Social ROI; still no shortcuts

Last year I sat on a few panels that dealt with issues the social media industry has been waxing lyrical about for years; ROI, standards and such.

The first – that of measurement – is the holy grail for anyone working in this space. Still. Rolling out ‘it’s all about being human’ or ‘you can engage with your audience on a completely different level’ just doesn’t cut it anymore. Yes, these two points are relevant when you’re looking at the value of investment in social – but that’s totally different to working out the return.

I noticed that during one particular session, there was a definite lack of footfall in the room in comparison to other panels on different topics. Were we approaching this from too broad an angle? Are people only interested in panels that provide three-step approaches to finding a definite answer, and anything else isn’t worth it?

I’ve thought on this several times, and have come to the conclusion that yes – part of the entire psychology of attending an event in to be able to walk away, report back to your office and provide clear steps to implement what you’ve seen. That way you’re able to prove that attending was worthwhile. For social it’s not quite that simple. Of course, this is also pleasing proof that levels of awareness are such that broader topics aren’t as useful as they used to be – people are now fully on board with the idea of social, its value, what can be done – and are starting to look for more specific advice. How can I link up my email database with social following to provide better, more appropriate communication? What type of social functionality should I be including within my website? Is social commerce worth  investing in? How should I structure my social profiles taking masterbrand and local markets into consideration? I could go on.


Returning the issue of providing direct guidance on measurements. The reason why panels to do with this topic still have such vague titles is that there’s no shared opinion when it comes to ROI within social. Agencies, trade bodies, brands; we all approach it from different ways. There are no industry standards; there are no ‘must do’ tactics (despite what the most vocal within our industry might say). There’s best practice, yes, but there’s no universally recognised way of working out what social media can really get you for your money.

You could argue that there are other areas that suffer the same fate, but social is (still) new kid on the block – with more people claiming they have the answer than any other. With so many people selling the Emperor new clothes, chaos reigns supreme.

When you get down to it. There’s really two ways of looking at the value of social.

The first is the most simplistic – whereby you consider the ROI of marketing investment. You look at how much you spend on marketing, and you set this off against; sales (very difficult and often producing not very impressive numbers), interaction (are people talking about us and therefore are we creating brand awareness) or slightly more complex comparisons where you take a focus group of social ‘fans’ (on Facebook, Twitter etc), compare their likelihood to purchase a product and such – then align with standard brand-tracking so that the data holds up in the context of other disciplines.

There’s enough to disagree about right there, but it’s actually the second method where things come unstuck. The bigger picture means looking at the entire spectrum of gains that include (among others) enhanced business intelligence, improved reputation, more effective management of the customer experience, the ability to link and amplify real-world events, improved business performance and more rapid NPD. In this case, both financial and non-financial gains come into play, and you start getting into complex, company-specific econometric modelling.

And that’s the crux of it. It’s unlikely that you’ll come up with an answer to this in an hour. What you can do with that time is assess the various approaches and then return to base to decide whether they’re suitable for your business, what kind of data they’ll provide you and what you can do with it. Whichever method you choose, when it comes to assessing the value OR return of social activity; there aren’t any shortcuts.

Image via Brain Traffic.

Sigur Rós on plagiarism

It seems that after my post the other day about ads and music, someone was listening 😉

Sigur Rós has talked at length on their blog about the hundreds of requests they get asking to use their tracks for adverts.

As you can probably imagine, the band are less than happy to have their songs used to promote just *anything*. They say that quite often, they’ll be pitched, say no – but a brand will go ahead and create something that sounds just a bit too familiar regardless.

The best example of this is Peugeot’s 307 short, which is remarkably ‘similar’ to the group’s Olsen, Olsen.

Here’s the original:

Olsen Olsen by Sigur Rós

Heres the rip-off:

They’ve posted a few examples, including the above, that – in their own words – makes them go ‘hmm’. The band asks for anyone spotting a ‘fromage’ over a ‘homage’ to get in touch by emailing

Paglia, Gaga and a mess of an article

I wrestled with myself (so to speak) for some time about writing this post. I’ve just finished reading Camille Paglia’s article on Gaga in The Sunday Times after a morning of watching my friends and those I admire rant about how terrible the piece is.

