Social Media R.O.I. – All Businesses Aren’t Country Clubs

Team Members Need to Develop a Bottom Line Orientation to Social Media

Okay I am overstating it a bit in with the title “All Businesses Aren’t Country Clubs” but it did grab your attention and I hope that it will spark a spirited discussion.

Every time there is a discussion about the R.O.I. of social media (or marketing) for business, the discussion goes something like this:

“The purpose of social media is engagement and R.O.I. isn’t as important”
“If the goal is profit, engagement can’t be authentic”

This type of comment is rampant whenever marketing and event planning professionals engage in Twitter hashtag chats about social media R.O.I.

What’s wrong with this picture?

When you’re in high school or college, social media is all about fun and connecting with friends. Human beings are social animals. It has been said that:

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy and Jill a dull girl.

I agree with this. No one wants to engage with someone who is always talking shop and completely focused on business. Also, if engagement is not sincere and someone is only trying to sell something, then they come across as used car salespeople, smarmy as one of my acting coaches used to call it.

Social interaction and engagement will always be important in any human endeavor. Certainly, individuals involved in business will want to connect with friends, former colleagues, and relatives. However, should engagement and social interaction be the primary goal of social media involvement for business?

Think of it this way. Sure, it’s great to throw in some tweets and articles about hobbies, interests, movies, music, and fun. Is ANY company going to be happy to pay employees to spend hours on Twitter or Facebook strictly for the purpose of social engagement? If one is working for a company in the private, “for profit” sector, social engagement can never be the primary focus of social media unless one sets up a personal account and uses it apart from company time. In fact, spend too much time on social engagement and one is likely to find themselves out of a job. Independents and small businesses have more flexibility w.r.t. time but it is important for them to also maintain a business orientation and mindset.

Some business owners say “R.O.I. isn’t important. I’m satisfied with the results of social media because it gives me a chance to engage”. My response is “There is nothing wrong with that. That is the purpose of personal accounts, groups and networks. When professional groups and business networks become overfocused on the social aspects, they cease to be business networks. They become social clubs and it would be best to market them as such.

There are some businesses that are set up for engagement and social interaction:

  • country clubs
  • recreational centres
  • resorts
  • summer camps

Even those businesses must at the very least break even unless they are not-for-profit organizations and charities funded by donations or supported by government funding.

Private sector businesses are in existence to generate a profit for the owners and/or shareholders by providing a service or product that is of value to clients. Ultimately, all activities need to be measured in terms of the value they are contributing to the bottom line. This is true whether we are talking about social media, marketing activities, memberships in associations, and yes, events and team building.

Profit is not a dirty word. Authentic social engagement and generating a profit are not mutually exclusive. Why are we afraid of the bottom line? IMHO, there exists and even greater danger when companies forget their primary mission and purpose. When businesses forget that they are in existense to generate bottom line results, there are a host of concerns. Companies that place more emphasis on social engagement than profit and competence become really political entities. How often have you encountered the following? Think of these as symptoms and indicators thatthe “business as country club” mentality is alive and well:

  • someone is hired because of who they know not what the know
  • an employee receives a promotion because he or she is well liked even if they are missing important requisite skills, experience and education
  • a clique mindset (like in high school)
  • ethical misteps are overlooked because no one wants to rock the boat
  • team building selection decisions are made on the basis of what sounds like fun rather than what will increase team cohesion and have bottom line impact.
  • a larger share of the corporate budget is being spent on recreational and social activities than consulting assistance and team building to improve business performance
  • poor decisions are made because priority is given to consensus rather than coming up with an optimal win-win decision for clients and the organization
  • marketing activities are carried on….just because, even if they aren’t generating new revenue or attracting new clients

Just as in real country clubs, letting the country club mentality become part of your corporate or small business culture is a slippery slope that can lead to:

  • perpetuation of the “old boys club” – in which those who engage socially are given preferential treatment
  • distrust of and exclusion of those who are not “like us” and who aren’t part of the inner circle
  • the last point has, in the past, lead to discriminiation on the basis of race, ethnicity, and social background

No one wants to work with or for someone with poor people skills. In hiring and promotional decisions, people skills need to be considered and evaluated. However, when the balance gets tipped too far in terms of an empahsis on social engagement, careers get stalled and poor hiring, promotional and strategic decisions are made when people forget that business is about business.

