Lack of Processes (or the Wrong Processes) biggest problem in Social Media Reporting and ROI

I was thinking about a recent post by a friend, two recent conversations with close friends of mine who work in social media agencies , plus a recent review of my book and the same thing keeps coming up – everyone seems to want to measure Social Media ROI, but for the most part, comes up short.

Why is that?

I have the answer, finally (had it all along, just didn’t realize it, or call it for what it was – it’s the Pink Elephant in the room – the thing no one wanted to really address – cause they simply don’t know how, or it would take too much work to define, and get the necessary consensus).

The answer, of course, is “Process” – – everyone seems to be making it up as they go (and one person has a different definition of the same deliverable as everyone else – there is just about no consensus, on anything).  That’s essentially a condition that reflects an immature discipline – Social Media Analytics, Social Media ROI, long hours and the office with don’t seem to go anywhere – are more often than not, a reflection of, I believe, of wrong choices, wrong platforms, wrong processes (or none), wrong people and ultimately, disgruntled stakeholders, employees and clients, who never seem to get what they wanted (like a simple “audit”, or a simple “ROI” report on their social media efforts and spend).

But, if you think about it, why would you get a report or audit when there was no common definition of what those things are, how long they take, what’s in them, and what they could and should cost?  How does one know if the result, furthermore, are good or bad, useful or not?

I hate to say it – because bad processes are probably worse than no process, but the real problem with the SXSW panel I linked to above, along with the all nighters my friends are regularly pulling, I believe, is there is no common lexicon to describe what makes up success in Social Media, and a common definition of how it should be measured (and I don’t mean “loose definitions” or something defined that is, what we used to call,  “wishy washy“).

What I mean is the deliverable for almost anything in Social Media are “undefined”, a lot of people simply have no idea what their goals are, what success is, how to measure it in relation to their business goals – and a groping, asking for opinion after opinion, becoming increasingly dissatisfied with that they hear.  No wonder.

At a South by Southwest Interactive Festival session, Liz Strauss, Eric Swayne, Petri Darby, Matt Ridings and Ford Motor’s Craig Daitch pledged to lay bare this difficult topic. While I would have loved to get some hands-on examples of how to work with this often-dodged topic, I got no such answers. The name of the panel, “What’s So [Bleeping] Hard About Social ROI?,” was a little misleading — yet there was a ring of truth to it — because the session seemed to be a roundup of all of the reasons its so “bleeping” hard to find ROI and not a substantive session on how to actually grapple with this thorny issue. Lots of comments on Twitter agreed.

Some terrific points were made — I will most certainly share — but more questions were asked than answers given. This left me a little disturbed, given how much preparation some of the presenters had. I think it could have been more hands-on with slides showing concrete examples. I wanted to get my proverbial hands dirty with a few calculations.

I’m afraid the problem isn’t going to be solved anytime soon Lori, unless we’re willing, collectively (some standards body at least take a few stabs at it) define thing such as “What is Social Media Success” in relation to my business and what are it’s signs and measures (so everyone can refer to these “common definitions”).  Same thing with something as simple as an “audit” – what’s in it?

Any one agree?   How much work goes into it and what does it include?

Try asking 10 people, and while you will get some answers that are common, you’ll get something different, I suspect with each person you ask.  No one seems to what anything means in Social Media, just what they want at the moment – that’s why Social Media ROI is so hard.

It’s got, believe it or not, not much to do with the data, even the unstructured nature of the data, sure that makes it more work, and a scalability issue, but for all that – it’s solvable.

But what if … a loaf of bread (a common meaning) is different for everyone?


That’s why, I’ll go on record and say, 70% of the time pulling analytics at agencies is “wasted time”, it’s work analysts are doing over and over again, because everyone has their own idea of what the deliverable is going to look like, and every single client has a different idea, or no idea, too.  Try wrapping that up into 40 hours of work –  no one can deliver what they don’t understand the parts of – where the parts are undefined.

And I’m not saying other disciplines don’t have some of the same problems, but at least, in analytics, most of the other types of analytics have much more definition on deliverable, and the data is often structured (though it may still need to be cleaned, anyway) while Social Data, isn’t by nature structured.

So, you have a lack of structure and a lack of process – and then people to execute on non – existent procedures they are making up as they go, with formulas and metrics they are also trying to guesstimate, and then the make up some ROI numbers to keep the boss happy.

Stopping to think about it some more, the lack of defined process makes it next to impossible to meaningfully compare one deliverable from another, except subjectively, which opens up the Analytics to be a “subjective exercise” or add on, and no the essential thing that everyone seems to want to have (and hype) now.

When I go my dentist, and it turns out I need a filling for a tooth, or a simple X-Ray, if they just made up the steps as they go, what kind of results would happen.  But isn’t that what’s happening with Social Analytics?  Agencies, in particular, are being….well …. creative.      I’m fine with creativity – hell, I’m an artist – but that doesn’t mean I want the creatives running Analytics Deliverable.  That is a recipe for disaster (at least, the way the way the world is today, and the state of data that can be obtained and used, as it is, today, and for the foreseeable future).

The last agency I worked at also tried to create some processes – doesn’t sound like they got too far, every couple of months someone else would change their mind on what they wanted.

Just imagine if Math or Physics was like that – try sending a manned space mission, or blasting off the Space Shuttle with that kind of approach, and see what kind of results you’d get.  Same thing for the value of currency – there’s a common definition set up by a series of trading exchanges, at any moment you have a locked down definition of what a dollar is worth vs. what a British Pound is worth – but I don’t find Social Media, for all it’s talk, has evolved any solid processes and definitions that would make the work we do both scalable and accurate – it’s all subjective, wishy washy, and the like.

So much for the loss explanation of Social Media ROI – if the panel at South By could not come up with much, they are probably as clueless as everyone else has been – because they had no processes that could be defined and scaled to size, I suspect.

I suppose that would not be so terrible (to have no process), had not social analytics been sold as a metered service, suggesting, in fact, defined processes and standards exist for SMROI, that really don’t.

3 thoughts on “Lack of Processes (or the Wrong Processes) biggest problem in Social Media Reporting and ROI”

  1. The problem is that people are trying to look at social media ROI in broad strokes when in reality it is really nuanced based on what your company does, how you are using social media, and what your goals are. That is where the problem is created, trying to create a repeatable process with all the moving parts mentioned plus the different tool sets each company is using and how they talk together is tough. 
    Because of that we are left with these pointless discussions at conventions where people talk in these generalities which to anyone with any experience or knowledge is worthless. In order to really determine the ROI of social it isn’t something that is summed up in one 45 minute panel. It really requires a deep thought process and a lot of getting your hands dirty to start mapping meaningful ROI. 

  2.  @kpalmer Agreed – and I find the Social ROI difficult to articulate unless you get details and have a conversation that leads to tactical measures (thresholds of specific things – what would be the things you would consider important that if you had too much of, or not enough of, would make a difference, and what is the boundaries?).

  3. Marshall,
    In my opinion, a lot of people are still confused what social media means to their businesses. They are used to direct cause-effect dependency: you place an ad, people click on it, then some buy your product. Social media does not work like that with the exception of coupons. It is hard to measure the value of a customer relationship, of a stronger brand, of an expanding influence. You have to be creative and measure media mentions, citations, interview requests, company voice share. You have to have a plan and a process. You are absolutely right.

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