Do you struggle to measure the return on investment (ROI) for your social media activity? Turns out you aren’t alone.

In this article, you’ll discover insights from new research that addresses the age-old ROI challenge.

New Research: Social Marketers Still Can’t Prove ROI by Cat Davies on Social Media Examiner.

#1: Measuring Return on Investment Remains Marketers’ Biggest Challenge

Social Media Examiner’s 2018 Social Media Marketing Industry Report found that only 10% of respondents strongly agree that they can measure ROI. A full 56% are either uncertain or disagree entirely with the assertion.

The 2018 Sprout Social Index: Realign and Redefine report corroborates this industry-wide sentiment, revealing that 55% of the 2,060 social marketers who responded cited measuring ROI as their greatest challenge.

Further, Sprout Social’s research found that 60% of marketers aren’t talking about ROI with their colleagues and bosses.

Key Takeaway: ROI is still an unresolved challenge for the industry, which has led to a silence about social’s ROI performance. Social media marketers and their supervisors need to make ROI reporting a priority.

#2: Brand Awareness Trumps Sales as a Marketing Goal and Benefit

Sprout Social’s research found 80% of marketers stated raising brand awareness as their primary goal, while 65% stated increasing community engagement.

Further, this consumer preference aligns with findings from the 2018 Report from Social Media Examiner, which revealed that 87% of all marketers who responded indicated that the top benefit of their social media efforts has been increased exposure for their businesses. Only 53% of respondents indicated sales as a traced benefit.

Key Takeaway: To accurately assess ROI, marketers need to define the primary objective and establish relevant KPIs that align with that goal.

If marketers are focused on delivering top-of-funnel content that increases brand awareness, the way they establish ROI needs to shift. ROI is relevant for measuring the performance of direct sales, but brand awareness — a fundamental part of any healthy and sustainable sales funnel — can only be attributed to, not directly correlated with, sales.

#3: Consumers’ Content Preferences Don’t Align With Direct Sales ROI Measurement

In addition to the marketer segment data, Sprout Social’s research also included insights from 1,253 consumers who were asked what they actually wanted from brands on social media. The findings?

Consumers want brands to deliver content that educates and helps them, not content that sells to them. A preference for category of content reflects researching behavior indicative of a consumer who is becoming aware of a product or service, but is not yet at the point of purchase, and maps to the brand awareness and product consideration areas at the top of the sales funnel.

Looking in more depth at what consumers want from brands, and leaving aside the fact that 72% of people love a freebie according to the Sprout Social research, consumers want brand awareness and product consideration posts. In fact, 60% of consumers surveyed wanted posts with more information about new products or services, and 59% wanted educational content.And, how do consumers want that content delivered? Via links that lead to more information about the brand or product at hand.

Key Takeaway: Understanding what your consumer wants from your brand on social media is the starting point to being able to understand, define, measure, and correctly attribute your ROI.

In addition to the category of content preferred (top of funnel, middle of funnel, or bottom of funnel) social media marketers should also pin down the types of content consumers prefer.

It’s worth noting that not all products and services share the same audiences. Some audiences won’t respond well to social media activity that includes direct selling, and some audiences will. Some will prefer links and and some will prefer video.

To finely tune content and delivery to your unique audience, run a survey or analyze your social media datasets to identify posts that have resonated, and then plot those posts into educational, entertainment, and inspirational categories.


There is a place for social selling on social media, and it is a growing space, but consumers demand that the majority of social media activity stays at the top of the sales funnel. Indeed, the new research from Sprout Social shows that marketers are focused on providing content that builds brand awareness.

However, if those same marketers are still focused on tying the ROI of their social activity to direct sales, there is a clear disconnect between what they are doing and what they are measuring, which may explain why only 10% of marketers feel they can confidently report on ROI.

Trying to tie activities that can be attributed to sales, but do not result in sales at the time of engagement is muddying the ROI waters. Instead, social media marketers need to report on the value of the different types of social media activity taking place.

For example, if links to top-of-funnel content are what consumers want and that’s what your social media marketers are focused on delivering, it’s time to measure attribution towards direct sales by tracking performance metrics that relate to brand awareness. Tracking impressions, reach, engagement, video views, and dare we say it, audience growth will give social media marketers a much clearer understanding of the value brand awareness content is providing back to the business.

Brand awareness leads to brand lift. Product consideration leads to enhanced product knowledge. And sales activity leads to direct selling. Educating upwards on this path and value will help improve leadership’s buy-in on the overall value social media brings to business growth.

If this re-alignment of ROI measurement is achieved, then the industry will have resolved its top challenge, and the visibility and recognition of the value social media activity contributes to business growth will be greatly enhanced.

What do you think? How are you measuring the value of your social activities? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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