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The State of Social Media and Business

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We’ve all been there.

Sitting in a meeting or on a conference call listening to a self-proclaimed social media expert talk endlessly about how brands are all networked to consumers. We’re presented with nice slides with various geometric shapes with sparse text. Highly conceptual, they help set the stage for relative newcomers to understand the ecosystem and the relationship of its constituents. I’ve been guilty of presenting some of these slides too.

A couple of years ago, when few companies really knew what social media was let alone used them in campaigns, this would have sufficed. Depending on their sophistication or comfort level, they would let us design and develop customer experiences that engaged customers with the brand and with each other. At the time, we didn’t necessarily call it “social media” even though it happened to fit the category. We’ve been fortunate to have had a few successes and that has helped generate new business.

Things are different now. Very different. Clients are requesting measurable business results from social media campaigns and programs. Reading Jeremiah Owyang’s post on “Expulsion of the Social Media Gurus,” it is clear that the recession is forcing clients all over to prove demonstrable results. No longer is it sufficient to wax poetic and refer to one’s own blog as validation of a concept. People want specifics that they can use to defend their programs and thus their budgets. Ultimately, their jobs are on the line, so as practitioners, we owe it to clients to provide what we can. Today, that means qualifying and quantifying the benefits, costs and potential risks of running a social media campaign. In other words, provide an ROI for social media.

Many say it is a waste of time trying to quantify the value of social media — afterall, how do you put a value on a conversation? I would say the qualitative value is easy to derive. Take social media away from the mix and many marketers would balk at the idea. The quantitative approach? Now that’s the holy grail.

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