There is no shortage of advice for measuring return on investment (ROI) in social media. To quote Olivier Blanchard in Social Media ROI:
“If the golden rule of business measurement is ‘measure what matters’, the golden rule of social media measurement is ‘just because you can measure it, doesn’t mean it matters’.”
What does this mean for public services?
For the most part we are not selling products, there is no shop, and we don’t have shareholders or a bottom line. We know that reputation and partnership are won through relationships, trust and dialogue.
So we tend to measure social media ROI by engagement: likes, hits and retweets.
This is a fundamentally different mind-set to the harder-nosed business measures: frequency, reach, yield.
Yet we still invest resources – so how should we account for this work, and make a case for social media as a serious communication channel which senior leaders can buy into?
Let’s take an example. NHS Choices sent a tweet about over-the-counter medicines, which included a link to information on its website.
This tweet, directly addressing an important health issues, received 41 interactions by 32 individuals. Of these, 18 came from accounts that were either service providers, companies, advocates or professionals.
In other words, a response was achieved from only 14 Twitter users who were not ostensibly already invested in self-care, medicines management, community pharmacy etc. – or just 0.007% of NHS Choices’ 188,000 followers.
If this were a private company looking for real ROI, this tweet would be, or should be, considered a waste of time.
Of course, NHS Choices is a public service with a mandate to promote health and wellbeing, and it is impossible to calculate how many people made better use of local pharmacies after seeing this tweet.
And while one tweet won’t make a difference, many repeats over several days, weeks and months creates a drip marketing effect, as used by the same businesses who are calculating their profit and loss margins with Twitter.
The truth is social media marketing is still in its infancy. The best we can do is be sensible, efficient, and above all, honest.
Before you spend an hour scheduling a week’s worth of tweets on Hootsuite, ask yourself: am I getting a return on my investment?