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/).

View all posts by sradick
  • Thank you for this. Really.

  • CynicFan

    Steve, As we’ve discussed before, the prime reason is time. When e-mail first was invented, no one thought it would become the monstrous behemouth it has become. Reading and answering e-mails has become the biggest time waster and productivity sink of any organization where I’ve worked. The problem remains with Social Media that its focus is on social and networking. While there are benefits to having a decent network to assist with solving some issues, most people are paid to produce, not to maintain a network. It is an otherwise useful tool to performance, like membership in a professional organization. Its great you want to serve as president of the organization, you’ll get recognition at work, but using company time (or worse client’s time) is theft and won’t be tolerated.

    To become valuable to the organization, I maintain that social media needs to demonstrate a positive effect on the bottom line of the company. Your examples are okay, but there’s nothing in them which a company can sell. They are simply different versions of the standards of having a professional network and social media is nothing more than a tool for maintaining that network. It’s not something a company can sell. It doesn’t generate profit.

  • Orie

    Steve, check out Chatter from Salesforce.com. It’s one of the most innovative and amazing social media apps for business. I’ve been using it for several weeks now and I am continually blown away by its capabilities. It takes the best of Facebook and Yammer and applies it to business communication and collaboration. Imagine being able to follow files such as marketing content, whitepapers, and more. Also, imagine following customers or accoutns

  • Anonymous

    Oh Tim, you’re so true to your screen name 🙂

    The point is that not EVERYTHING in an organization is going to demonstrate a positive effect on the bottom line. All those emails, All-hands meetings, internal company newsletters, the Intranet, the company softball team, etc. – those don’t contribute directly to the bottom line either, yet no one questions those mediums. The point is that social media is an extension of those tools – it enhances them, and in some cases, replaces them.

    If you’re paying me to “produce,” that’s not something that can be done in a vacuum where I can go off to my little corner and create something great. I need interaction, collaboration, diversity of perspective, etc. – if you’re going to take that away from me, you might as well tell me that I have to go and “produce” but you can’t use the computer – just use that notebook and pencil instead.

  • When you refer to ROI above, Steve, do you specify Return on Investment? The time you INVEST on media like Facebook? Perhaps if you think less of investment and more of implementation, influence, insistence, etc., the time you spend explaining yourself would reduce.

  • thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I get so tired of having to justify the amount of time I spend on social media to both my family and the world. I happen to study social media (the psychology and sociology behind it) as well as use it for conservation and social justice advocacy. I blog, tweet, research up-and-coming technology all the time and when people get their questions answered I don’t hear them complaining. And for those of you who say “you are missing the real world” – go jump! I am an ecologist, trying to use social media to make the word a better place for man and beast.

  • Social media services and consulting does generate profit for savvy online agencies.

    More importantly, social media strategy represents a lower cost model for an integrated approach to communication, marketing, innovation, brand management, and change. And savings, like it or not, are ever more key to the bottom line as we all readjust the budgets with the same high expectations for achieving new goals, accomplishments and successes.

    As for profit, Paulo Coelho recently told Sean Parker (and the DLD audience) how he’s hit the top of the best-sellers’ list with his last book for the FIRST TIME in his writing career… all because of Twitter and Facebook.

    Of course, writing a good book was just as important for Paulo’s recent success. Likewise, offering a useful product and service at a good price with easy delivery and use is just as important to the bottom line. And that’s a subject that a CYNIC should really dig into. Because, there’s a lot of useless things off the shelf.

    Perhaps, in part, because there is a lack of feedback, listening, and social media strategy.

  • Anonymous

    @Kristina – I like to say that “my work looks a little different from your work, but it’s work all the same” to those people 🙂

  • CynicFan

    I certainly question every one of those events. If they don’t contribute to the bottom line, then they aren’t supportable. I already acknowledge that e-mail has gotten way out of hand and has become counterproductive rather than supporting communication and productivity. It needs to be banned from the workplace. If All-hands or newsletters aren’t contributing to the bottom line by increased communication and morale, then they aren’t worthwhile. Company softball teams aren’t productive and are only supported for morale purposes. When the cost of maintaining the team exceeds the involvement, then it needs to be scrapped. I’ve agreed with you on multiple occassions that some social media tools can and probably should replace outdated tools like newsletters and particularly e-mail, but not at the expense of spending more time on these non-productive activities, but rather by increasing the efficiency of communication and allowing people more time to actually get work done.

    Sometimes reason and sense must be given a voice. As in the example of the millions NASA spent to develop a pen that would write in space. Meanwhile the Soviets simply used a pencil. Just because technology can be made to do something doesn’t mean it should.

  • CynicFan

    When social media does generate profit or measurable business benefit, then I’m certainly in favor of it. But like many “movements” people subscribe to them, pay the money and never garner any results. Examples of mixed results include Six Sigma, ISO 9001, ISO 14001. Some organizations embrace these efforts and reap a real benefit. Others go through the motions because it’s the “hip” thing to do and reap no benefit but significant cost. I’ll never put forth that Social Media can’t benefit organizations, I know it can and the example you provide is one (eventhough it doesn’t sound like this author was part of an “organization”). My cynicism is built on years of experiencing the Management Flavor of the Month. A manager gets religion for some effort (just in time, synchronous manufacturing, lean, Kaizan, team oriented manufacturing, just to name a few) and for one to three months lots of training occurs, lots of money and loss of productivity occurs and then the quarterly results are required and there are adverse effects so everything returns to the way it was before. Like putting your finger in a glass of water and then removing it. The glass of water is unchanged.

    To embrace the use of social media, I feel organizations need more than an evangalist, they need a plan for how things will be implemented and how the impact to the bottom line will be monitored. If there isn’t a positive impact to the bottom line in a short period, the tools for social media will end up forgotten by the majority of the organization and one or two people will be left as disgruntled employees, whining that “Management just won’t listen”.

  • So a couple of points I have here….

    1.I alays crack up when people say you are wasting time on your computer when they are sitting there watching a soap opera on TV!!

    2.I think we all work pretty much 24/7 now. I get messages through social media from work mates, clients, vedors and journalists at all times of the day and I just fell like I have to answer them. I know a lot of people who seem to be working like this now too.

  • Steve,
    Thank you for this. I lead the social media efforts of our ad agency, and I’m always looking for ways to guide clients’ thinking about social media. No one questions the ROI on their phone system, but a BLOG? Who needs a BLOG? It’s a fascinating time we’re living in.