6 Ways Small Business Owners Can Assess Return On Social Media Investment

One of the reasons using social media can be challenging for small business owners is because it is often difficult to quantify the return on social media investment. For example, if you invest a certain amount of time and/or money on social media outreach, how do you assess whether it was a good investment of your resources, i.e., your time and your money? Evaluation of specific campaigns, such as sweepstakes prizes to increase blog comments or newsletter subscribers, is pretty easy to do. After the campaign, you just count the new comments and new subscribers. But what about activities that are not tied to a particular campaign?
Like the time you take to research and publish an informative blog post that shares your expertise for free? Or your video with tips to help your viewers accomplish a goal, solve a problem or properly use your products? Or the ReTweets of interesting articles you share with your Twitter followers? Or the comments you add to other people's blogs and FaceBook status updates? How do you assess the return on investment for this eactivities? Here are some of the things I consider to help answer this question.

  1. Have I Helped Someone? My business is an expression of my life purpose here on earth. When I share something that helps another person, it confirms that I am being used as a vehicle to encourage another human being, and that's always a good use of my time.

    For example, when I discover a helpful new website, I often Tweet it. I am delighted when someone else Tweets that they found the site useful. Even if that person never becomes a customer, I feel good that something I shared has helped them. This confirms that I am making a difference, and there is no better return on investment than that.

  2. Did I Earn New Newsletter Subscribers? I have published a weekly newsletter for over 10 years. I frequently receive email messages from people who let me know they discovered and subscribed to my newsletter via my FaceBook Page, where I frequently share links to the publication. It takes a significant amount of time to assemble a weekly newsletter, but it's worth it because when it's done, I archive it online and share it everywhere.

    Once I share it, I make it easy for others to share it with their friends. For example, this week's newsletter was Tweeted by Jason Murphy, someone I don't know, to his 2,454 followers. How can you beat that for return on investment?!

  3. Do I See Unexpected Affirmations And Positive ReTweets? When a Twitter follower unexpectedly tells their followers that I am worth connecting with, multiple numbers of additional people are exposed to me as a source of useful information. These wonderful little Twitter surprises, often from people I don't know and have never heard of, appear in my Twitter stream out of the blue to let me know that I'm having an impact. There are links to examples here, here an here.

    ReTweets are Tweets by people who share with their followers something I have shared on Twitter. For example, @JulReDesigns ReTweeted my post about whether small business owners need a FaceBook Page, a blog or both.

    When you invest an hour to share a blog post that reaches your circle of influence, it's a good thing. But when you do it consistently over time, you create endless opportunities for people to share the value you bring to the table with their friends. This multiplies your investment multiple hundreds or even thousands of times over. Now, that's what I call a return on investment!

  4. Do I Receive Requests To Collaborate?When someone emails me as a result of a comment I left months ago at the blog of a person they trust, and invites me to participate in one of their projects, then the few minutes it took for me to leave that comment was a good use of my time as a business owner. This happened to me recently when Jeff Ente of Who's Blogging What emailed me to say he read a comment I left at someone else's blog. As a result of my contribution, he wanted me to participate with 42 other people who shared their collective social media wisdom at his blog. I was excited that my commentary about social media was included on this page, along with that of some well respected social media strategists.

    Jeff told me that the article would be re-printed formatted as a PDF and made available at the popular Hubspot blog, but I don't think that's happened yet. If it does, Hubspot's 17,474 RSS subscribers will be exposed to my ideas.

    It probably took me 10 minutes to read and comment on the initial post, and another 30 minutes to provide Jeff with what he needed. So for a total of 40 minutes of my time, I enjoy the opportunity to be grouped with others who are knowledgeable in my field, plus the chance to be exposed to multiple thousands of people in the future.

  5. Am I Invited To Speak Or Share? Yesterday, I was a panelist at the 2010 Social Media Telesummit (#smt10), and Monday, I will speak at the Summit on the topic of solidifying your niche as a business leader. Leesa Barnes, the Telesummit coordinator, told me that she wanted me to share on the topic because she had admired my work as the leader of IBN. If I had not been active on Twitter, Leesa probably never would have known about the IBN community and how it works.

    The Telesummit is providing me with an opportunity to help others who may want to duplicate my success in their industries. As a bonus, I get to brag about the Indie-made health, beauty and lifestyle products my members make!

    In addition to speaking gigs, there are invitations to be interviewed at other blogs, to contribute commentary to for magazines like Entrepreneur Magazine, and to appear on radio shows like National Public Radio's Tell Me More. Whatever it is, it's exposure that helps to solidify me as a person of influence in my areas of expertise. And it happens because I am involved in particular types of online conversations on a regular and consistent basis.

  6. Am I Added As A Resource? From time to time, I am listed as a business person to follow on Twitter. This happened recently at the American Express OPEN Forum where I was named one of “80 Small Business Twitterers You Should Be Following” . I didn't know I was on the list until IBN member Jean Lozada of Jeannie Naturals Tweeted it.

    I've been in business for 10 years so there's no way to tell which minutes or hours of those years contributed to my being added to the list. But do I care? No! It's objective proof that I am helpful to small business owners, and that's return on investment enough for me.

And darnit, aside from all this small business stuff, sometimes, it's just plain fun, dagnabbit!! Like when nice people on my FaceBook Page take the time to say they like the photo of my new hair cut. Or when they let me know they appreciate the quick and delicious roasted vegetables dinner recipe recipe I shared! What could be better than that??!

As Seth Godin pointed out in a blog post yesterday, specific, planned marketing campaigns are important, but sometimes, what happens between the lines has a more significant impact in the long run.

Where Does The Money Come In?

Ahhh, well, remember that, before you get the business, you must listen to people and connect with them in ways that build trust and confidence, and which establish you as a reliable source for the products or services you offer. Once you do that, the return on your investment is the opportunity to win the new business.

In other words, the return on your investment is the permission to influence and participate in discussions that lead to the sales of the products that make your business profitable. The above examples are just a few of the ways you can assess the level of influence and participation you can expect to enjoy.

Question: How do you assess the return on your social media investment?

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About Donna Maria Coles Johnson

Donna Maria is an author, podcaster, attorney, and the founder and CEO of the Indie Business Network, providing affordable product liability insurance and mentoring. Donna Maria teaches Makers and Creative Entrepreneurs how to use technology and community to build a profitable, sustainable business.