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What is the ROI for Social Media?

by Dan Robles on May 5, 2009

The quick answer is that ROI is indeterminable – get over it.

ROI is a static measurement where financial decision makers look into the Crystal Ball to project a future economic outcome which is then be protracted back into the present to arrive at a value of an investment opportunity.  In case you have not noticed, this valuation method is largely bankrupt.

Like lipstick on a pig

Yet ROI Persists. B-schools teach SWOT; Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats as a means of dressing up our projections with yet more projections.  All the ROI in the world may predict the economic future but as soon as people react to the market condition through improved information in Social Media, all those models fail.  This is called reflexivity and it is becoming a dominant influence in all financial projections in the age of Social Media.

Fortunately, the true visionaries of the next economic paradigm are increasing in numbers and rapidly moving away from the ROI model into something far more valuable simply by asking the serious questions……

Hey, what exactly is the currency we’re using?

David Bullock and Jay Deragon from the Social Media Connection Network are producing a series of videos investigating the currency of social media where they astutely ask the tough questions, “What are people trading?” and “what is a Tweet worth?” While these may seem like simple questions, they have many an ROI expert stumped.

Nobody really cares if I had bacon for breakfast; so the ROI on that tweet is exactly zero.  However, if you get 15 tweets in an hour on the same subject – there must be something important related to bacon today.  The more people sending bacon tweets, the greater is the value of my “option” to react to what looks like a bacon pandemic.  Still, I hold the option, without the obligation, to expend my limited resources in response.

Options have value

The value of social media is counted in options – not ROI.  Social media is dynamic, not static. Therefore “Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT)” are also highly dynamic moving targets that are highly contagious in social media and cannot be foretold in the next 5 days let alone 5 years. The cardinal rule of business is to collect assets and reduce liabilities. An option is an asset and an obligation is a liability.

ROI fails.

ROI is a future projection brought to the present.  Options are collected in the present and projected to the future – there is a fundamental difference between the two that must not be overlooked.  People are doing something, they have a plan, they are cooking up a new trick and the ROI is indeterminable…

Options have value and obviously people are willing to pay for them with their time at a keyboard, therefore, they are willing to pay for them through any medium of exchange.  This is what people are doing on social media – collecting options. The Next Economic Paradigm will provide a means to cash in those options. Hold on to your chips, the social media game is far from over.

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