Social Media ROI: ROI Doesn’t Stand for Return on Ignorance

My good friend Olivier Blanchard recently released his new book, Social Media ROI, Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization. As he was nearing its completion, he asked if I would write the foreword and to be honest, I was flattered. I agreed to do so under one condition, that I get the opportunity to share the foreword with you here. Long story short, here we are. The book is extremely helpful and carries the endorsements of those I also respect including Chris Brogan, Jay Baer, Geoff Livingston, and Kyle Lacy.

ROI Doesn’t Stand for Return on Ignorance

I’m often asked, what’s the ROI of social media? To which I answer, you can’t measure what it is you do not value or know to value.

Sounds simple enough. But, the truth is, determining value is not an easy process. But then again, whoever said using social media effectively in business was easy…is wrong.

As in anything in business, the ability to tie activity to the business values is critical. If we are to commit time, resources, and budget to social networks our investments must be justified. Indeed, social media strategies must prove long-term value and contribution to the bottom line in order to evolve into a pillar of business success. But, how do you measure something when best practices, case studies, and answers in general are elusive? We are struggling to prove the merit of an important ingredient in the future success of business because precedents have yet to be written or tested.

While many companies are already investing in social media, the reality is that most are done without the ability to demonstrate any return on investment. The truth is that you cannot succeed in anything if success is never defined. The good news is that success is definable and attainable. It just takes a little work…well, honestly, a lot of work to tie intended outcomes to the “R” (return) in ROI. And, even though social media, as a platform and series of channels, is inexpensive or free to host a presence, time and resources still carry fixed costs. To that end, if we enhance our presences or apply greater resources, the investment goes up exponentially. It comes down to the old adage, “time is money.”

Everything starts with the end in mind.

Success is not a prescription. There isn’t one way to excel or measure progress. But, that’s the point. We must first design outcomes into the equation. What do we want to accomplish? What’s the return we seek? Are we trying to sell, change, drive, cause, or inspire something specific? Are we reducing customer problems as measured by inbound volume, open tickets, public discourse? Are we trying to shift sentiment to a more positive state that increases referrals as a result?

Success requires definition based on intentions, goals, and mutual value…across the organization from the top down, bottom up, inside out and outside in. Success is defined departmentally and also at the brand level. And, success is tied to desirable actions and outcomes. And, as we’ve already established, it’s impossible to measure the ROI for something if we haven’t first established the R (Return) or the I (Investment). No amount of new acronyms will change this yet we see new terms introduced as if we’ve already given up on defining ROI; Return on Engagement (ROE), Return on Participation (ROP), Return on Listening (ROL), Return on Fluid Listening (ROFL – yes it’s a joke), Return on ignorance (The new ROI). In the end, everything carries cost and effect.

The debate over ROI is only going to gain in importance. But, that’s where we need to go in order to gain the support we need to expand our investment in social media. You’re in good hands though. Olivier Blanchard is indeed one of the few who can help. Here, he has written a comprehensive guide that will help you at every step from planning to program integration to management to measurement.

Thanks to Olivier, you’ll find the answers to your questions and also answers to the questions that you didn’t know to ask.

As they say, failing to plan is planning to fail. The success of all things social media is up to you to define, quite literally.

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The New ENGAGE!: If you’re looking to FIND answers in social media and not short cuts, consider either the Deluxe or Paperback edition

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  • Samantha Collier

    I just downloaded the book to my kindle and look forward to reading it. Measuring social media ROI is imperative if you start using it within your business. And it’s not always that easy to do!

  • Black Seo Guy

    Setting goals and carrying them the key to success. Nothing will just come to you..people must go get it..

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

    • Graham Suplex

      Gotta agree with you, mang.

  • Thomas Heimstaedt

    Nice post—you could also add “Risk of Ignoring”

    • briansolis

      Thomas, I like that…I used to say, “What’s the ROI of social media? Well, what’s the risk of ignoring it?”

    • Dave

      @briansolis:disqus Very true.

    • Vijayraj Reddy

      Risk of Ignoring – good addition..