From the off, the £2 it cost for me to purchase said paper was put into Murdoch’s pocket begrudgingly. I have beef with the Times. Every time I read its Sunday supplements, I cringe at its coverage of technology, how narrow-minded the writer’s opinions usually are and how late to the table it is at discovering ‘hot new trends’. You know, like the Internet.

Most recently I explained my issues with one of its stories on haul videos for my new media age column, which had my blood boiling for several reasons, but largely because the writer had once again missed the point.

Anyway, I digress. Having also read a fabulous story from Grace Dent in The Guardian earlier on, courtesy of Miss Blackett, I realised several things. First I may not want to add to the echo chamber, but getting this pent-up anger out of me is wise. Second, I don’t need to write an essay to convey my utter disregard of this opinion piece being presented as an ‘exposé’ and last, in order to not fall into the same trap as Paglia, the best way is to write bullet points. See Dent’s very amusing (but also incredibly accurate) insights on the link above as best practice on how to do the latter.

1. The sub header of the front page splash. “Camille Paglia demolishes a cultural icon”

Well, that’s just silly isn’t it? One woman taking down an artist with 25 million digital downloads alone? 800 million views of her videos? (This was even referenced in Paglia’s post, but not by a specific number or even a ballpark figure). Earnings of $62 million in 2009 alone? Don’t be absurd.

2. Incorrect stats.

Over 10 million Facebook ‘followers’? Actually, these figures currently rest at just over 17 million likes. Get it right if you’re going to attack her, for god’s sake.

3. Opinion, not fact.

The first few hundred words are, to a point, Paglia setting the scene. Her distaste for Gaga is obvious, but then in paragraph five, the personal attacks start. I can just about handle a writer positioning other quotes and proven facts to make a point in an aggressive fashion, but when you realise that this feature is almost entirely made up from Paglia’s own impressions of what’s going on in the world, you realise that it’s really just an opinion piece. The big hoo-ha about Paglia having uncovered that Gaga represents the “death of sex” is nothing more than one woman’s impression.

4. Getting catty.

You’ve probably guessed that Paglia is not a little monster by now. However, relying on putting Gaga down by referencing her “goofy, rabbity grin”, calling her “creepy” or even saying that her songs are nothing but “nursery rhyme nonsense”, is nothing more than playground bullying. It’s a sad thing to read, and throughout the feature, the most prominent takeaway is that Paglia has just let her own feelings go to her head.

5. Attribution.

“She told a magazine with messianic fervour”. For real? You aren’t even going to reference the source by name? (It was Vanity Fair’s September issue, by the way).

6. Lily ‘f**king’ Allen?!?!

Anyone who puts Lily Allen in the same group as Beyonce needs their head looking at. Not to mention when referring to the former as “a magnetic presence in music today”.

7. Gaga presents herself as…A SEXUAL ATHLETE, does she?

There are no words.

8. “Atomised, telegraphic text messages”

SMS, yeah? Paglia is trying to make the point that things ‘aren’t how they used to be’, but this particular reference is pretentious beyond belief.

9. Those aren’t the lyrics!

Chopping up references to Gaga’s songs while using them as examples of what a bad influence she is is not only really bad practice, but it’s tantamount to bending the evidence to suit your own means.

There we go. There’s much more, but this is (unbelievably) a heavily- edited version of me ‘not ranting’. I’ve chosen to skip all the rubbish in there about my generation being ‘mute’ and superficial, because I think Caitlin Moran – another Times writer – will do a pretty good job of responding to those claims.

You can read another story of mine about Gaga and her partnership with Polaroid here, where as you’ll see, it’s clearly marked ‘opinion’.

Chowney out.

Image via, and Facebook.

Year of random writing; on everything from digital to PR, social and beyond