The Personal ROI of Social Media

Brass Tack Thinking - The Personal ROI of Social MediaMy job is to care about the business case for social media. That’s what I do for a living. Put social media in the perspective of a brand or company and do my best to illustrate how it can build a business.

But if I never manage to definitively prove some fancy formula for “social media ROI” in a business context, I’ll still be here. Why? Because there are personal rewards to participation here that go above and beyond awareness, or sales, or anything of the sort.

I have met friends through whom I’ve rediscovered the meanings of trust, faith, and loyalty.

I’ve found a home for some of the personal battles I’ve fought, and solidarity through hearing the stories of others.

I have seen people raise money and awareness for causes that deserve more than we can ever collectively give them, but that might not otherwise stood a chance of getting seen.

I’ve seen the weak find strength in the voices and actions of others.

I’ve laughed more richly and more genuinely than I have in a long, long time.

I’ve walked into rooms and hugged people as if I’ve known them for decades, thanks to the late night chats on Twitter or a string of discussion on a blog. And I’ve shared drinks or dinner with many of those people and forged bonds of forever friendship that started on these “silly” social networks. We may have found one another on the web, but that’s just the spark that lit the fire.

I’ve reconnected with friends who I’ve always regretted losing track of, and I’ve been able to apologize for that in person. I’ve seen people closest to me rediscover the love of their lives many years later and forge a future together because of a serendipitous click.

We used to be bound by geography and circumstance in order to encounter people. Now, our potential for connection – and our ability to do so regardless of where we are or where we go – is amplified many times over, and more fluid and unencumbered than it’s ever been.

There are skeptics and naysayers all over. There are the “yeah, but”s of the world masquerading as pragmatists or realists when they’ve really got a perspective or attitude problem of their own. There is always the other side of the coin. But I choose to focus my energy elsewhere, because I’ve personally experienced how these relationships have enriched my life, my work, and my perspective on the world around me.

I will and do support the idea that quantifying social media’s impact is important to justify continued investment as a business. But I can’t believe nor understand how many companies can’t also accept the fact that deeper and broader personal connections can net stronger business ties, too, whether or not you can capture the data proof points that bear that out. It’s been that way since the dawn of time. We prosper in business through better connections, stronger relationships, deeper trust. We’ve always known that. We’ve rarely demanded to see the evidence until we got all up in arms about the fact that we were talking on this internet thing instead of over the golf course or a drink.

But I’ve found all of these things in spades through Twitter, my blog, the blogs of others, Facebook. I’ve found them in you, friends and readers and those that have provided so much information and insight for me to learn from. I’ve made business deals, yes. Numbers of them. But I’ve also exponentially enriched my life through the people I’ve met, the ideas I’ve discovered, the learning I’ve done.

I’ve found personal gold here on these crazy places on the web, simply because they give me potential. They give me personal inertia. They’ve brought me the gifts of people and friendships that will last long beyond the wires that first connected us.

That’s my personal social media ROI. What’s yours?

  • http://www.grt2studios.com/blog GRTaylor2

    Great Post Amber. There is an intrinsic aspect of social media that can’t be quantified. The knowledge and relationships I’ve gained through social media would have never happened without these outlets. I understand corporate clients need ROI to justify their expenses but since this is all so new the true ROI can’t be measured until further down the road.

    Personally, I’m smarter at running my business and marketing execution because of the community and the collaborative aspect of social networks. Thanks and can’t wait for the book!

  • http://www.mikemccready.ca/blog/ Mike McCready

    Such a good post. I really appreciate it. I know we need to constantly be providing value to the work we do in social media, but I think sometimes we get to hung up on the numbers.

    My personal social media ROI is being able to connect with people I couldn’t imagine I would. I would never be able to have chats with our college president in the pre-Facebook days. If I emailed the likes of Scott Stratten, Erik Qualman and Jeremiah Owyang in the past, I imagine my messages would be put in the junk mail folder. But here I am having conversations with them on Twitter.

