3 Reasons the “ROI of Social Media” Debate Continues

After years of case studies showing social media’s power to connect people (customers, partners, and employees), you would think the debate would be settled.

It’s not.

In fact, it’s just beginning in some companies…now in a new way.

While nearly everyone is probably willing to admit there is some value to social media and that “it works”, a new question is arising.

Exactly how much is it worth?

This video parodies what’s going on in some companies as the new year begins.

How do situations like this happen?

Sometimes decision makers are not educated enough on what they were buying, had their expectations set too high, or don’t have patience to see it through.  It might even be a combination of all three.

Here are three big reasons why leaders are beginning a new round of debates about the value of social media in the marketing mix:

1) Poor Education

Leaders are not being educated on what they are buying, how long it will take, or what it actually does.

Sometimes, overzealous marketing leaders used the “Everyone’s Doing It” pitch and got approval without explaining that social media is a new kind of war, not a single battle.

2) Wrong Expectations

Have you heard or said things like:

  • “Social media is free advertising!”
  • “Social media will make sales explode!”
  • “Let’s make it go viral!”
  • “We won’t have to spend money on other expensive marketing routes.”

In reality, using social media is only one part of building a modern business.  Setting expectations too high, too fast, or too easy makes for trouble.

3) Lack of Patience

Some leaders have been properly educated with correct expectations, but just don’t have the patience.  Their ADHD leadership tendencies make them lose focus or patience and they withdraw support so they can focus on their next great strategy.


Social media is not a strategy.  It is a method of communicating.

Communication can be good.  Communication can be bad.  However, for most industries there is no way to calculate return on investment of communication.

It is everything.

If you choose to do social media poorly, you are choosing to do business poorly.

Don’t stop something you’ve started because you’re impatient or afraid.  This social media stuff isn’t going away and your competitors are only spending more time and money each quarter on finding ways to connect with your clients.  Ignore it for too long, and your clients may begin to ignore you too.

Finish the debate tonight,


Did you enjoy this? Get future posts by subscribing to “Thoughts from an 8pm Warrior” via email for free.

Published by Aaron Biebert

I'm a director, film/video exec producer, leader & 8pm Warrior. I am passionately chasing my goals at all times. I'm listening. Let's talk!

23 comments on “3 Reasons the “ROI of Social Media” Debate Continues”

  1. I’m not a business person, but to me social media is equivalent to looking up when sweeping the sidewalk outside of your store and stopping to talk to passersby, or waving to those same people as you set up new displays in the display window. If you want to understand your customer you have to want to get to know them. (And real people just like to talk and have fun, too. Nothing wrong with being real and socializing.)   

  2. This are great perspective Aaron. People hold social media to high standards and it usually delivers at multiple levels if it is planned and executed right. I often wonder why we never hear any similar level of debate about TV campaigns where Nielsen says only 18% produce a positive ROI?

  3. Thanks for the insights. My early business career was in advertising, post-Mad Men. I remember a period when clients discovered the power of sales promotion. Suddenly, ad budgets were moved to promotion and messages that didn’t align with the brand were appearing on packages, in flyers, etc. It took the clients about five years to realize that they were simply buying business by discounting price or subsidizing users with ‘gifts’. Promotion was a shiny object that appealed greatly to marketing and sales people, but not the CFO. It took time for marketers to learn how to use promotion. It was simply a tool for the marketing/sales mix. 

    My guess is that social media is in a similar phase. It’s a shiny object (I too am a heavy user for my business) that’s going to take time to be understood and leveraged. 

    Meantime, I do think it can be a strategic tool for the organization – not just the marketing department. It is changing the way some parts of the organization work with the customer. This is especially true in B2B. 

    However, every organization is different. Its importance varies mostyly by the nature of the customers of the organization.        

  4. Great article about the ROI for Social Media. Newspaper and tv advertising, and overall Marketing have always had this challenge. Some constructive feedback: I have lots of Jewish friends and family members and this article stands on its own without including that parody on Hitler video; took me back to Holocaust memories and preferred not to go there.

    Lisa Gangadeen, President of The 33480 Group LLC  

    1. Hey Bruce, I always love me some #DadChat when I can fit it in.  :-)

      As for SoMe, I see companies cutting back.  Not sure why.  Thought I’d share my thoughts, wonder if others are seeing it too.

