The Misguided Focus On Social Media ROI

Last night I was at PeopleBrowsr's new San Francisco headquarters for a panel discussion on Collective Influence. At the end of the panel's comments the audience was asked for their definition of Collective Influence, and I offered my 2 cents. After the panel I was approached by several people with some compliments, and two people (thanks to Seema Kumar and Becky Wang for the prompt) suggested I create a post to pass along my thoughts. Here it is:

Collective Influence in a Social Media context is actually a derivative asset that is earned as a result of delivering consistent value over time. It accumulates just like an organization's goodwill accumulates on the balance sheet. As a result, the Collective Influence that you've earned (much like goodwill) becomes the asset that you leverage when you have something new to deliver to your intended audience.

Those organizations that excel at delivering exceptional product/experience ironically don't have to work very hard at Social Media to either build audiences or amplify their messages. They already excel at delivering superior customer experiences, and because of it their customers are enthusiastic unpaid brand ambassadors.  That's one reason that Comcast has to pay for several dozen employees to attend to Social Media monitoring and problem resolution while Virgin America employs 2, and Apple 0. Comcast has terrible service - and no amount of Social Media messaging/massaging is going to improve the public's disdain for their product/service until they fix that.

No executive ever asks for an assessment of how much a given social media (or traditional) campaign contributed to goodwill, but that's at least one of the ways people need to start thinking about Social Media. It's not about getting more "likes", or followers, or fans, or clickthroughs - it's about your ability to activate and energize an audience that you've earned over time, an audience that wants to spread the word on your behalf because you're doing something exceptional. That's the essence of collective influence. 

So let's stop this short-sighted insistence on measurable Social Media ROI for the time being. We might be able to quantify some of these aspects in time, but for now let's concentrate on the things that have always mattered: Building relationships over time by delivering consistent value. That's where you start building the foundation for ROI. Because if you do that, the collective influence of the entire Social Web is at your beck and call.