Estimated time to read this post: 3 minutes By now, social media has a pretty firm foothold in the way businesses and nonprofits market themselves. But for the most part, we’re still looking at it in terms of traditional advertising: How much am I getting back for every dollar spent? What’s my return on investment (ROI)?

It’s understandable. Social media takes a large time commitment, as well as personnel – personnel that expect to be paid.  Right now, most companies label their social media success by numbers alone, or by putting a dollar value on their figures:

I brought in $1,000 with 1,000 Facebook fans, so I must be making a dollar per fan. If I get 10,000 fans, that must mean I’ll make $10,000.

Friends, not piggybanks

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That’s a pretty common version of the way ROI is viewed in social media. Every person is assigned a dollar value of worth. But what that mindset ends up doing is cheapening the experience. These people aren’t just your piggybanks—they’re your customers of today and tomorrow. They are your clients, fans, donors, supporters and even your competition!

Even worse, that mindset doesn’t take in the whole spectrum of what social media is, and as a result you end up losing the majority of its real value. Social media is not a static advertisement – a billboard on a highway. It’s an organic network. You’re closely connected to not only your supporters, but to the people whom those supporters consider to be their friends. Which brings me to a different form of measurement that is so sadly overlooked in social media these days: ROR. Return on Relationships.

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What Is ROR?

Cast your mind back to when social media was more commonly referred to as “social networking.“What happened to the idea that these were places to build networking relationships?  Who decided relationships and contacts had to be monetized? When you focus on building engagement around your brand, connecting with your audience, and listening to what they have to say to you, you’re building towards a greater Return On Relationship.There’s a lot that can be said about the loyalty of a single customer or donor that doesn’t come across on a spreadsheet. For example, how many friends has he or she told about you? How many friends saw that person liking or sharing a post on your Facebook page? I’ve certainly looked at a page after seeing a story like that come up in my news feed, and you probably have too. You did it because your friend did, not because an advert or call to action compelled you.

And when that happens, you often don’t know about it. It’s such an instant, organic process that there aren’t any metrics to keep track of how a single person might make their way across the bayou of social media to your specific page.

But what does matter, what you can track, is that first person who started the chain. And that’s done through focusing on providing the best experience for the supporters you already have. So although it’s possible to look at a number and figure out how much that number is worth in dollars and cents, you end up missing the bigger picture that comes from loyalty – and that’s what businesses and nonprofits need to be successful in today’s world.

[fancy_box id=2]One fired up, passionate, loyal fan is actually priceless.[/fancy_box]