Does Social Media Have A Return On Investment? | Fast Company
Do “likes” and retweets add up to sales? Who knows? And who really cares? We’re in the I Love Lucy era of social-media marketing, a golden age of unaccountability.
THIS YEAR, AUDI RAN the first-ever Super Bowl commercial to feature a Twitter hashtag. Did you miss that watershed moment? Don’t feel too bad: The hashtag — #ProgressIs, a take on the carmaker’s line “Luxury has progressed” — flashed on the screen for just a second, near the end of a surreal and entertaining ad that featured millionaires trying to escape from a minimum-security prison, and a cameo by, who else, sax man and Lite-FM staple Kenny G.
In addition to pushing the hashtag on TV, Audi purchased a Promoted Trend ad from Twitter, and it hired Klout, a startup firm that combs through Twitter and Facebook in search of the most “influential” people online. Klout helped Audi find more than 1,100 people to reach out to about the campaign — 200 of them received an Audi travel mug and flashlight. Klout’s Audiphiles tweeted more than 12,000 times about the hashtag, creating a viral chain of Audi-related chatter online. The company then chose the best tweets containing #ProgressIs; the winner, @jetsetbrunette, won a trip to California to test-drive some Audis, and she also got to choose a charity to which Audi donated $25,000.
But what did Audi get out of all these influencers’ tweets? Did the Twitter campaign prompt anyone to consider buying an A8, say, or to go into a dealership to test-drive one? Did seeing the #ProgressIs tweets at least inspire an outpouring of positive brand feelings toward Audi?
The company doesn’t know. “Today the equation to measure that doesn’t exist,” says Doug Clark, Audi of America’s general manager for social media and customer engagement. Audi has a full-time team monitoring its presence on social-media sites, it’s constantly posting new content, and it has even held special events for the most devoted members of the online Audisphere. The best Clark can do to suggest that all this work has paid off is offer a study by Visibli, a social-marketing analytics company, which recently found that Audi has the most “engaged” fans of any entity on Facebook. Audi’s more than 3 million obsessives apparently outshine even Justin Bieber’s minions in their willingness to click the like button.
Clark concedes that, so far, he doesn’t have any numbers to prove that all this engagement has resulted in, you know, selling more cars. Amazingly, the company isn’t too interested in finding out, either. For Audi, Facebook and Twitter “are places where we know tech-minded consumers are active, where they’re seeking to engage with the brand,” Clark says. “But can I say that a fan is more likely to buy an Audi? No.”
Audi, like almost every major brand in the world, is jumping onto Twitter and Facebook in a big way. EMarketer estimates that 80% of companies will participate in social-media marketing this year, nearly double the number of just three years ago. All of them are feverishly working to get consumers to “engage” — to “like,” to tweet, to comment, to share. And they’re spending a tidy sum to do so. According to BIA/Kelsey, a media consulting firm, companies spent about $2.1 billion on social-media advertising in 2010; the number is projected to grow to nearly $8 billion in 2015.
The gold rush has inspired a wave of tech startups, like Klout, that are looking to help firms navigate the tricky social-ad scene. These companies promise to monitor and measure the impact of Facebook and Twitter campaigns, and to find the best ways to boost those efforts. Despite this technology, though, social-media marketing often feels like a throwback to the golden age of TV: At least so far, marketers can’t predict or measure the impact of their campaigns with anything near the precision they’re used to elsewhere online.
What’s more interesting is that brands truly don’t seem bothered by this. Being on the leading front of marketing while not having to account for their efforts liberates them. “We’re trying different ways to help us better understand the ‘value’ of a Facebook like,” says Brad Shaw, Home Depot’s VP for corporate communications and external affairs, echoing several other social-media marketers. “But at this point, revenue is not the intent.” Applied to social media, William Goldman’s famous line about Hollywood would go something like this: Nobody knows anything, and they don’t care. You’re forgiven for wondering: #ProgressIs? #Really?
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