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Stop expecting social media – or any marketing – to make the sale. That’s a person’s job.

Our good friend Teri Conrad pointed out an interesting article over at uber.la called “Death of the Social Media Strategist” that’s worth a read. The article explores the concept of so-called “social media strategists” and considers them rather overblown. Any good marketing director will have social media as a part of their strategy, so there’s no need for a separate strategist. We’ve said something similar – that social media isn’t a strategy at all, but a tool to be incorporated alongside other marketing tools like a website, email, print and a sales team.

The author goes on to make some other connections and claims, not all of which we agree with, like:

“Facebook ROI is some of the biggest mythology in online marketing. Twitter as a lead or demand generation tool is greatly exaggerated…”

The argument seems to be that social media must drive people to a “transactional opportunity” or else it’s pretty much worthless, especially to the spreadsheet-driven eyes of CMO and CFOs.

To which I say: Maybe the problem isn’t that social media strategists can’t measure its returns without a transaction. Rather, the attempt to measure social media in transactional terms doesn’t make sense – and social media strategists are setting themselves up for failure when they try.

Let me explain.

First, a caveat: If you sell commodities – books, downloadable media, shaving razors  – that can result in self-serve transaction from an ad or posting on a social platform, then any effort without a  “buy now” tool is almost worthless. An argument could still be made that there are good PR, consumer transparency and trust building opportunities that justify the efforts but won’t be measured in “CFO” terms. Not to mention, lots of consumers like your social media presence as a customer service channel, which also offers a ROI not exactly measured in transactions either.

But there’s a bigger point to be made, which we think skews people’s thinking about social media and ROI. It obscures social media’s powerful and proper use within a marketing strategy, and is vitally important to any non-commodity seller in the global economy. These are sales organizations who thrive on repeat-client and referral driven business. We’d even include complex-commodities (cars, houses, luxury goods) where the beloved ZMOT-obsessed marketing activity is simply the wrong measurement for social media activity.

That’s because social media doesn’t have a measurable ROI. 

People do.

More specifically: your sales team does. Social media is simply a tool to create opportunity moments during which salespeople must create a measurable return. Marketing efforts open up these moments by creating conversations and drawing social connections in, with status updates, pictures, video, and so on. Then it’s up to a sales activity – someone who fosters the conversation, listens, identifies needs and closes – to create the ROI.

The content itself will rarely create the return (with the exception of digital purchases). Neither should we try to measure the network itself – beyond it’s ability to host and facilitate these opportunity moments. We’d never ask what the ROI of a ballroom was, but we’d easily measure the ROI of our salespeople who worked the room picking up leads and deals at the party.

In fact, a transactional opportunity moment actually happened to me as I was reading the uber.la article from the Seattle airport last night. I had just posted on Facebook, which began dutifully sharing it with my sphere of influence, when one of the comments opened up an opportunity moment:

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Notice the posting midway down by Philip, someone in my sphere of influence. We’ve known each other for years, but haven’t done business together yet. His comment is an invitation to follow up and close a sale. Should I build a deal from this interaction, the ROI will be many multiples higher than the 23-seconds of marketing effort invested in Facebook.

The ROI was mine; facilitated by the social media tool. That’s how to measure social success. 

Just as someone must answer the phone to convert calls generated by websites or newspapers, the same is true for social media. We could say that most marketing works this way – without a sales team it would be useless per se.

It’s always a person, a salesperson, that creates returns from marketing. Marketing opens up opportunities but for many companies who don’t digitally transact their goods, the proper place to look for ROI is in sales activity. If you must measure your social media efforts, be sure to include the value created by your sales team, to justify the cost (and benefit) of your social media strategy.