  • Olivier Blanchard

    Thank you kindly, Sir. :)

    • briansolis

      you are more than welcome. thanks for writing a great book and thank you for the opportunity to write the foreword.

  • Michael Taggart

    I’m reading it and it’s bloody good. Walks you step by step from your computer screen into the board room and never let’s go of your hand.

    Do yourself a favour and buy it.


  • Michael Taggart

    I’m reading it and it’s bloody good. Walks you step by step from your computer screen into the board room and never let’s go of your hand.

    Do yourself a favour and buy it.


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  • Facundo

    Excellent book. Finished it a couple of weeks ago and it is really helping us shape our new framework. What I found very revealing is the concept of never trying to calculate ROI before the actions but in turn aim for some estimated targets associated to the campaign and only measure the outcomes after those campaigns to contrast them with money figures. Loads of down to earth explanations that help us sell services too. Anyone in this business should read this.

  • PamMktgNut

    Good words Brian. There is so much debate, confusion and yes ignorance when it comes to social media ROI. I presented a session on setting goals & objectives for social media at an event today as part of a local county biz development initiative. It’s painful to listen and I am still amazed when I hear supposed “social media gurus” explain social media in terms of a prescription as a one size fits all. I hate to see ignorant and trusting newbie business leaders fed the fud and nodding their head as they believe it and are ready to go execute exactly as they are told.

    Olivier, can’t wait to pick up the book. Hoping it’s something we can recommend to our clients and audiences as a valuable resource!

  • Tom Perry

    i like it. i’m working at my 2nd social listening company, and i worry about our industry’s lack of progress in demonstrating ROI in terms familiar to our customers. look forward to seeing you at crossroads next week

  • Nick Stamoulis

    Companies might measure social media ROI differently. There is really no set way to do it. The most important thing is to go into it with goals in mind and a strategic plan.

  • 40deuce

    Great foreword Brian and I’m looking forward to picking up Olivier’s book when I’m done with all the other readings I have to do.

    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

  • Dave Gallant

    Excellent article. Measuring ROI is becoming critical in the social space. This is probably why one third of all social media marketers want to be able to learn more on how to properly measure ROI (according to the 2011 Social Media Marketing Industry Report )

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  • SocialMediaMagic

    Great Article! ROI Doesn’t Stand For Return on Ignorance! What you said “Success requires definition based on intentions, goals, and mutual value…across the organization from the top down, bottom up, inside out and outside in. Success is defined departmentally and also at the brand level.” I love this! You are so right. Social media can have a negative impact upon one’s brand if not managed correctly. Only through social media can one repair those issues. On a departmental level one can use social media in customer service as well as marketing. I really embrace this concept. You make some great points!
    I look forward to networking with you in the future!

    J. Souza

  • Sammy Hislop

    Should “The truth is that you succeed in anything if success is never defined” be changed to “the truth is that you (never) succeed in anything if success is never defined”? Thanks for sharing.

  • Mel Kirk

    What would you say to someone who wanted to try and associate a value with a length of a post – similar to that of a newspaper article?

    • briansolis

      In terms of communications value? Years ago the article length/size was valued at similar ad rates with a multiple to imply editorial endorsement. I never agreed with that approach and I believe the industry officially killed it a long time ago. However, value is in the eye of the beholder.

  • Amanda

    This is a great article and I couldn’t agree with you more. While I don’t always oversee clients’ social media strategies, I’ve been in enough meetings to know that sometimes clients view social media strategy as been active on different platforms. Truth is, you have to have goals in mind when launching a campaign. Without goals there are no tactics. Without tactics, no (meaningful) results. As PR pros it is our job to guide clients and drive strategy. If not for helping them have a successful business, then to ensure that we have the skill set to survive in this changing business years (or even months) down the line.

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Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. More so, he humanizes technology’s causal effect to help people see people differently and understand what to do about it. He is an award-winning author and avid keynote speaker who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation and innovation.

Brian has authored several best-selling books including What’s the Future of Business (WTF), Engage! and The End of Business as Usual. His blog,, is ranked as a leading resource for insights into the future of business, new technology and marketing.

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