Posted 03.22.2020 by Meghan Crawford

How To Measure Social Media ROI: Best Practices + 3-Step Framework

Measuring social media ROI is frustrating because we use different definitions. We broke down the best practices into a simple 3-step framework. ⚡

Social Media ROI is broken, but you can fix it.

When someone asks, “what’s the ROI of our social media”, it’s important to understand why they’re asking.

ROI is a simple formula but a complex problem.

On one hand, it’s a straightforward equation: What was our financial gain from the financial investment we made?

On the other hand, you’re opening a can of worms.

  • How do we define gain if the impact is indirect?
  • How do we define gain when the output is a 20% increase in post engagement?
  • How do we define investment when the costs are shared between initiatives?

And so the thought spiral begins…

To make it a little easier, we’ve developed a three step process that works for every type of brand – yes, even B2B brands.

Step 1: What to measure for social media ROI
Step 2: How to measure social media ROI
Step 3: When to measure social media ROI

We’ll dig into best practices below and explain the implications of each option.

Step 1:

What to Measure for Social Media ROI?

ROI can be a confusing, often misused term. The whole investment part tends to bring financial gains to mind. Traditionally, this makes sense. But when it comes to organic social media marketing in your organization there are different ways to interpret ROI.

The standard ROI formula looks something like this:

Amount Gained (Profit) – Amount Spent x 100 = ROI %
Amount Spent

This formula starts to fall apart unless you’re dealing in money on both ends – which is often just not the case with social media.

Social media ROI isn’t always measured in dollars and cents. And because marketing tactics can vary so much from business to business and platform to platform, it’s hard to determine a single ROI benchmark that works for everything across the board. Instead, you need to operate from an expanded definition of ROI.

Let’s break it down and define the various components, shall we?

What’s the Definition of Social Media Return on Investment?

How do you define “return” and “investment?”

We’ll start by defining the “return” part of ROI. It can mean one of a few things:

How to Define “Return” in ROI

Return is the value you got back from social media. There are 3 ways to define what people mean when they ask for a return.

1) Return = Dollars: The most straightforward interpretation of return is monetary. Return measured in revenue or profit is universally respected in the business world. It’s easily calculated in e-commerce businesses, direct/performance marketing programs.

For example, generating 10% month-over-month growth in new customer revenue.

👍Pro: It makes sense for everyone in the organization. It aligns marketing teams with sales.
👎Con: It requires a keen understanding of revenue attribution. It may favor marketing efforts with short-term effects versus long-term impacts.

2) Return = Marketing Impact: Your return can also be measured through marketing metrics. With this model, you are justifying marketing expenses with marketing measurements instead of the exact business outcomes. Rather than a direct correlation to revenue, you are using approximations, or shifting the conversation entirely.

For example, generating 10% increase in website visits.

👍Pro: Easier to measure.
👎Con: Distances marketers from the actual business growth.

3) Return = Business Impact: Your return can be traced to a strategic business priority outside of marketing and sales. Social media is commonly characterized as a marketing channel but it supports other departments, too. Your most important KPIs may differ from another company. Generally, you can bucket social media-driven business impacts into the following categories:

  • Brand: Lift in market share or share of voice.
  • Profitability: Time and hard dollars saved.
  • Talent attraction: Number of key hires made.
  • Employee Engagement: Lift in surveyed employee happiness score.
  • Customer advocacy: Number of customers engaged, referrals generated, or reviews generated.

You can also consider a blend of multiple answers as your return.

👍Pro: Social media is aligned from the top down.
👎Con: It can be equally difficult to translate social media efforts to other business metrics.

Next, let’s take a look at the “investment” bit.

How to Define “Investment” in ROI

Investment is the value you put into your social media.

1) Investment = Dollars: Money spent on social media related expenses like ads, assets, humans, and software. Again, this is pretty straightforward. Your calculation includes hard and soft costs.

2) Investment = Effort & Time: Your time is a precious resource. The amount of effort your team spends working on social media activities could be translated into hourly costs. It isn’t always expressed that way, however.

In marketing agency partnerships, time is commonly translated into dollars: your agency’s social media campaign may have required an investment of 100 billable hours, and 100 x $125 = $12,500.

Your in-house marketing team can calculate its own cost, too. In a simple scenario, a dedicated social media manager would use 100% of their resources on social media initiatives. According to Glass, the average salary for a social media manager is around $55,000, plus benefits and overhead. By breaking down their salary into an effective hourly cost you can account for the investment of each activity.

Once you factor in shared resources, approval time, and meeting costs, it can get complicated fast.

With an understanding of your true investment, you can start to calculate opportunity cost. Investing your personal time editing social media content may have taken 10 hours. But it also represents an opportunity cost of 10 hours not doing something else.

Over the course of a month, what did the investment in updating YouTube titles generate in return versus an investment in another channel? Or another project?

As you can see, this expanded definition of ROI is more comprehensive than just dollars in, dollars out

Define ROI for different scenarios

Your company might define ROI as any combination of the above.

Testing a new channel?
20 monthly hour investment of company time in TikTok vs. the 1,000,000 impressions in earned reach it generated over 3 months

Launching a new effort?
$2,500 spent on your paid social recruitment campaign vs. the potential $25k gained from the capacity created by your new fire

Define ROI for your stakeholders

As Christopher Penn points out in his Social Media Examiner interview, it’s appropriate to present social media ROI differently to different people. That means ROI is likely presented as attributed dollars for the CFO, and as a selection of marketing KPIs with the CMO.

Determine what you need to measure, then build a definition that works for your brand.


Step 2:

How to Measure Social Media ROI?

After defining what ROI means to those who ask, decide how you’re going to measure it.

One of the most common issues with social media ROI is the lack of a proper scope.

