Death to “Marketing ROI is Return on Influence”…Please!!!

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I realized that my Data Posts from Non-Data Blogs Yahoo! pipe wasn’t working correctly, and when I fixed it, a recent post from Debbie Weil at BlogWrite for CEOs popped up: More on the ROI of Social Media: Return on Influence. Ordinarily, I’m a big fan of Weil’s thoughts, but this one had me wondering if I ought to try to track down some blood pressure medication. Weil by no means invented the phrase (and does not claim to have), “When it comes to social media, ROI really means ‘return on influence,'” but, sadly, she has jumped right on that misguided bandwagon.

Maybe it’s that I was raised in a house where one parent was an engineer and the other was an English major. Maybe it’s because I’ve got a contrarian bent — a slight one (I like “alternative” music but not “experimental” music). For whatever reason, “ROI is return on influence” has stuck in my craw from the first time I heard it. And it still makes me twitch whenever I stumble across a post where someone waxes eloquently about the genius of the phrase.

Weil has a couple of “short answers” for why return on influence makes sense. Her first is that it makse sense “because the return is soft. The benefits of incorporating social media strategies into your marketing are real (and can no longer be ignored) but they’re not normally measured in dollars.” I have no argument with any part of that assertion after the word “because.” Weil points out that the return is soft. So, why isn’t the “return” being replaced in this platitude? “Influence from (social media) investment” I get. And that is something that you should try to measure.

Are you still with me? No one who has picked up this phrase has stopped to think that it doesn’t make sense! If you develop influence in your market, then you will get a return, which may or may not be soft. But, are you trying to measure the return on that influence, or are you trying to measure the influence that you garnered by engaging in social media?

Marketers really are freaked out by the increasing focus on Marketing ROI. That focus is driven by CEOs and CFOs. In my experience, CFOs are pretty sharp people. They get that Marketing is important. What they want is accountability, efficiency, and effectiveness from Marketing. They want to know that the chunk of the company’s budget that is being invested in Marketing is being well-used. Unfortunately, they communicate that imperative in financial terms: “What’s the ROI?” They’re Finance people, folks! What would you expect?

Marketers, rather than getting to the heart of delivering business value — driving improvements in efficiency and effectiveness, and demonstrating results — have instead gone nutso with, “I have to show ROI!” Return on Influence is a headless-chicken response to this belief. And, almost comically, it has resulted in a classic marketing response: “Let’s spin and message it! Let’s talk about how, for Marketing in the social media world, ROI really stands for ‘Return On Influence.'”

Oh, man oh man, what I would pay to sit in the room when a Fortune 1000 CMO proudly rolls out that explanation to the CFO. It completely, utterly, totally, and ridiculously misses the point.

Accountability and continuous improvement, people: the executives in your company are not stupid (if you think they are, then they either are, or they aren’t but you think they are: in either case, find a new company). Understand what you are trying to accomplish with your social media strategy. Is it to build your brand? Is it to engage with your most avid customers? Is it to position your company as being full of cutting-edge thought leaders? Articulate that. Measure whether you are making headway with your efforts.

Am I right?

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8 Comments


  1. It’s about relationships – need I say more?
    You don’t go into a relationship with ‘how can I influence’ this – it’s ‘how can I help you’. The return comes back later.

  2. Your lucky day, Tim. Two Connies commenting. 🙂

    I agree w/ my cohort from the frozen north. Relationships are about building trust, which later pays dividends in increased influence. It takes time and can’t be measured against individual marketing campaigns.

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