Measuring ROI of word of mouth – really?

By Dianne Bayley

Just as I’ve never understood how anyone can assure an advertiser that his billboard has been seen by X number of people – rather than just cars driving past, if they’re counted – I’m finding it difficult to believe the number of companies claiming to be able to give you the ROI on social media exposure.

No matter how many “matrix”, “metrics” amd “measurement” terms you use, it’s virtually impossible to give an exact return on investment from a Facebook page or Twitter account. Ask yourself this: “How do I measure word of mouth advertising?” When you find the answer to that question, let me know. I, for example, have installed a handy little program that prevents me from being counted by the plethora of “analytics” programs running on every page I visit. In fact, I can see exactly which ones can no longer count me every time I visit a new site online.

Being one of the more powerful forms of advertising and marketing, word of mouth just cannot be measured. Mrs Jones may discuss her latest favourite coffee at a dinner party, and twelve of her closest friends go out and buy it the next day. How does the coffee company know why sales are suddenly up? Or do they assume it was an ad they placed in a women’s magazine?

Think of Facebook and Twitter (and the many others) as platforms where you don’t sell to people, so much as listen to them. Unlike a magazine ad or billboard, a social media presence gives you the opportunity to talk one-to-one with clients or potential clients. They’ve already opted in to the conversation by “liking” your page or following you on Twitter. The key now is to engage with that individual and build brand loyalty, rather than sell to them.

This is the true value of a social media presence: It isn’t about the numbers, it’s about turning a fan into a brand ambassador or assisting an unhappy client promptly and efficiently to resolve any issues thay may have with you, in front of thousands of other people. What price can you put on that? And how?

As more and more South African companies realise the power of social media, new Facebook pages are popping up every day. There are still teething problems, though – like the management of the site being handed to Jason The Techie who has “lots of Facebook friends”.

If you’re considering a social media presence, call in a professional who will help you determine why you’re doing it and what you can expect from it. Make it part of your holistic public relations and reputation management initiatives, and use the services – in house or outsourced – of someone with marketing, media, internet and people skills . . . or don’t do it at all. The person who manages your social media platforms also manages your brand, to an ever-growing extent. Get someone who understands your barnd, your target audience, your objectives. And if they tell you they can give you a report on the full ROI of your initiatives, get someone who understands the medium better!

Dianne Bayley, former editor or Marketingweb, is a freelance writer and social media specialist who believes in ‘one-to-one’ messaging rather than ‘look how many likes we have’ marketing. Contact:


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