Social Media ... Where's the ROI?
The explosion in popularity of social media sites, from bookmarking to blogs and social networks, has arguably changed the online publishing game completely. “Just as 10 to 15 years ago, the Web changed the publishing industry … social [media] is creating the same kinds of changes today,” says Shiv Singh, vice president and global social media lead at Razorfish, a global interactive marketing company. While many publishers have developed viable social media strategies, the majority of magazines still are in a state of experimentation when it comes to social media. “It’s like the ‘Wild West’ out there in terms of new products coming [out] and massive user consumption of things like Twitter,” notes Matt Milner, vice president of social networking for Hearst Magazines and founder of Answerology, a question and answer-based social platform that Hearst recently acquired.
It’s difficult for publishers to justify investing in social media when faced with an economic downturn, rising production and distribution costs, and decreases in print advertising pages. It’s also hard to quantify many of social media’s intangible benefits, such as two-way communication with readers, brand awareness and engagement, and market research. While there are measurable results of social media, including advertising revenue, increased site traffic and incoming links, these benefits are difficult to come by, and do not always produce enough return on investment (ROI) to offset the costs of building and maintaining a social media presence.
“If the economy hadn’t tanked … people would be happy to just sort of dance along, dabbling in [social media] for the next few years without worrying all that much about it, but because the economy did tank … people aren’t willing to put a lot of time or resources behind this effort, unless they’re confident that they’re going to get something back,” comments Adam Sherk, search/PR strategist for Define Search Strategies, an online audience development firm funded by the New York Times Co.