  • Are you measuring the impact of one social media activity?
  • Are you measuring a group of social media activities?
  • Are you measuring all social media activities?

When you can accurately define the scope of measurement, you’ll be able to make more informed decisions about which programs were successful and what to do to keep the ball rolling.

Here are a few of the different ways you can measure the ROI of social media from easy to hard:

1. Measure Social Media ROI by Campaign or Initiative

You can measure the success of a social media effort by examining the results of a group of activities with a related purpose.

To measure the ROI of a social media campaign, you will evaluate the impact generated from a series of coordinated social media activations. Your campaign may include a range of activities like paid ads, content production, and giveaways.

Examples of social media campaigns and measurements include:

  • GTM / Launch campaigns: How many leads did you generate during the first 30 days?
  • Event campaigns: How many tickets did you sell?
  • Contest campaigns: How many people entered?
  • Awareness campaigns: How many people saw your key messages, and how many times?

Difficulty level: Easy

2. Measure Social Media ROI by Social Media Channel

You can also measure your ROI by examining all the paid and organic campaigns you’ve run on a single channel.

Measuring by channel can give you a big picture look at the impact you had based on the resources you invested. This can be useful for proving the value of a brand presence on that channel, or when performing an audit of the channel to identify new opportunities.

With a channel approach, you can compare the value created on one platform to another by evaluating the same metrics.

Difficulty level: Medium

3. Measure Blended Social Media ROI

To accurately measure blended ROI, you’ll want to look at all paid and organic social media efforts over a defined time period.

This approach makes most sense when you’re asked to justify the value of an entire social media program.

Consider both the cost and outcome from every Facebook ad, every retweet, every Instagram post—combined.

This model is easiest to use with two types of businesses:

  1. Simple, digital businesses with few monthly transactions or a small number of active marketing channels at work. Commonly this is where e-commerce products or small B2B service providers fit in.
  2. Businesses with strong data chops. Associating a dollar value with owned, earned, and paid social media requires a deep understanding of attribution modeling, and/or some incredibly powerful tools.

As you approach a blended ROI measurement model, there are a few sources that can help:

  • Google Analytics: Track the value of goal completions from all social media referral sources or campaigns tagged with social media UTMs. Your company will need to agree on an attribution model to use, or default to last touch, which loses some nuance.
  • Facebook Analytics: Do you invest a lot of effort in Facebook? Facebook has its own analytics tool which gathers insights from your website’s Facebook Pixel. You can combine owned data sources in Business Manager like Facebook Pages, Instagram accounts, and Facebook Pixels to get a fuller picture of the impact of your ads and organic presence.
  • HubSpot (CRM): Track the attributed revenue from customers and deals tagged with social media as the original source. HubSpot’s multi-touch attribution reports can help you dig even deeper. Other marketing-friendly CRMs can suffice here, though we defer to HubSpot.
  • E-Commerce Platforms: Analyze the total order value from customers with a social media source or using social media exclusive codes.

Difficulty level: Hard


[Bonus]: Grab our social media campaign template

Before you launch your next campaign, use our Social Media Planning Template to present your content pillars, channel plan, and posting scheduled with the people that matter most. Copy/paste the Google Doc to get started. → Click here to grab it now.


Step 3:

When to Measure Social Media ROI?

Tracking your key metrics on a weekly basis is one great way to keep your marketing efforts agile. But that’s not the best approach for reporting on social media ROI. There are too many day-to-day and week-to-week changes at a micro level. It’s sort of a “forest for the trees” situation.

Instead, consider measuring social media ROI on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis. When you choose to measure ROI depends on the situation.

When You Should Measure Social Media ROI Monthly

Measuring one month typically isn’t “big picture” enough to understand the impact of an entire program, but it is useful for paid social media campaigns.

Measuring month-over-month metrics empowers you with information to adjust targeting, find top-performers, scale up the spend, or start over.

As a recap, here’s when you should measure social media ROI on a monthly basis:

✅ Use with paid social advertising campaigns
✅ Use with e-commerce and direct sales businesses

When You Should Measure Social Media ROI Quarterly

Quarterly reporting empowers you and your team to make informed decisions when planning for the next quarter. Learn what you should stop doing, what you should keep doing, and what you should start doing.

✅ Use for comparing one social media channel with another channel
✅ Use for ongoing social media campaign initiatives
✅ Use with businesses that generate revenue from leads and long sales cycles

When You Should Measure Social Media ROI Annually

It’s often hard to see the impact of your social media efforts in the short-term. Measuring annually can help you get a clearer idea of big picture metrics and plan effectively for the next year.

✅ Use for comparing one social media channel with another channel
✅ Use for blended social media ROI
✅ Use with businesses that generate leads

Measure After a Fixed Period of Time

Certain social media campaigns will have a built-in end date. After wrapping up the campaign, you’ll want to measure the effects of your efforts, whether they lasted two months, two weeks, or two days (flash sale, anyone?).

✅ Use for specific social media campaign initiatives tied to events, launches, or seasons

Measuring Social Media ROI in a Way That Works for You

By using the above steps, you should be able to calculate ROI in a way that makes sense for your unique situation as a company. This includes being able to

  1. Define which metrics are most meaningful for your business
  2. Determine how to measure your efforts to align with key business goals
  3. Decide when to measure ROI for highest impact

The only thing left is to put it all together.

Need help generating a positive social media ROI in 2021?

Make sure to check out our other articles (some of these are B2B-focused but packed with great, actionable tips for any sector):

Still have questions or looking for some more personalized recommendations? We’d love to hear from you! Drop us a line or schedule a strategy call. 🚀

Meghan Crawford

Meet Meghan Crawford, a California transplant by way of Florida, and Content Marketing Manager. Yes, she wrote that tweet you liked. No, she won't accept your guest post.

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