing effectivenessSo, I was curious to see what other experts were thinking and writing in the area of social media measurement. 
 

My goal with this ‘article roundup’ post is to collect and summarize a good list of articles on the topic of social media measurement, all in one handy resource. I plan to update this post periodically so it can serve as an evergreen resource for future reference as well.

What follows is some of the best material I found online. I hope it helps you build and measure effective social marketing campaigns.

A quick look at recent history:

Here’s a snapshot from Google Trends that shows the search interest on the general topic of social media ROI since early 2015: 

 google search trends - measuring social media
 
 
There’s been pretty consistent search interest in social media ROI, social media measurement, and social media effectiveness terms over the last few years.
 

It’s an indication that many people are still trying to figure this stuff out and are hungry for more insights.

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To help organize this content, I’ve grouped the articles into three categories below. Some of the articles cover the topic of social measurement in a more conceptual way.
 
Others provide more hard-hitting definitions and examples. They may describe how to evaluate social efforts with specific measurement tools. For example, some show how to measure social  campaigns with Google Analytics. 

A few articles either include or point to brief social marketing case studies with quantified benefits.
 
I end the list with a couple of pointers to classes on measuring the benefits of social media marketing. 
 
So whatever your needs may be, there’s a good chance that at least some of the articles below will help teach you how to measure social marketing effectiveness and improve your results.

Good Luck and Happy Reading!

Social Marketing Measurement - Some Common Themes

While reviewing and summarizing these articles, some common elements and themes jumped out at me. Some of the main themes include:
 

Social Media ROI Definition

The basic ROI equation is: ROI = [(Benefit – Cost) / Cost] * 100%.  (This is true for any financial ROI measure, not just social marketing metrics). 

Expressed as a percentage, financial ROI is basically what you gain (Benefit – Cost) vs. the Cost required to realize that incremental gain. The key, as in most financial analyses, is to focus on *incremental* benefits measured against the *incremental* costs to achieve them. 
 
So in practice, it’s very possible to build an ROI calculator using a spreadsheet as the tool that captures all social marketing costs and benefits. Companies can build and customize their own quantitative template and use it across multiple marketing campaigns. Of course, they can also use social measurement tools and templates provided by specific 3rd-party software platforms.   
 

Hard and Soft ROI

Hard ROI is measured in real percentages based on real currency units (US dollars, Euros, etc.). If the result is positive, you can translate it into cash, pay bills with it, etc. It is real, tangible financial return. 
 
Soft ROI, on the other hand, is not directly or accurately quantifiable in financial terms. You can’t pay the office rent, staff salaries, or utility bills with soft benefits. 
 
However, note that soft benefits may ultimately lead to quantifiable results. The connection may just be very fuzzy. In the world of social marketing (and even marketing more generally), the concept of soft ROI comes up constantly since some marketing initiatives are inherently more difficult to quantify directly in terms of incremental financial results.
 

Using the S.M.A.R.T. Approach  

The idea of making social media goals (and related measurement):
 
  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound 
This concept shows up in a few of the articles collected below. Seems like a smart approach to me, too.
 

Using Social Media Measurement Tools and Platforms 

The world of social media marketing is full of software tools designed to help manage processes and measure social media effectiveness. Social measurement often starts with Google Analytics (GA) and can be augmented with management tools from vendors such as Buffer, HootSuite, and others. 
  

[Tip: See the bonus offer on this blog post for more on these tools.]

Common Prescription for Social Media Measurement

Setting goals, defining proper social campaign metrics that tie to these goals, measurement and analysis, reporting, and adjustment. It’s a closed-loop cycle that is designed to continuously measure and improve social media marketing over time.   
 
cartoon - social media return on investment
 
So with the intro and context provided above, let’s dive in to the actual articles.
 
The articles I’ve summarized below come from several different sources. Some are from social platform vendors who obviously want marketers to receive positive financial value from their engagement in social marketing activities. Others are from presumably more neutral sources… social media practitioners and experts, etc.

General Social ROI Discussion

1. We’ll start the list with this painfully funny and on-point cartoon about social marketing measurement, from Marketing Week and Marketoonist. That point above about real financial measures vs. the soft stuff? It’s well captured in this cartoon. You just can’t pay the bills with non-financial vanity metrics such as Facebook likes and Twitter retweets.

