Why are businesses struggling with social media ROI?

I’m hardly surprised by ComputerWorldUK’s report that businesses are not seeing the return on their social media investment.

I regularly encounter CEOs who claim that their business has social media under control. Dig a little deeper and you find that what they mean is that they have a Twitter button on their website, push out the odd tweet to a hundred or so followers detailing company news, and maintain a basic blog containing random contributions from employees looking to raise their profile in the organisation ahead of their pay reviews.

If this sounds like a rant, that’s because this is a rant. CEOs, CMOs, CTOs and CFOs need to stop viewing social media as a kids’ game to be left to the grads and the interns. Implementing a successful social media strategy requires experience, management and resources. It is an active (and reactive) process that will only deliver results if planned carefully, implemented methodically and evaluated and updated throughout.

I run a small B2B PR agency and I can personally vouch for the ability of social media to deliver great bottom-line results. Some examples are:

  • Three client wins through LinkedIn, one of which is now our fourth highest earning account of all time (having brought in tens of thousands of pounds this year). These three wins together have accounted for over £100k of business for the business.
  • The ability to cross sell new services to three existing clients
  • Six speaking opportunities
  • Six quality new business leads (and many not-so-quality leads)
  • Seven award nominations
  • One top quality employee attracted to work with us by our social media credentials.
  • Seven new journalist / analyst relationships developed and nurtured.
  • 300%+ increase in hits to our company website
  • Access to over 10,000 businesspeople a month through our blogs, Twitter feeds and LinkedIn groups
  • Two invitations to contribute chapters to a book

If you’re not impressed by these numbers, perhaps I should contextualise. I run a start-up B2B PR, social media and video production company that employs six people. The industry suffers from a skills shortage. As consultants, each client is worth thousands to the business. In a crowded marketplace and during a global recession, generating leads and converting them is tough. I hope you will agree that these results are at least worth looking at.

So how have I achieved these great results through social media, you might ask? The answer is that it hasn’t been easy. It’s been a case of trial and error, and I’ve certainly wasted quite a bit of time in the process (I put this down to learning). It’s taken persistence, the ability to keep at it when results are slow to build, plenty of time and a truly strategic approach. It’s involved:

  • An intelligent approach to keeping track of LinkedIn conversations
  • An insistence on maintaining both my blogs (this one and the UK Business Blog), even when their followings were minimal
  • Lots of listening
  • Recognising that social media are evolving faster than I can keep up, so never claiming to be an expert
  • A blog (that’s this one!) designed to meet specific objectives, to be useful to people (e.g. through our social stats collection – the largest on the web!) and to help businesses achieve better results through social media
  • Sharing as much knowledge and info as I possibly can online

So my message is simple: If CEOs want to start seeing return on their social media investment, they need to invest.

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Heather Baker is founder and Managing Director of award-nominated B2B PR, Social Media and Video Production Consultancy, TopLine Communications. The company helps clients in a range of industries to build thought leadership, through integrated communications campaigns. Heather is the editor of two popular blogs, The B2B Guide to Social Media and the UK Business Blog, which focuses on market entry for international firms. She has a MA in Psychology from the University of Cape Town and is currently studying for her MBA at the London Business School.