  5. Hi Aaron,

    Problem #4 – you cannot view social media as just relationship building if you are investing actual dollars into it. And if you are spending time doing social media stuff, you are investing money, unless you and your people work for free.

    This is one of my greatest concerns in the online world right now, quite frankly. A lot of people are still saying that you cannot put a value on social media because all of the sites are free and it’s all about relationships. *However* companies are spending lots and lots of *time* doing marketing on these new platforms, and I think they are not tracking that time as an investment. Because of that, they are not tracking money that they have made as a result of that time. Your end result is that you are shoveling money out without putting money back in, and many businesses are going to encounter really serious problems if they keep that up. 

    Social media is different from “traditional” marketing in a lot of ways, but in this particular case, overlooking the similarities can be very damaging.

    In my humble opinion :)

    1. The question I ask is what is the most effective way to measure it. It reminds me of my days selling space and the discussions we would have about broadcast versus print versus interactive.

      What’s the ROI  on those Super Bowl ads. How many people decided to grab a Bud/Coke/Pepsi because of it or decided they want to buy an Audi instead of a Lexus.

      1. Measuring the value of relationships is hard, just like valuing the value of a brand is hard too.  

        I agree with @MargieClayman:disqus that we shouldn’t forget about including the value of time when thinking about the returns we are getting.  I think that’s the part that everyone is starting to figure out.I’m urging people not to forget about the benefits, especially when done correctly.
        Some are calling it quits after throwing lots of time (money) at it and not seeing results (perhaps doing it incorrectly).We shouldn’t quit, we should just be smarter about it.

    2. Love your thoughts.  I agree that social media is definitely not free.  I’m not sure any relationship building is free and everything we do is an investment.

      That’s why I don’t believe in wasting time.

      Margie, thanks so much for investing your time in this discussion.  I love it!


  6. Hi Aaron….”Social media is not a strategy….it is a way of communicating”….exactly!!! Those that put all of their marketing eggs in one basket are in for a big surprise.  The video parody (you are incredibly talented, BTW) demonstrates this well.  Everyday I learn more and more about where different aspects of marketing fit into my business model…it’s an ever changing picture.  There is no one answer…there never was….the answer was never just Yellow Pages….it evolves as your business evolves…the trick is to keep listening, learning and testing.  Keep your eye always on your business.  Think outside of the box.  Be flexible.  Stay focused.  Have fun.
    Thanks Aaron….8PM Warrior is always one of my favorite places to visit…

    1. Claudia, you are incredibly kind and brilliant.  We’re all still learning and I love how fast you embrace new stuff we’re all seeing.

      Listening, learning, and testing…I’m looking forward to it.Thanks for the thoughts.  You’re the best.

  7. Hey Aaron, great post! The problem with social media is that it is being used by people who want a quick fix. They want everything to work immediately, and don’t really want to have to put in concerted effort and time to see a result. But the same ADHD leaders are having the same issues with other means of marketing, of communicating and of networking. I want it ALL, and I want it all NOW!

    1. Yes, I believe there’s enough information out there that most leaders should know what’s going on with social media and how it works.

      Most leaders that are pulling back are ADHD leaders who are desperately trying to make something work…now.

      Unfortunately, it’s not a short-term thing.

      Great thoughts Alice!

  8. Hi Aaron

    I particularly enjoyed your comment about how the choice of doing social media poorly can reflect on doing business poorly. Like everything we do in life, if you’re not willing to put your heart and soul into it, why do it in the first place?

    Have a great weekend.

  9. Okay. First let me say kudos on the best parody of that video clip I’ve seen.

    But to the subject matter at hand. I see big companies do SoMe poorly simply because they are too big and compartmentalized, and I see small companies do SoMe well. But I also see small companies (especially the solopreneurs and startups with zero to a small number of employees) struggle with SoMe.
    And regardless of which category they are in if they take a few minutes to look at A) The time they have invested sharing, posting, creating content… B) The people involved in that process… C) The hard currency shelled out (if any)… then there are several things that they can begin tracking.

    It’s just like a blog post or a postcard in the mail… did you ask your prospect / potential customer to do something (call to action). Did they do it (conversion)? And how much money did you generate after you covered your tangible and intangible expenses (profit)?

    Most times I see brands post on Facebook with no call to action (other than the implied “please like this post”). So okay, I “like” the post, maybe. It does not necessarily mean I will buy a product or do business with that company. Maybe all they are hoping for are “likes” and the desire to keep their name in front of as many people as possible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.