Why You Should Think Beyond the Direct ROI of Social Media Participation

One of the most challenging elements of social media is the justification of its use for business purposes. There is clear debate on the ROI of social media strategies, like company blogging, social networking (like Linkedin or Facebook) or the contribution to social media news outlets (such as Digg or Reddit).

There is more to social media than traditional conversion rates or a cost per acquisition metric.

This weekend, Motrin was able to provide us with another example of why social media strategies need to become a part of any business’s online marketing mix, beyond the direct ROI implications.

Here is a general summary of what happened:

  • Motrin launched a new commercial targeting moms with back pain
  • The commercial created quite a stir as people expressed their opinions directly on the Motrin website, through various blog posts and on Twitter.
  • Motrin” and “#MotrinMoms” both become popular trending topics on Twitter (which receives over 3 million visitors/month, according to Compete.com)
  • The barrage of incoming traffic, video views and references brought the Motrin.com website down Sunday night and well into Monday morning.
  • The story has since been picked up on popular news portals like Forbes.com and the NY Times.
  • A Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman, Kathy Widmer, VP of Marketing, issued a statement to Forbes and to other sources, apologizing for the ad and promising “swift action” (the apology is now on the Motrin.com home page).

How does this translate to search engine marketing? According to Google’s keyword tool, there are over 18,000 searches per month for “Motrin”.

Here are today’s latest search results for Motrin (note the news result at the top of the page):

And in the Google News:

And in the Google Blog Search:

Clearly, social media communities can have an impact on a search engine marketing strategy.

This example points to important questions marketers need to consider in regards to social media beyond immediate ROI:

  • Would the active participation in online communities – before and/or during this situation – have mattered or helped mitigate the problem?
  • How do companies participating in social media create a positive message to those involved?
  • What communities should your company actively contribute to or even just pay attention to?
  • How would you prioritize this effort; both by selecting social media communities and in relation to the total marketing mix?
  • What would the appropriate course of action been if this happened to your company?

What’s important to recognize is that companies do not have to end up being reactive to these type of situations, if they take hold of the opportunity to be proactive in social media participation before problems start to arise.

Perhaps the active participation in some of the online communities that these potential customers were involved in would have enabled a more successful ad campaign with the right viral marketing effects. As Andy Beal wrote this weekend in “Motrin Faces Twitter Headache Over New Video Campaign“:

Never assume you know your target audience. Never assume that just because you’ve created something “viral” that the sentiment will always be positive.

Here are a few examples of how companies are becoming more involved in social media to communicate to customers, ask for feedback and address issues before they get out of control.

Finally, here are three lists of companies already contributing in the social media space.

Maybe this type of problem won’t happen to your company. Perhaps the millions of people that use search engines won’t also start using social media as a method for communication and information gathering about your business. But if they do, at what end of the social media conversation will your company be participating?

Regardless, you don’t want to be the marketing manager who has to explain this to the CEO at an emergency marketing meeting one Monday morning.

Screenshot of the Motrin.com Website Down on Monday Morning at 9AM EST

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