2. Gary Vaynerchuk offers a funny piece on social media benefits in this short piece. You won’t get analytical tips or quantitative steps here, just interesting and humorous parallels about skill, time, execution, commitment, and other parts of the ‘investment’ variable. This article is a couple of years old now but is still worth a quick read.  

3. This brief article by Tereza Litsa introduces the challenges of measurement in social media. She discusses different approaches for brand awareness, increasing engagement, and lead generation. Not heavy on effectiveness examples or financial math, but more of a general overview and discussion piece. It does include a link at the end to several free tools for evaluating social activities.

4. From Gretchen Fox of MTO Agency, this brief and very pro-social-marketing article is about busting social media measurement myths. Includes links to several supporting articles, data points, and related resources. It’s not an ROI-specific tutorial, but rather a plea for businesses to wake up and get on board the social train. Includes a 5-point explanation for why companies avoid leveraging social media marketing.

5. Robert Allen provides this interesting discussion about the perceptions of social media marketing effectiveness in B2B and B2C markets. He covers a range of social marketing goals, from brand awareness and customer engagement to lead generation and customer acquisition. Includes several charts and graphs that show survey results covering all the major social platforms, including perceptions of financial measures.

6. From David Moth of Econsultancy, this article includes discussion of social media case studies. However, it starts with the observation that analyzing social results is still tough, especially for B2B marketers. 

It references an earlier article that suggests many marketers should stop investing in (organic) social media marketing, diverting those resources instead to channels that are more highly measurable with a direct cause-effect relationship (including *paid* social). 

David also includes pointers to helpful guides from HootSuite and Buffer, as well as summaries and links to a few case studies depicting social media effectiveness, including BT, KLM, Made.com, Incontact, and IBM.  

Social Media Measurement Process

7. This is a fairly short article by Ronald Dod on calculating social marketing return and some of the pitfalls the author has had trying to produce hard social metrics for his clients. 

The article points out some of the measurement challenges that can crop up within Google Analytics and Facebook metrics, plus the challenges of proper attribution back to social activity. 
 
8. The next article by Sagi Solomon on the Advanced Web Ranking blog is focused on how to measure social activities. It offers a 3-step approach based on 1) establishing S.M.A.R.T. social promotion goals, 2) tracking and reporting progress, and 3) quantifying results where possible. 

It’s a pretty quick and worthwhile read, especially as a reminder to set realistic and measurable goals. The article references GA and various social marketing dashboard tools.
 
9. Marisa Fiore provided an article on Tracx focused on proving the value of your social media based on the now-familiar approach of setting goals and objectives, tracking results, assigning monetary amounts to benefits and costs, then running the standard return on investment calculation: 
ROI (%) = [(Benefits – Costs)/Costs] * 100%. 
(Update from Nov 2019: Link to this article removed… Tracx is now part of Talkwalker.)  

10. From Patrick Whatman at URL shortening service Bitly, we have this piece on proving that social return on investment is not a mythical beast. It’s a quality article that covers the essential whys and hows of calculating the return on social media marketing, including brief bits on tools such as GA, Kissmetrics, Bitly (of course), and Mention. 

Patrick’s focus is on setting specific goals, tracking the right metrics, and doing as much source attribution as possible for various goal conversions.   
 
11. Here’s a good article by Scott Desgrosseillers of Wicked Reports. It’s based on a real-world social media marketing case study with GetMaineLobster and its attempts to tie social campaign activity and investments to actual revenue. 

He discusses obstacles to quantifying social, crucial marketing metrics to monitor, various attribution models, and holding social media marketing managers accountable for real results. 
12. And from Neil Patel and the Quicksprout team… an excellent infographic on how to calculate your social media campaign ROI. Briefly, the graphic covers these 6 steps:

  1. Set conversion goals
  2. Track conversions
  3. Assign monetary value to conversions
  4. Measure total benefits by channel
  5. Determine total costs
  6. Analyze results and improve
Neil concludes that the key to being a good marketer is testing.
 
13. From the Salesforce Marketing Cloud… here’s a useful infographic that outlines a 5-step process for analyzing social media effectiveness:
 
  1. Choose goals
  2. Determine needed metrics
  3. Track metrics
  4. Assign monetary values
  5. Update reporting – make projections and improvements
14. From Sapir Segal of social media management vendor Oktopost, this article describes how to quantify social marketing benefits, what items to measure, understanding goals and setting social KPIs, proving and *improving* the quantifiable benefits of social activity.
 
