Measuring construction marketing social media return on investment (ROI)

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In his Help EveryBody Everyday blog, Matt Handal tackles the question that should challenge AEC industry marketers:  Does our investment in time and resources on social media really provide a return on investment?

Handal provides an indication that most marketers within this industry are having trouble tracking real business results from these initiatives.  There may be tantalizing indicators, for example, increased web traffic and perhaps some anecdotal positive feedback, but can we track and assess whether these initiatives actually bring business to our organizations?  (And you should not deceive yourself that social media is free even if you don’t write cheques or give credit card numbers to your industry providers — you still are investing time and energy and reallocating resources to handle the marketing initiatives.)

Handal notes:

Personal Strategy
Some people think that setting up a Facebook or Twitter account for your firm and posting self-serving information about your firm is a great use of social media investment. I’ve talked to many social media users in the construction industry about this tactic and I have yet to see anyone make or save a dime this way.

I view Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter as personal tools to help you maintain relationships with people. For example, the time it would take me to “ping” 200 contacts via the phone and email would be significant. But using LinkedIn and Twitter’s status update feature, I can ping well over 200 contacts each week rather easily, Even if they don’t check the websites, they will get an email from Linkedin containing my status update.

However, except for the occasional Linkedin use, I do not believe my time is best used on Linkedin or Twitter when I am in the office. Therefore, the majority of my Linkedin and Twitter use is set up during my train ride and automated throughout the day and week. I can check what others are doing and responding to on the train home to keep our conversations going. The opportunity cost is just too high for me to dedicate any amount of time during the workday.

By identifying potential clients on Twitter, I have been able to develop relationships and bring in a small amount of revenue (in the tens of thousands, which for an $8M/year firm is a pittance). However, these relationships may provide more return as they need our services in the future. Therefore, I view my use of Twitter and LinkedIn as a positive return on my personal investment but not high enough to trump my other, more traditional, marketing activities.

In essence, Handal has come to a (potentially disturbing) conclusion:  The only time  where he gains value from social media “investment” value in place of traditional networking and communications approaches is when the time couldn’t be spent doing something better.  (This is also echoed by this rather interesting blog posting from Ford Harding).

So is the social media effort worthwhile?  In the past three years, I can track approximately $20,000 in actual revenue from this blog.  The revenue “flow” is too inconsistent and chunky to provide meaningful trends — one big order skews the totals.   This $20,000 is certainly useful but is the drop in the bucket in our overall revenue. Unfortunately, I am not able to directly track the results of social media initiatives from the company’s sales representatives outside of my orbit (the sales I count are the ones which originated directly with my blog and were forwarded to the representatives for follow-up or the small amount of direct advertising revenue here.)

Clearly, there are indications that other industries — where metrics and measuring are more prominent in assessing marketing strategies or where the typical client decision-maker is much younger than we will find in decision-making circles for AEC services — are seeing some interesting and positive results.  Earlier this week, I  reported on my retailer neighbour who loses testing and experimenting with social media because (a) it is cheap and (b) he already has systems in place to measure ROI so even small incremental improvements justify the research, effort and resources for the project.

With these tentative results and observations I will fall on my (marketing) sword with these thoughts:

I emjoy doing this stuff, so will continue

The rather “selfish” approach to business decision-making is valid in that you cannot get far in most endeavours unless you focus on your strengths and usually these are activities you enjoy and for which you have some natural talent.

Social media resources can help you with lead development and (to some extent) in maintaining existing relationships, but can and should not (yet) be the “core” of your relationships

My son, for example, uses Facebook a lot and has far more “friends” than I ever expect to have.  But do these online relationships define who is real friends are?  I sense not.  He is a popular kid (perhaps the most popular in his Grade), but his friendships are built out of real interactions in school, among neighbours and in sporting activities.  Most of his  Facebook”friends” are peripheral at most.  For those of us using Twitter and bragging about the size of our invited mailing list, I sense the number of real and meaningful friends would be close to what they would be “before” social media.

If you have a product or service where small incremental “yes” decisions are possible, social media may be much more powerful and effective (in direct business development) than when you are selling big stuff

This is common sense.  You simply aren’t gong to sign a contract for a $4.6 million building project because you became “friends” with someone on LinkedIn.  But you might purchase a $19.95 e-book.  Your challenge will be to leverage the existing social media resources with other marketing activities.  My suggestion, as Matt indicates, is to bootstrap your resources here — be cheap — and if you need to reallocate resources to accommodate social media initiatives, grab the funds from other activities where your evaluations show little if any ROI or measurable results.

And if you aren’t setting up at least rudimentary measuring systems, read my articles in the SMPS Marketer on the topic (some are posted on the blog sidebar).  Better yet, join your local SMPS chapter and start building some real relationships.

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