Lee Odden

What Does Real Social Media Success Look Like?

Lee Odden     Online Marketing, Social Media

social media roiAs I’ve been able to travel and meet marketers all over the U.S. and in other countries, I am always interested in learning how companies are viewing the value of their social media efforts.

Marketing investments should be predicated by more than chasing the competition, satisfying someone’s ego or acting solely on a gut feeling. A good handle on goals, resources and target audience help determine strategy and tactics as well as how outcomes are measured. This is the case with even the most fundamental of marketing programs. With that kind of basic framework, implementing and measuring value from social media shouldn’t be that different.

Because so much actual marketing is tactical, many companies see social media simply as another of those tactics and evaluate one-off promotional efforts for ROI without considering the bigger picture. It’s very much a situation of not seeing the forest for the trees.

Imagine this scenario:

A competitor’s YouTube video is getting significant play amongst the Twitterati, on industry blogs and even a few mentions by traditional media. The CEO sees this, asks the VP of Marketing where things are at with social media and the VP tasks the Marketing Director with creating a “viral” video.  The Marketing Manager engages an outside “social media expert” at an advertising agency to create a video that will show how edgy, clever and innovative the company is.

A YouTube channel is created, the video is uploaded and ads are purchased to drive traffic.  A SEO consultant is hired to help the video “go hot” and submits, votes, rates, reviews etc with their network to boost social sharing of the video with the hopes that there are enough social signals for the video to hit the home page of Digg, Delicious along with getting ample play on StumbleUpon, Reddit and maybe even a few prominent blogs.

The video gets shared, Tweeted, voted on and submitted, much to the satisfaction of the Marketing chain of command. The stats are reported to the CEO:  Video creation cost: $15k. Video advertising cost: $5k. SEO promotion: $5k. A total of $25k is spent on creation and promotion of the video.

The return?  12,000 views on YouTube, 100 comments (mostly positive), 320 Tweets/ReTweets, 40 Likes on Facebook, 115 saves on Delicious, 35 comments on the blog post that embedded the video plus 6,750 unique visitors. Also, mentions on 4 industry blogs, 105 inbound links to the blog post from other websites/blogs and mentions by 3 industry publications.

Was it a success?

Many large companies wouldn’t blink at a 25k investment for an online video that returned the stats above. Plus the video will continue to see visibility since it can be discovered by search indefinitely (as long as its online).

Instead of the simple math of calculating cost per views, comments, Tweets, Likes, links, visits, mentions etc, I think there are some important questions to consider:

  • What was the business goal for the video?
  • Did the video reach influencers of customers?
  • Did the video reach customers?
  • Did the video influence behaviors that could result in business outcomes?
  • How does the video fit within other social media communications?
  • Will there be more than just one video?

On one level, the video will be reported and accepted as a success because of gross reach. In fact, it is definitely a success in that way. On another level, it’s debatable whether the video connected the brand with customers – either directly or indirectly. How much impact can one business video have?

Rather than thinking whether the video promotion was a success or not, one might first consider what goal the company is trying to achieve (besides having a video more popular than the competition).

This is the type of scenario that often typifies companies evaluating the value of their social media efforts.  Some go so far as trying to measure direct lead generation as a result of a video promotion like the one above. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it seems that social media marketing efforts would be far more effective when goals, customer needs and a plan for making a meaningful connection are intentional vs. leaving it to chance.  There seems to be a lot of causation statements being made by social media marketing folks when at best, they’re talking about correlation.

Social media marketing has a lot of measurement issues to solve and at the same time, there’s an opportunity for marketers to take a step back and put their social media tactics in perspective and try to see where they fit in the whole.

Sometimes it seems a little too inconvenient for marketers (and their agencies or consultants) to do more than spike social proof numbers to create warm fuzzies in the C-Suite vs. actually influencing measurable business goals.   Maybe its the real-time nature of the social web and the expectation of quick results that creates the rush.

There’s always a place for testing, but I’d be curious to know how often companies and consultants are executing social media tactics as pure tests without audience insight or specific goals. Some companies can probably make due with a “make it up as you go” perspective, but who has the time to see if that works vs following a methodology?

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. Great stuff, Lee…

    I once sat down with a company that had absolutely no business making a Viral Video – but that’s what the CEO told the chief of sales to tell the marketing person to find someone to help do.

    I think the discussion went like this: Me – “what are the objectives?” Them – “We need to go viral.”

    Half-hour of a circuitous loop of saying the same thing over and over again, and we both decided that (1) I was not the guy to help them and (2) they didn’t need this project.

    Saved everybody some headache.

    • That sounds like a too common situation Dave. In those situations I try to share stories of other companies that did do their homework and focus on outcomes and the success they achieved. Then share another. If a company doesn’t see the need then – it is better to part ways (after referring them to a video production person you know of course)

  2. Avatar Black Seo Guy says

    Social media is worth the hassle if you as me, people need to put more work into it to get the most out of it. No some don’t have 25k to spend, but most of us do have time.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  3. Avatar Tracey Tarrant says

    As a social media strategist, one of the questions I’m asked constantly is about ROI. But ROI for social media can’t be measured as easily as it can for other ways of marketing. Depending upon the type of company, sales can be immediate or they can be long-term. I prefer to measure number of comments on blogs, retweets, likes, etc. Tracey Tarrant

    • Comments, retweets, links are measures of engagement but who hires a consultant to make a counter on a web page go up? Trending those metrics over time alongside business goals like revenue, retention, gross revenue per sale, quality of leads, etc go a long way in the boardroom.

  4. You make an interesting point Lee about companies thinking that the social web moves so fast, so they should have real results as fast as that. In reality though, yes the social web seems to move fast, but really achieving results through social media can be a long process that never really finishes.
    You can get 100,000 views on a video in a day, but will that translate to immediate sales? Probably not. However, if you keep making good videos that keep getting good view numbers people start to remember you and create that relationship with your brand. Will that lead to sales over time? Probably (well, hopefully actually, but more likely than the other scenario).
    I hate to bring this example up again, but I remember a week after the Old Spice video campaign people were saying “well they had X number of views, but their sales haven’t gone up.” That was the week after. No one runs out to buy body wash because of a commercial, especially if you already have half a bottle left at home. However, those videos resonated with people and over time Old Spice did see their sales rise significantly.
    People expect results as fast as the web moves these days, but in reality that’s almost impossible. Using social media is about building and maintaining relationships. Sometimes (most of the time) that takes time, but if companies are persistant and stay on track with their social media efforts they will see those results.

    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos (http://sysomos.com)

    • Sheldon, you mention the missing link, building relationships, that is often the issue with companies finding real business value from their social media efforts. Coordinating with other social efforts in a way that these tactics work in concert with each other is a much more mature way to see success I think.

  5. To those who don’t believe there’s direct ROI on social, I say, “Work harder.” For all those CEOs who believe the objective is to go viral, ask “Why?”

    Always good stuff, Lee.

  6. Great article. Many concerns out there still to be addressed, still lots to be done in terms of educating our audience as to the huge benefits of Social Marketing. I believe in spite of all the lack of proper testing and metrics for Online Marketing, we are still ahead of the game compared to traditional marketing. Patience is a virtue. I believe it will pay off.

  7. Avatar Mikko Rummukainen says

    Thanks for raising a very important question!

    I think there is still a lot of splish-splashing and experimenting going on, and while some companies already seem to get the different tools of the trade, others don’t – yet. The time is coming that social media marketing knowledge will become a bit more standardised and sound less like 10 different prophecies (and yeah, I realize that this is a prophecy of sorts as well :D).

    In any case, I would say that it’s still a bit difficult to distinguish ‘real, sustained success’ from social media campaigning on average, since it is difficult to be sure of whether a certain result was achieved with a plan (or following methodology as you put it), or by chance.

    It would be really interesting to get to learn through open and honest case examples of times when success was reached – and possibly even sustained and transferred to new ventures.

  8. Lee,

    I think this is a great question. How do you measure the effectiveness of social media, let alone measure it’s effect on your profits. Like you say, you should set goals for your campaign then measure against these goals. But how on earth do you correlate income with networking?


    • At the most basic level, one would compare overall business performance metrics overlaid with social participation levels and outcomes to determine a correlation. Tracking codes with shared URLs used in networking can help determine specific business outcomes influenced.

  9. The best way to understand the true ROI of creating a campaign like this is to ask your customers where they found you. 12,000 views on youtube and 6,500 more on your blog would leave me to believe that someone is commenting on how they want your service and need more information. The video is not complete, if it does not have a follow up mechanism that drives the client to purchase or stay in the companies circle of influence.

  10. Great post~ One can only measure the success of their social media marketing if they have an end goal in mind before starting their plan.

  11. Fantastic article! Thanks for separating the wheat from the chaff.

  12. I agree with some of the people that commented on this article that in order to know more about your business you sometimes have to explore and do things unusually like doing a campaign or knowing how they rate your business.

  13. I think your “questions to ponder” are key. We’ve have agencies pitch ideas about making “viral” videos that had absolutely no focus on business objectives, goals, outcomes, etc. My business involves reaching pet owners, if I have a video get 100,000 views but most are younger people without pets then who cares? People tend to lose focus and get fixated on video views, pageviews, followers, and so on.

  14. I can tell you exactly how this is working. 2 scenarios. First if the consultant suspects a lack of sophistication on the part of the client it will be all about counting the views, tweets, posts, etc. And if there is a strategic purpose with agreed upon goals and outcomes its bob and weave and drag it along til the next big client comes along. It is not pretty. The third way is to create a solution you know works for a particular industry. We are headed that way because the other two options are burning us all out.

  15. Check out #Socialmediaroi

  16. I read a post like this and always wonder, are people really selling anyone on the value of YouTube Video as a business strategy? I seriously dought it. If you want to know what Social Media success looks like I’ll tell you. Kuni BMW Portland, a very popular business. 5800 local Facebook fans acquired naturally over 3 years. They post a sale announcement only on Facebook and 750 people show up on a Saturday. They make an average 50 sales each time. That’s over $3.5M in revenue in one day from a facebook post. I call that a Social Media success. Try that with a YouTube video, really…

    • That’s an impressive example. One should wonder what it takes to build a community like that. Certainly a combination of influences. Social media is technology that facilitates word of mouth – the oldest and most effective marketing method. It can be misleading when someone cites an example, say, of a single tweet that brings in numerous sales when a variety of factors are at play. So video itself may or may not lead to direct sales, but its certainly a channel of influence that can lead to creating a positive environment for building a community that will respond to offers.

  17. Yes absolutely correct.. Video reached customers.. Thanks for sharing this excellent article..
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  18. 100% agreed. In summary, why should a social media campaign not be measured in the same way other campaigns are normally measured by those better marketeers. The issue is that marketeers are only just getting to understand this marketing medium. I just spent six months solid researching how effective social media marketing is for my Digital Marketing Masters Degree and I still can’t say I am on top of this topic 100% and would disbelieve anyone who professes to be.

  19. Fantastic article Thank you for sharing.

  20. This is a very entertaining read. I enjoyed it very much!