ROI, or Return on Imagination

by Adam on October 28, 2012

Since the earliest days of social media, there’s been talk about what the ROI, or return on investment is for the digital participation of big brands. Major dollars are being spent in digital channels, whether on building websites, monitoring and developing Facebook accounts, or the hourly (and sometimes minute-by-minute) updating of Twitter. And the question remains: what exactly are we getting out of it?

For publishers, this question is especially prevalent for two reasons:

  1. With the traditional models for book publishing under enormous transformative pressure, figuring out whether the time and resources we are pouring into digital media is of utmost importance
  2. Publishers have (by and large) always been terrible at monitoring, distilling and putting to use data that could help them do their jobs better. There are certainly a mix of reasons for this, but suffice it to say that data and publishers have never been very good bedfellows.

This question came to the forefront for me at Pubwest, primarily because in one of the sessions (I won’t say which) the presenter explained the many values of offering giveaways on their site to consumers. When asked, later in the session, how the activity by publishers and authors translated to book sales/transactions, there was no data to correlate the use of promotional participation on the site to increased sales revenue. Now, in this case, the presenter had several examples where book giveaways and other promotions led to increased book discoverability, additional book deals, and an uptick in consumer discussions around particular books, so there was clearly value there, but I think we’re coming to a point in publishing where it isn’t good enough any more to say “I don’t know.”

In short, we need to hold ourselves, our marketers and our outreach efforts to a higher standard. We need to put in place programs that have some measurable effect, or at least have some stated goal from the outset. It may be difficult to measure conversion rates, but it’s not necessarily as difficult to track user flow through our websites and the movement of consumers from social media sites back to publisher properties (in fact, Google has a robust set of free tools that allows publishers to do this). I’m not saying that I know what the right mix of tools should be, but I do believe that any social media outreach should be laid out along the following lines:

  • What is the budget for such outreach, both in terms of time and money?
  • How long are we going to perform that outreach? Who is involved?
  • What is the intended effect?
  • On what channels are we reaching out and who is the audience?
  • Did we reach that audience?
  • Did it end up selling more books? (There are ways to tell this without knowing exactly whether a consumer went to Amazon and hit “buy”).
  • What are the evaluative steps for figuring out what goals we met, what we missed and how we could’ve done it better?

Too often, publishers and other big brands are content to throw their dollars and time into the social media abyss without knowing what is coming out of the process. It’s time to change that if we really are serious about making this a bigger part of our outreach efforts.

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