Justifying the Time You Spend on Social Media

"Ummm, so I didn't see the ROI of that last joke - try again with something a little more effective and maybe then I'll pay attention"

The other day someone asked me, “how do you justify the time you spend on Facebook and Twitter – don’t you have real work to do?” This was after I told my wife that I couldn’t make dinner yet because I had to finish up some work, only to have her chastise me for responding to some messages that I received on our company’s Yammer feed. Presumably, if I had instead been working in a spreadsheet or typing an email, neither question would have been asked.

But why should it be any different? When we’re talking about social media, why does the medium matter more than the content?  Why is it professionally acceptable to send a client an email than a Facebook message? Why is writing a white paper looked at as real work but a blog post isn’t? I’ve been asked to justify the ROI on individual blog posts, but no one has ever asked me to demonstrate the ROI of any of the hundreds of emails I send every day.

Shouldn’t the content be what determines what is considered work, not the medium? Why is social media held to this impossibly high standard when other technology isn’t?

This double standard has frustrated me for years – just once, I’d like to go through my colleagues’ emails and phone calls and ask them to justify all of their time spent using their technology. “Hmmm….looks like you’ve sent the same email out five different times – seems like a lot of unnecessary duplication! What’s with these status meetings you keep going to – are they bringing in any additional sales?”

Here’s the thing – the effectiveness of social media, like other forms of communication, should be measured at the macro, not the micro, level. Measured in a vacuum, all of those emails, phone calls, and business lunches wouldn’t mean much either. But taken as a whole, they paint a much different picture. You had lunch together, which led to a follow-up phone call, which led to a marketing meeting at his office, which led to another phone call, which then led to a new contract – congratulations! While that last phone call may have sealed the deal, that doesn’t mean that that lunch you had two months ago wasn’t just as, if not more, important. Just because it didn’t directly lead to a new contract doesn’t mean your time at that lunch was worthless – it helped you build that relationship.

The same is true in social media. While that Tweet about your favorite movie may not be related to your core business and wasn’t retweeted hundreds of times, that by itself doesn’t mean anything. There should be ebbs and flows in the content you post, and while individually, those tweets about your favorite movies may not contribute directly to those all important metrics, they do help lay the foundation that will allow everything else to be more effective.

Now, whenever someone asks me to justify the time I spend here, or on Twitter or Facebook, my responses usually end up sounding something like this:

  • “Remember when you needed a contact at that government agency and I was able to connect you with Joe? Yeah, Joe and I have exchanged a few messages over Twitter – he’s a great guy”
  • “You know how we got that project of yours highlighted in the New York Times last week? I read the reporter’s blog and he recognized my name from all the comments that I’ve left there”
  • “Those two junior employees we just hired who you absolutely love? I actually met them at a conference last year and kept in touch via Facebook, so when I saw they were frustrated with their jobs, I reached out and brought them in for interviews.”

Trying to parse this out and determine the ROI of a single tweet, blog post, or Facebook status is a futile, short-sighted effort.That’s why the Twitter feeds for most big organizations are unbelievably boring – we need to make sure that we track the ROI for every post, link, and tweet!! Instead of measuring each of these things individuals, try looking at it holistically.  If you do, the ROI of the relationships that you form over time will actually be pretty easy to demonstrate.

*Image courtesy of Flickr user russeljsmith

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About sradick

I'm Vice President, Director of Public Relations at Brunner in Pittsburgh. Find out more about me here (http://steveradick.com/about/).

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