This blog post reflects my sentiments, and my sentiments alone.
I was one of the panelists for the “What’s so [bleeping] hard about social ROI” session at SXSW Interactive last week that elicited a whole host of tweets, blog posts, and back-and-forth commentary. I decided to take a few days to think things over in the hopes that I would gain some additional perspective on what transpired.
I pored back over the #SMROI and/or#SXSMROI hashtags, which I had periodically monitored during the panel.
I read, and reread, Olivier Blanchard “The BrandBuilder’s” blog post: Where are the Professionals? Reflections on the #SXSMROI Panel Debacle.
I read Craig Daitch‘s (fellow panelist) blog post: Thinking Before Blogging: A Case Study in Bridge Burning at SXSW.
I read Tamera Kremer’s post: Respect and the #SXSMROI Panel.
And I talked it over with a number of people I trust and respect.
No revelations came. No new insight was gained. Only a continual reminder of principles and values. I cannot control what others do. I can only control my response.
There is no doubt that a number of people expressed their disappointment in the panel’s content. Those of us who were on the panel have to own that. It bothers me, partly because I want to please everyone, even though I know it’s not possible nor advantageous, and because I thought that a good, robust conversation unfolded that offered value on a number of levels. Some felt that we did not deliver on the promise of the session and that we didn’t offer enough specific examples or case studies. I accept that. I take responsibility for my part in not going deep enough into the core what what some attendees wanted. I am heartened that others found it thought-provoking and enlightening.
Let’s be clear though – this was a panel, not a workshop or a spotlight on one single person’s perspectives or approaches. Panels are designed to highlight and debate different perspectives and help you think about how to approach the subject, not deliver a hands-on workshop or reach a single resolution and an easy answer. That is the beauty, and frustration of panels. They offer multiple ways of thinking about a particular issue. They do not allow any one person’s viewpoint to dominate the session. Some people do not value panels, or value serving on them, because they only see room for one viewpoint – their own. To them, everything else is BS and not worth even considering or debating. Those people require their own stage, their own spotlight, their own microphone. And they usually find a way to achieve that, whether they are in the room or not.
I want to speak to a few of the glaring misstatements (or misstweets?) and misperceptions that presented themselves in the Twittersphere and that have been highlighted in at least one blog post:
Claim: The panel said there is no way to measure ROI.
FACT: Most of the panel said that measuring ROI is very important, when ROI needs to be determined. A formula (Results-Costs/Costs x 100) was shared for determining ROI in any marketing effort. Guess how many tweets that formula and part of the discussion got… Zero.
A discussion ensued regarding how the formula is easy, while the application of it is often challenging – because it requires measurable business objectives at the start of a campaign and extensive determination of all the costs – some of which we detailed – that went into the effort. We said that most people are not willing to go through that exercise, not that they never should. We indicated that, in many organizations, showcasing the VALUE, which is different than the ROI, is often good enough. Not always, but often.
Maybe we needed to spend more time fleshing out the preface. Maybe we needed to make it more tweetable. Or maybe some just did not like hearing that there is a lot of work involved in the calculations. I don’t know. But it was discussed. And it was re-raised several times.
There is no magic bullet. There are formulas that work with critical thinking. Unfortunately, too many people expect the former without need for the latter.
Claim: The panel said there was no ROI to determining ROI.
FACT: The panelist simply said that sometimes the road to determining ROI is so intensive and expensive that it doesn’t warrant pursuing and that sometimes determining value, as stated above, is enough. You have to determine when true ROI needs to be captured. Again, we could have spent more time on the specifics and highlighting case studies. The reality is that a 45-minute session with 5 participants is a challenging environment to dig deep. But the claim is not accurate.
Claim: The panel said social is only about relationships and trust and those cannot be measured.
FACT: I shared that 40% of all online donations made through the Make-A-Wish America website come in the last few days of December. It is not surprising that most make their donations at the very end of the tax year. Only a small percentage of our site visitors come to our website with the specific intent to donate, and another few percent convert while on the site. While we spend a lot of time focused on conversion and completion strategies and tactics, and measuring the ROI of those efforts, we also approach our social and online efforts from the perspective of leading indicators because we believe that what occurs throughout the rest of the year determines how well we do at the end of the year. So, yes, we do attempt to measure and track “engagement.” Unlike many others who use that buzzword flippantly, we have worked to define it and identify specific actions that are trackable over time, to see if there is any correlation between heightened engagement and increases in donations. LET ME BE CLEAR…these engagement metrics are not business success metrics – they are leading indicators that we hypothesize are tied to our ultimate KPIs. And we are working to measure whether that is valid.
For other companies, social media is a direct response channel. Dell approaches it from that angle, while Disney and PepsiCo come at it from the same vantage point as Make-A-Wish, at least from what I could glean from another SXSW session featuring representatives of those brands.
*(this next part is my attempts to paraphrase a back-and-forth, so if I am inaccurately representing Liz Strauss’ position, I’m sure she will clarify it for me)
Liz Strauss referred back to social as an environment that, when best fostered, is characterized by “love and trust.” She also challenged my assertion that love and relationships are built incrementally or that such a relationship progression can be measured. Here’s how that exchange unfolded from there:
ME: “So did you say ‘I do’ on the first date?”
LIZ: “I got married after 42 days.”
ME: “That is direct response.”
I disagree with Liz on this point, and other points. I said so. We bantered and I tried to convince her I was right. It probably didn’t work. And the audience got to decide for themselves. I didn’t tell her that what she said was BS, I didn’t tell her she wasn’t a professional. She disagreed with me, yet gave me the same professional courtesy. And she clearly believes in measurement – we just have some differences related to what you can and should measure.
Claim: Return on Efficiency, Influence, Engagement are just beating around the bush
FACT: Who gives a crap whether you call something Return on Engagement, Return on Efficiency, Return on Influence as long as it is clearly defined, if it has real metrics tied to it, and it is represented for what it is – either a set of leading indicators or the your ultimate ROI? Buzzwords are too often just that, but sometimes they are mechanisms to simplify and provide context to concepts grounded in real world business underpinnings. Reading a handful of tweets out of context isn’t enough to justify feigned outrage, tearing people down, railing about how you would have ditched the panel if you had actually made it, saying that the people who fulfilled their commitment to serve shuttled the industry back 4 years, and then leveraging that platform to spotlight oneself and literally close with a call-to-action to buy one’s book. That is a little too much to stomach.
The headline of the first blog post was “Where are the professionals?” I ask “Where is the professionalism?”