From embarrassing social-media account hacks of large brands to an equal number of blunders by brands themselves, risk as it relates to social has become an increasingly popular topic. But while most conversations are focusing on the security side of the story, the impact on social ROI also deserves attention.
Taking a step back, ROI measurements for marketing can range from strong and highly credible to tentative and filled with enough holes to be comparable to Swiss cheese. During my professional career, I’ve seen both, and I’ve always been a proponent of better ROI measurement. With the CMO's rise in involvement in business and technology decisions, we should all expect more and better ROI measurement, especially when it comes to tracking social ROI.
Strong and credible social ROI should generally fall into two major marketing buckets. The first is clear revenue and related business impacting measurements. That could include direct sales via social, click-through measurements to leads, or establishing that active followers are also active purchasers. The second bucket should be around influence values. Influence measurements include establishing that social followers are actual consumers, establishing their brand affinity, and determining their brand advocacy.
Using these two areas of ROI measurement as a starting point should carry any marketer a long way toward deriving and presenting consistent reports and solid examples that highlight the value of social programs and efforts. Now you need to consider the real-world credibility threats to that ROI. Ignore them at your company’s and budget’s peril.
1. Content Publishing Mistakes
Would having to apologize to your entire brand audience and the President of the United States be good for your social program’s ROI? Clearly not; no matter how well you handle that type of crises, it is time, money, and credibility not well spent. This, however, is exactly the type of crises and negative ROI many organizations have had to face by not having proper controls on accounts.
In fact, the hypothetical scenario isn’t hypothetical. It happened to KitchenAid and parent company Whirlpool last summer. The cause was having too many applications installed on the brand’s Twitter account, enabling content to be published/tweeted from any number of sources. In this scenario, a tweet in poor taste that was meant to go out via a personal account actually went on the brand account because the mobile app was installed on both and went out via the main company account. The brand and its parent company rallied its crisis communications program and team, crafted a response plan, and executed extremely well.
2. Ignoring Industry Regulations And Standards
Would your social program gain support and be seen as a benefit to the business if it caused you to be publicly named and/or fined for violating a standard or regulation? Of course not. The reality is that standards and regulatory bodies are taking notice and working to have and enforce requirements for brands on social. FINRA, for example, has been increasing its focus on brand-run social media, and its general increases in fines from $45 million in 2010 to 78 million in 2012 is sure to spill over into larger social-media-specific fines. The FDA is under the gun to to continue to increase its guidelines, and that is sure to drive corresponding scrutiny and potential fines, as well.
Although some vertical markets are more regulated than others, you can bet that it isn’t just going to be the SEC, FINRA, and the FDA. In fact, you can already see this in the FTC’s March 2013 update to online advertising disclosures to cover social media, or the more aggressive stance by the Australian Advertising Standards Bureau, which is imposing fines for misleading brand content and nonremediated third-party comments. Marketing and compliance teams may have some tension, but the best bet for your marketing team to not harm your ROI is to be more proactive. This means finding out what standards might apply to your brand, having a dialogue with your legal and compliance team, creating policies, and trying to find technology that can deal with regulatory requirements for your social accounts.
3. Poor Taste
Do you think ROI would be good for a social campaign run on the back of a national tragedy? Probably not, but it's another in the variety of social media blunders you need to prepare for is the potential of conveying poor taste. Callousness, “gallows humor,” and self-serving brand content are often received poorly, hurt a brand’s image, and require damage control. These often occur around world events where misaligned attempts to capitalize on the moment backfire, such as the past Kenneth Cole content on the uprising in Cairo or the more recent Epicurious comments after the bombing in Boston. Although there is no fool-proof way to deal with poor taste and bad timing, you can reduce the occurrence and negative ROI impact by adding internal approval workflows and technology controls that enforce them.
4. Social Account Hacks
Would the loss of control of your social channel combined with causing an actual dip in a financial market be good for the credibility of your social media efforts? You might not think that wouldn’t happen to you, yet actual hacks of brand accounts are on the rise. Just imagine if a hack of your social account impacted global financial markets and caused a USD market swing in the hundreds of billions as did the recent AP account hack. You might have to spend tremendous time and effort doing internal and external damage control. This risk to your ROI and credibility is not addressable by policies, best practices, or good faith, and it requires real technology designed to catch and help stop account hacks.
5. Abusive, Malicious, And Offensive Followers And Comments
Perhaps the most ignored yet obvious threat to ROI and credibility for social marketing revolves around the fact that a significant and growing amount of third-party content on active brand social accounts is designed to exploit or abuse the rest of the audience of the account. For example, would you allow someone to go on to your company’s home page, add a running section of expletives aimed at insulting your Web site visitors, and leave it there? Or would you provide your email list or contact database to spammers, tell them they can send spam using your email system, and allow them to do that on an ongoing basis?
If you can’t prove you are using more than basic manual or publishing tools to deal with “bad” content removal, then you should expect progressive erosion of your ROI that will reach beyond social. You can also expect a day of reckoning when that one instance of bad content becomes a lightning rod that mobilizes an upset audience or executive.
Regardless of how developed or barebones your social media program and its metrics are, you should seek to protect it. You especially don’t want your program to be perceived as negative for the brand, nor do you want it to become a negative ROI due to clean-up and repair costs. The best ways to keep your ROI credible and safe is to start with grounded metrics while you actively protect your social media brand presence and your social accounts.