  • http://mariwrites.blogspot.com Mari Huertas

    Amber, I loved this post for two reasons: 1, I just went to the West Coast for a week to meet two people with whom I’ve connected online through blogging, Flickr, Twitter, and Etsy, and had the most marvelous time with both. And 2, I find it fascinating that we’re coming around again to the idea that business can be personal, and have a very human touch – even be compassionate, rather than walling the two mentalities into distinctly separate districts. It used to be that businesses were built that way, and then we got lost along the way into thinking that everything had to be kept apart. I’m glad to see those barriers breaking down again.

  • Shawn-halls

    Great perspective. My business is health care so is much more about relationships and quality of interactions than other types of “products.” Our use of socia media has been to interact with our patients, families, and visitors (even virtual visitors) when and how they prefer. Sometimes it’s through traditional phone conversations, paper surveys, or letters. Increasingly, it’s through facebook and twitter. The important thing is for us to be there when people want to interact with us. It may scound cliche but it’s never a burden, it’s a priveldge that people want to interact with us — especially when our business is health. Our true ROI comes from patients’ quality of life.

  • Shawn-halls

    Great perspective. My business is health care so is much more about relationships and quality of interactions than other types of “products.” Our use of socia media has been to interact with our patients, families, and visitors (even virtual visitors) when and how they prefer. Sometimes it’s through traditional phone conversations, paper surveys, or letters. Increasingly, it’s through facebook and twitter. The important thing is for us to be there when people want to interact with us. It may scound cliche but it’s never a burden, it’s a priveldge that people want to interact with us — especially when our business is health. Our true ROI comes from patients’ quality of life.

  • http://www.crossingmarketingandit.com Elmer

    It’s hard to quantify the value of personal relationships – even in real life. We join chambers of commerce and other organizations to meet people and do a little business promoting. We don’t always look for the ROI in those relationships. In many ways, being in social spaces is much the same thing – only with far more reach.

    Like many others, I’ve met people via Twitter I would never have otherwise met. I just had a great time at PubCon meeting people “IRL” with whom I’ve cultivated friendships with in social spaces.

    “There’s gold in them thar hills” and it’s got a lot more value than just dollars and cents. Thanks for helping spread the word about this.

  • http://blog.esimplestudios.com Gabriele Maidecchi

    The value of people you meet in your personal social media journey is something you start appreciating more and more as your connections build up.
    Every new person you relate to is a potential source of meeting more interesting people to enrich your experience. I agree with you, the ROI after all is all around us, every day.

  • http://twitter.com/megfowler Meg Fowler

    I live with my ROI. He’s lovely.

    I also work with my ROI, go out for many dinners and events with my ROI, and make business plans with my ROI. My ROI pays me to write in my spare time on occasion, too.

    For as much as I get driven a bit bonkers by gimmicky, self-promote-y folks, and sometimes get a little disheartened by the odd need people have to be aggressively dismissive about all of this (though I get sucked into it now and then, for whatever reason), I can’t argue that what I’ve received FAR outweighs the cost of every moment I’ve spent on it.

    Yes, I talk too much.

    Yes, not everything I say is valuable.

    Yes, I prattle on and annoy the heck out of some folks.

    Yes, I may not be the brightest star in the whole constellation of folks out there doing this stuff.

    BUT… all this came from the discovery of a new platform I could use to be me… me with a bit more reach.

    And whoa, thankful.

  • http://www.stealthmode.com hardaway

    Yes. I’ve found a new life through social media — a life not confined to Phoenix, or SIlicon Valley, or my demographic sliced any way you please. Social media asks only that I engage, and the rewards just “happen.”

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  • http://cocreatr.typepad.com CoCreatr

    Beautfiully put, Amber. What, again, was the business case for a thorough bean counter to approve a telephone? Ah yes, you could make appointments faster. And receive orders. How, again, could one prove what this newfangled invention actually does to a technophobe a hundred years ago? Get him/her on a phone with one of their friends on the line.

  • http://gearboxmagazine.com Brian Driggs

    Exactly.

    Only, there’s a downside, and it frustrates me to no end.

    All these truly amazing people I’ve gotten to know online, and yet, we may never meet in person due to the same geographic obstacles faced by explorers in wooden ships hundreds of years ago.