15. This article by Breonna Bergstrom of solution vendor CoSchedule focuses on organic return… vs. the paid stuff. Includes a helpful walk-through of setting goals and custom reports in GA, and building custom URL tags (i.e., UTM link tagging for social campaign tracking). 

Then, of course, reporting and analysis of campaign results… including a brief intro of how CoSchedule can help make your life easier as a social media marketer. The article also includes an offer for a free social media measurement template. 
  
16. From Kristy Bolsinger and the digital marketing pros at Moz… Chapter 4 (of a 12-chapter online ‘book’ on social media marketing) focuses on social media metrics. Includes a brief intro followed by a useful infographic-style section that outlines the quantitative and qualitative aspects of social marketing measurement. The article also includes an offer for a 30-day free trial of Moz Pro (of course!)
  
17. From Ana Gotter on Social Media Examiner, this article looks at five measurement tools:
 
  1. Kissmetrics
  2. Customer Lifetime Value Calculator
  3. RJ Metrics’ Cloud BI
  4. Cyfe
  5. Google Analytics
It also mentions the ‘on-platform’ analytics that the social platforms provide: Facebook Insights, Pinterest Analytics, Twitter Analytics, YouTube Analytics, and Instagram Analytics.
 
This article has a good comment stream and social sharing, as is common with content on Social Media Examiner. 
 
18. Another article on Social Media Examiner, by Debra Eckerling, discusses a 5-step social marketing measurement process that covers:
 
  1. Setting goals for social marketing activities
  2. Determining the right social platforms
  3. Tracking campaigns
  4. Reporting findings
  5. Reviewing results and adjusting goals (as needed)
The article is a bit older now (2014) than most of the others in this roundup. But it still provides lots of links to helpful related info and free tools for measuring social effectiveness.
 
19. This piece from Kevan Lee at Buffer is billed as a ‘Delightfully Short Guide’ to social media ROI, and it serves that purpose well.
 
It starts with the familiar process:
 
  1. Choose your social goals and metrics to track
  2. Track those things using tools like Google Analytics and social media management tools
  3. Assign monetary value (includes interesting info on comparative ‘cost per action’ metrics)
  4. Calculate your total social media investment (including paid in-house staff time)
  5. Calculate social program return on investment based on quantified benefits vs. total costs
This article concludes by embedding the detailed infographic from Neil Patel at QuickSprout (mentioned above).
 
It also provides helpful related links for further tips on how to measure social.
 
20. Dominique Jackson provides a good article that describes the challenges associated with measuring social media and then provides a quick walk-through of some of the setup required in Google Analytics to support the effort.
 
It includes useful related links, including resources for calculating ‘customer lifetime value’ (LTV).
 
21. By Sarah Dawley from social media juggernaut HootSuite, this is a good and pragmatic discussion of the overall social media measurement process. Includes references to several HootSuite tools that can help along the way, as well as GA and Facebook Pixels tools.

Online Classes

 
This is a fee-based Udemy class on measuring social media results, with Google Analytics as part of the solution. For example, using GA Goals to allow conversion tracking based on social marketing activities. The course includes video instruction (lecture format) and supplemental resources. 
 
Course fee is $13 (71% discount) as of early March 2018.
 
4.4 stars based on 28 ratings.
 
First launched in 2015 by instructor Ali Mirza. Last course update was June 2017. English language.
 
This page includes student reviews as well as links to similar courses.
 
 
23. From author and instructor Luan Wise at Lynda.com… a 33-minute social media marketing course that covers:
 
  • Linking business strategy and social marketing
  • Challenges of calculating social marketing investment returns
  • Determining costs of social programs
  • Defining and calculating social ROI
  • Financial and non-financial benefits of social media
This material uses Google Analytics data as well as platform-specific metrics from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
 
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BONUS: Save this article as a handy PDF to get additional bonus material on social marketing measurement tools and related resources.

Wrap-Up

So that’s it… almost two dozen good articles and online courses that can help us all become better social media marketers, with a variety of calculation approaches to back up and help improve our efforts.

I plan to update this post periodically with fresh finds and will send those updates to my email subscribers so they won’t need to remember to check back here.

Grab the bonus offer above (yellow box) and you’ll automatically be on my list for further updates.

I welcome your feedback and comments below. Which of the above articles were most helpful for you? Any important concepts missing? 

Thanks for reading, commenting, and sharing with your social networks below, too.

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