Social Media Balancing Act: Sentiment vs. ROI

SourceGeorge Beckenstein of Digital Media and Social Marketing Strategist recently wrote an interesting post on how business used to be conducted. He noted that anyone you did business with lived in your immediate community. There was no such thing as advertising, marketing channels and brands. You did business with people you knew. It was not an “information economy,” and nothing was mass produced. It was a Trust Economy. In a Trust Economy, your market is your community or network. Trust is mandatory, and influence is king.

Recently, I was at a marketing event where I engaged in a heated discussion about social media with a senior account rep from a local marketing agency. I asked her why they were one of the few agencies not engaged in social media. Her response: “We don’t do social media because there is no ROI.” She also mentioned that it was more appropriate for B2C not B2B. Ironically, we are one of their clients and happen to be B2B, not to mention heavily into social media. —I said social media is not always about ROI — it should be first and foremost about sentiment and driving influence, which could eventually lead to ROI.

This leads me to my blog throw down with Amanda Vega, founder and CEO of Vega Consulting; Mike Abrams, VP of Business Development for TBD Consulting; and Chris Hewitt , senior director of marketing operations at Lumension. Amanda once tweeted to me that whenever her clients come to her about social media, their main driving factor is ROI (return on investment).

Social media by no stretch of the imagination has become an important part of a business’ overall corporate strategy. While many companies may understand the importance of social media, some are misguided in the notion that social media is about directly driving leads and increasing sales. This is understandable given how businesses today face greater economic pressures to perform and show quantifiable metrics to validate their investment. Adding social media to the marketing mix is no exception.

Figuring out ROI on social media continues to be a hotly debated topic. I am a firm believer that social media is a critical asset to a company in terms of building a brand, monitoring customer attitudes, gathering ongoing business intelligence and growing your influence. However, using social media to drive sales shouldn’t be the main focus of engaging in the first place. It’s nice to get those results, but we need to set the right priorities when it comes to using social networking tools. In a world where businesses no longer have control over what people are saying about their brand, products or services, social media gives us the opportunity to quietly monitor and listen to the conversations. If we choose, we can even engage with the broader community and participate in conversations around our brands in hopes of providing a positive brand experience. Why? More than being focused on driving sales as the main motivator, influence is king. Influence drives trust. Trust can lead to powerful Word of Mouth. Powerful WOM could lead to sales and deeper engagement.

There is no question that social media can be a dynamic tool. However, an organization cannot be successful in social media without building brand awareness and engagement first. Without establishing this all-important foundation, one cannot be successful in social media or drive sales. The whole point of social media is the ability to participate in a conversation that’s taking place around your brand or your industry. A company cannot build a social media strategy simply to drive sales without first building trust within its community. This takes a lot of effort in building sentiment, not to mention a lot of time. Once you’ve established trust around your brand, then the community will take the next steps to listen to what you have to say, follow your conversations and get to know your brand.

@tdhurst said to me: “Social media is always about sales.” True — most companies want you to justify their investment, but it’s up to the social media experts to educate them on what the purpose of social media is and what the overall objective is for that company. This way, you can better align corporate objectives with social media strategy.

I had the opportunity to listen to @GuyKawasaki at the recent BOLO 2009 event where he demonstrated different levels of social media successes — monitor, watch, sell, support and engage. Companies such as Starbucks use social media to monitor what people are saying about their latest promotion and their brand while others such as Dell and Kogi use social media to sell their goods. Another good example is Comcast, which uses the platform to provide customer support direct. While major brands like Dell and Starbucks may have the luxury to choose what type of engagement they want to have with the community, it’s still about understanding and measuring brand awareness and driving positive brand engagement before pushing promos. If you don’t have these in place, when it comes to driving sales, you’re SOL.

Let’s face it, whether it’s social media, marketing campaigns or PR, if you don’t have brand awareness, brand trust and positive brand engagement to drive influence, your results would be the same — lackluster interest in your company and products. Social media is another medium where you get the privilege to first monitor and listen to the overall sentiment around your brand before you look to integrate other objectives, such as driving sales.

Join the Debate

My colleagues – Amanda, Mike, Chris and I have started a community to openly discuss this throwdown: Social Media Debate.  We welcome your thoughts, comments, and ideas.



  1. I really agree with social media being a branding tool, sometime I think companies want sales or leads before any engagement or conversation. I think that recipe can spell disaster very quickly. What does everyone else think?

    • I think social media is a powerful tool for sentiment gathering, that might not have any direct relation to ROI, but in an indirect way the collected sentiments can lead to new insights to aid product development and in the long run lead to organic growth and a positive contribution to ROI. My opinion is that organisations cannot afford to ignore social media.

      • I’d have to agree with you completely. Thank you for your insightful comment. Just to reiterate…social media is not simply about driving sales. It may indirectly impact sales but that shouldn’t be the main driving force. Social media is a powerful way to listen to what people are saying about the brand and build strong foundation for applying feedback to your business practice. There are a lot of different ways to look at it but simply put, it’s about listening, engaging, participating, monitoring, and then using it to do other things. Please join our Social Media Debate Community to share your valuable thoughts

    • Thank you for your comment. I agree that there are steps to achieving good ROI – you have to engage first and foremost before you dive right into ROI. I’d love for you to join the Social Media Debate Community where my colleages Amanda Vega, Mike Abrams, and Chris Hewitt along with others are currently discussing this. I’d love for you to share your thoughts on that platform as well. Thanks again. Here is the link:

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