    (sigh)

    • http://cocreatr.typepad.com CoCreatr

      Well, Brian, you are right. Solution: build better ships. It starts as a dream…

    • http://cocreatr.typepad.com CoCreatr

      Well, Brian, you are right. Solution: build better ships. It starts as a dream…

  • http://www.bethrobinson.me/ Beth Robinson

    I entered the social media world through an embroidery hobby in 2003-4ish. Embroidery became art became business became online marketing and systems thinking and other things.

    But it was all rooted in many ways in talking to other people who told me I did something cool and creative, or who helped me with a problem, or showed me a better way to do something. And then people who I was able to help, who said they valued my writing or demonstration or encouragement.

    There were in-person counterparts to these experiences in both my hobby and my professional lives, but the online social media interactions were a major driver.

  • http://www.blog.chrisehyoung.com/ Chris Eh Young

    Amen to all of that. If not for Twitter, I would be less so many positive relationships. My ROI has been both personal and financial. I have found many clients but even more friends.

    Walking into a room with 150 Twitterers and meeting them all face to face is priceless. Social media has also given me the chance to learn from the best and interact with them at the same time. It has also afforded me the ability to pay it forward and balance my Karmic checkbook.

  • KRCraft

    Wonderful post. More like Return on Engagement. Thanks for this reminder of the ‘real’ side of Social Media.

    Twitter is like a free Phd university course of study with me, enabling me to learn from the true Thought Leaders and visionaries in my field, some of whom have now become friends in real life.

    As I was reading, I was thinking, “And this is what true engagers are giving back to their customers, partners and communities. A richness & depth of experiences that transcends mearely being social.”

    Bravo – beautifully written.

  • Anonymous

    I laugh at those that want a precise number around Social Media ROI. As GRTaylor points out, you can’t quantify it all. Can you quantify the benefit of a phone line? How about electricity? I liken it to the mid-90s when many questioned having a web site. Does anyone do that now?

  • http://twitter.com/jessicamalnik Jessica Malnik

    Thank you so much for writing this post, Amber! It’s impossible to measure the ROI of personal social media use. Social media, and Twitter in particular, have opened so many doors for me both professionally and personally. As you pointed out in your post, those personal connections in a late night Twitter chat can ultimately lead to friendships, potential business connections and so forth. The community aspect of Twitter or social media is so important, but it just can’t be accurately measured.

  • http://twitter.com/rickjmiv Rick Morgan

    Wonderful post Amber. Besides all the value you mention above, I have found that “social” has added a whole new dimension to business relationships – even the ones I have had for years. For me, this has made “work” much more enjoyable and meaningful.

  • http://twitter.com/sjtimmermann Samantha Timmermann

    Awesome post, Amber! About 1.5 years ago I moved away from my hometown and to South Florida for a job in social media and marketing. I’ve learned so much and utilize many of the tools to connect with our customers and maintain relationships with my friends and family from home. However, I recently started to push back on social media (personally) because I wanted to have “real” conversations with people from home. I couldn’t understand why they weren’t calling, but texting or sending me a message on Facebook. I thought it was because I wasn’t meaningful to them. But after reading your post, I’ve realized that social media has been helpful in fostering my relationships. If I didn’t have FB or gchat, who knows where my relationships would stand. I wouldn’t be able to go home for Thanksgiving and feel as if I never left. I still think a healthy balance of traditional and new communication is important, but your post helped me realize that one isn’t really better than the other. Thank you.

  • http://www.evanhamilton.com Evan Hamilton

    This post gave me a smile. While I think social media/community management ROI /is/ something we should and can measure, I think this is a great callout. Those of us that truly care are the ones who have always been community managers, before it was a title or before we were paid for it. I wasn’t on message boards in high school because I thought it’d someday get me a job, I was on because I like connecting with people. That won’t change even if they stop paying me.

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  • http://twittrafficpro.thegeorgephillipgroup.com Twitter Marketing

    It is a great post. It is really informative and good information for readers. Keep it up. Thanks for sharing your insight and ideas. And I will share it to my colleagues and friends.

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