As the social media world matures the discussion surrounding it has become all about ROI (return on investment). How many followers do I have? How many subscribers? How many viewers? And finally, how much money am I making. There is a lot being lost among all the talk of Klout scores, Twitter Influence and Facebook Likes. For me — and I would guess for most people who aren’t making a living working in social media itself — opportunities are the chief currency of social media. These opportunities can be social, life-enhancing or monetary, but it is the opportunity itself that is the dollar bill of today’s society.
Quality, not quantity
The problem with social media, and traditional media for that matter, is that we are constantly looking for that one metric, that one measure that “proves” just how important we are. We are frustrated by not knowing something and not knowing just how popular or productive we are irks us to no end. We jump from service to service looking for the magic bullet that will explain our place in the social media universe. What a sad and sorry lot in life. It is this search that leads to Twitter spam, endless begging to “Like Me on Facebook” and social media pyramid schemes that are nothing by mutual, mental, masturbation.
There are countless articles available that seek to prove that the number of followers does not equal influence — that it is the quality of those you interact with, rather than the quantity, that is most important. In some ways I believe this myself. While there is a certain number of people (I guess at around 150) that can turn into a self-generating conversational group, it is the quality of what these people are saying that is important.
For myself, this is exactly how I choose who to pay attention to online. No matter how nice they might be as a person, or how well-known, if what they are sharing online doesn’t have value for me, I do not follow. If I can find their information in a hundred different places i.e. celebrity websites, I do not follow. They may be writing amazing things about knitting or programming or horse care, but if it doesn’t have value to me, I do not need to clutter up my online living room with it. I look for the under-seen, the under-heard, the people who have really neat things to say regardless of how well-known they are.
After immersing myself in the social media world for years now, including writing and consulting about it, I have come to believe that “the opportunity” is the only social media currency that matters. If you want to measure the ROI of your social media interactions, watch closely for the quantity, and quality, of opportunities it brings your way. These opportunities can range from the very personal to the very public, from high personal value to high business value and everywhere in between.
If your social media goal is to meet and work with interesting people, “the opportunity” might be finding these people online and then meeting them in person. You might even find yourself collaborating with them on a project. If this is your goal, then it has much higher ROI than someone Liking your Facebook page or following you on Twitter. In this case, social media was the tool you used, but the opportunity for collaboration was, by far, the biggest benefit. For me, one, great collaborative partner outweighs a score of social media follows. It is a much better metric for measuring your success and influence than any other score you can find.
If, on the other hand, your social media goal is to sell as much product as possible, your “opportunities” might take a different form. Sure, you can count sales and dollars (which are really just a different kind of opportunity) or you can judge your success on the other opportunities these sales bring to you. Perhaps more sales means you can expand your store, expand your influence, expand your lifestyle. This is the true goal and measure you need.
Too often we get caught up in keeping score of those things that don’t really matter. This is where I think that social media goes most astray. We focus so hard on the numbers — the followers, the likes, the sales — that we start doing things we might not do otherwise. We spam our friends. We scam our customers. We shout so loud and so long that, after a time, no one wants to hear anything we have to say. In some extreme cases, we can even cross the line into illegal activities like fraud and embezzling. If the social media numbers are all that is important, then some will do almost anything to achieve them.
Time for a change
It is time to reevaluate our relationship to social media and being to realize that it isn’t something apart from our lives, but instead an integral part of our lives. We need to stop chasing the illusive rainbow of social media metrics and instead focus on how it effects our lives. We need to look at the opportunities is brings to us each day and evaluate our actions accordingly. These opportunities may be small and personal or grand and corporate, but they are the true currency of social media. In this way, the act of meeting an amazing and interesting person can carry as much weight as landing a huge contract — a short, deep, amazing conversation takes on as much value as investment in your startup. Social media can mean many things to many people, but opportunities, in all their forms, can be seen as a true benefit — a true ROI — by nearly everyone.
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