Are you in Love or Just doing a Trade?

I keep hearing that brands want to build strong relationships with their consumers through social platforms. They love their consumers and want consumers to love them back. Some brands do believe that consumers love them more than anything else in life. The target audience descriptions sound mushy and brand promises sound like wedding vows.

Today, ‘social media’ is the most discussed topic in advertising and marketing circles. Marketers and admen are desperate to rub shoulders or share a panel with Mark Zuckerberg. Every second person in the industry claims to be a social media expert – Facebook expert, Twitter expert, listening expert, fans acquisition expert, social campaign expert, etc.

Every agency of its worth now has proprietary tools to tackle social, and marketers are trying to find quick solutions to win in social. Over a short period of time, the industry has managed to develop processes and methodologies for social marketing. Smart people have also invented tools to listen, engage, measure, and predict.

It is highly impressive given the transient nature of social media. All this makes it look like marketers (and admen) have really understood social and now we just need to scale it to new heights. So there enters a new character called ROI (return on investment).

In the last six months, I have seen increased focus on calculating ROI for social media. I have seen presentations, heard panel discussions, and read point of views that highlight how to calculate ROI. Some of them actually go in specifics – ROI on Facebook or Twitter or any such platform. Broadly speaking, they all follow a standard formula.

ROI = [Gains from investments – cost of investment/cost of investment

I have spent considerable time studying and understanding the issue of ROI and as it relates to social. I personally find the concept of ROI for social completely out of place and irrelevant. Most people who claim to calculate ROI for social don’t really understand the domain because social is not really about releasing display ads on Facebook or doing Promoted Tweets.

In my humble opinion, initiatives on social platforms are to engage people through conversations, gain respect, win trust, show care, and finally build a long-lasting relationship. I wonder where does ROI fit into conversations, respect, trust, and relationships. Would you calculate ROI on your personal relationship and time spent with your parents, spouse, children, siblings, and friends? Your parents gave you birth, brought you up, put up with your stupidities, pampered you, paid for your education, participated in your joyous moments, and were there for you in your tough times. Your spouse loves you, makes you happy, cares for you, stands up for you, and partners you in joys and sorrows. Your true friends accept you as who you are and not what title you carry. They hang out with you, try to pull you out of problems, and entertain you.

If you invest your time and money to nurture and strengthen your relationships, would you calculate ROI? And how? Will you spend more or less time with your parents, spouse, and friends because you don’t get enough returns from them? What returns are they getting on you? And how would you feel if your mother starts calculating ROI before she cooks your favorite food or your wife starts calculating ROI before she gives you a kiss or your son calculates ROI before giving you a sweet smile?

I’m not against measuring strength of relationships and bonds. I’m not against working on your relationships to make them stronger and more meaningful. I’m not against evaluating whether the love is real or superficial. But I’m against putting monetary value and expecting monetary returns from initiatives that are meant for relationships, love, trust, and care. In my opinion, brands need to really decide what they stand for and what they seek from their consumers.

So my humble request to brand managers is to take relationships seriously and answer the following questions truthfully:

Are you in love with your consumers?
Do you want them to love you back?
Do you want a long-term relationship?
Do you want their trust?
Do you enjoy the conversations?
Do you care for your consumers?

If the answer to any of the above questions is yes, then please stop calculating ROI on social! But if you insist on calculating ROI on social, then don’t claim you’re in love – just accept that you’re doing a trade.

(Originally published in ClickZ.Asia on 13 July 2011)