Social media can also become an inner circle with an entrenched country club mindset within a social network. For example, decisions about to whom one refers business can come to be based on who is most popular, who engages socially, who one has met personally, etc. rather than who has the best track record to meet the needs of a particular client. Certainly part of the reason for this is trust but it is importance to achieve balance and ensure that business decisions are based on business objectives and not social ones.

Social Media R.O.I.

So, I disagre with those who say that engagement is all that counts and R.O.I. is of little or no importance.

For businesses:
It is important to measure and track

  • Inquiries about your services and products generated from contacts made through social media
  • # of new pieces of business generated through social media
  • revenue form social media
  • customer complaints identified & resolved
  • “saves” and client retention

These are just a few of the things that non-profits and associations should consider tracking:

  • service inquiries generated through social media
  • new clients or new members who found out about your organization from social media channels
  • attendees who registered for conferences and learning events they found out about through social media

If there is no need for R.O.I., then why pretend that engagement is about business. Perhaps the goals of one’s involvement in social media should shift to stictly social engagements. There is nothing wrong witht that but it is not about business. We see engagement of this type all the time on Twitter, Facebook and Myspace with teenagers and young adults.

The Bottom Line

Yes engagement is important. Yes absolutely, it is important for a business to give back to the community. (This is one of the reasons that some people give for becoming involved with professional associations and social media.) Definitely, there is nothing wrong with that. Whether or not we are talking about event planning, team building or consulting, our industries could always use more mentors.

At the end of the day, business is about the bottom line and generating a profit. One of the reasons the marketing, team building and event planning industries aren’t taken seriously in some circles is that we sometimes forget this. We won’t be taken seriously until we remember this. Until there is a shift in mindset, marketing, team building and event planning will continue to be perceived as discretionary expenses contributing little to the bottom line. They will continue to be cut whenever the economy tumbles.

Thoughts reactions?


Executive Oasis International is a Toronto based consulting firm specializing in facilitated business team building retreats and sessions. Featured destinations include Canada, Jamaica, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Oman, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan


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7 thoughts on “Social Media R.O.I. – All Businesses Aren’t Country Clubs

  1. Juan Benavides says:

    Today, there are multi-platforms available for customers to engage with brands on the social media arena. Event marketers have to find new fun ways to connect with clients, I would recommend trying a photo booth because in an age of photo sharing, everyone enjoys taking pictures, while attending an event I came across a photo booth (www.keshot.com) that does not use paper and is only deliver images via the Internet to the users email address. When I viewed the photos I had taken I was surprised to see that I was also viewing the website from the event as well as having the option to upload them to main social sites, which of course generate traffic into their own Fan Page as well as brand awarness among highly potential customers.

  2. Anne Thornley-Brown, M.B.A. says:

    Jessica, this blog entry is dealing with not only social media specifically but ROI for marketing in general. It was inspired by a couple of discussions on #eventprofs (Twitter) and in LinkedIn Groups.

    In terms of your comment about some companies never buying into the notion, you do have a point. Some companies don’t truly embrace the concept that teams can have a positive impact on the bottom line if their collective wisdom is mined and harnessed. It is a cultural problem and often an indication of a top down management mindset. If I didn’t believe that there was potential for change through increased awareness of some of these issues, I wouldn’t invest time in producing this blog. I do believe that companies do have a great capacity to change and grow and so I keep writing.

  3. jessica smeall says:

    Possibly the issue is, that the teambuilding industry has become dependant financially on corporations who never did BUY INTO the true theory of team building and experiential educatio. Rather, they did buy a product that was promised to improve their bottom line. it didn’t work because they actually didn’t believe in it, no matter how much they were willing to pay. You will not be able to convince them of a value to their bottom line, because they do not have the correct attitude of true change.

    I am solving this myself by choosing clients for my business that truly believe in the idea of a team bringing positive change to the world even if i will never make as much money as this teambuilding company.

    It isn’t about a comparison with social media, it’s about people engaged in teambuilding work who believe in it enough to treat it with the same concepts we instill in others.

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