by Michael O'Neill
June 13th, 2013

Last month, Yellow pages and AIMIA released the 2013 Australia Social Media Report. While it has lots of great stats around how exciting and active the social media industry is, the one stat that stood out for me was this: 49% of large businesses don’t measure the ROI of their social media activity. Considering on average each company is spending over A$100,000 on social, that’s a pretty chunky amount of money with which to be blindly guessing.

But of course it’s more complex than just social media. Those same businesses are no doubt building apps, YouTube channels, creating infographics, animations, videos, blogging…the list goes on. I think it’s probably safe to say that if that 49% aren’t monitoring their social media ROI, they certainly aren’t monitoring their content marketing ROI.

Why is that? Why are almost half of the biggest businesses in the country totally blind when it comes to earned and owned media ROI? It comes down to two reasons – fear and lack of understanding.

The fear is that if you look too hard, maybe you are wasting your money. A Facebook app is a lot more fun to manage than buying full page ads in regional newspapers. Is my agency lying to me, because they want a fun client? I’m pretty certain that most marketing managers have thought that at some point. I’m also pretty certain a lot of agencies have put forward the fun social idea rather than the right idea because they know they’ll never have to prove effectiveness and ROI.

Which brings us to lack of understanding. “It’s impossible to show ROI — we’re different from traditional media” is a statement that simply isn’t true. The harsh truth is that social media and content production should be seen under the same light as an outdoor campaign or display ads on Yahoo. If you can’t prove ROI – you shouldn’t get on the plan. No excuses.

With this in mind, here’s five simple points to help you show ROI for content and social media, and to compete against more transparent — but less effective — channels and succeed.

1. Acknowledge that content isn’t at the bottom of the conversion funnel
Nine out of 10 B2B purchase decisions begin with exposure to content marketing (DemandGen), which means that you’ll need to start monitoring the engagement rates of your content. If it’s on your website – split out users that started or saw your content compared to those that didn’t. Did they convert at a higher rate? What about conversion delay? Maybe they’re return visitors that come back and purchase with a higher intent. Monitor this.

2. Content and social create mental availability – benchmark it
Mental availability is a concept created by Professor Byron Sharp, director of the Ehrnberg-Bass Institute. It’s symbolises what the brand stands for in the consumers memory. Just like being physically available in a shop helps your sales, so does being mentally available in the mind of consumers. If consumers want to buy a luxury item and they think you’re it, you’re half way to money in the bank. The best way of monitoring this is to focus on brand research. Did people think we were luxury before they saw our content? How much has that improved?

3. Content and social earns value through natural search
81% of consumers’ perceptions are influenced by search, according to research from Weber Shandwick. Want to ensure that change in mental availability? Well ensure you’re in the search listings for big generic keywords. Any SEO worth their salt will tell you that answering the needs of users through great content and then getting that content shared far and wide, will increase search traffic. More traffic means more sales – ROI for social and content.

4. Content will improve paid media conversion rates
If you’re paying for a lot of traffic through paid search, display, social media, etc., then you’ll already be focusing on improving your conversion rate any way you can. As mentioned above, content can have a big impact in the funnel – by adding in the right video or the ideal app on your paid media landing pages, you can see huge increases in conversion rates. Time for content to stand up and claim another chunk of direct ROI.

5. Be patient, this isn’t paid search
Content marketing and social media are hard. They take real effort. You can’t throw $500 at it every six months and hope for the best. The brands that achieve real success through inbound marketing tactics such as social and digital content are those that put in the hours. The rewards are tangible and worthwhile, but if you want ROI from content and social, you need to see beyond a ‘project by project’ process.

Social media and content production are amazing tools in the marketers arsenal, but shouldn’t be an excuse to fire blind. Showing ROI can only improve the ability of these channels in the future, improving the work of brands and agencies.

Ben Bale is director, digital, at CMG Australia

To receive our updates: