On Monday, I was in a meeting with Steve Cebalt, a consultant who specializes in helping nonprofit communicators tell their stories. During our conversation, Steve presented an analogy I think is worth keeping in mind when thinking about the ROI of social media.
“It’s a little of like printer toner,” Steve said*. “No one thinks about the cost all that much, but it’s definitely not free. And when you’re the one paying for it, you definitely pay more attention to the cost.”
I think that’s a good way of looking at it. Organizations need to pay attention to the cost, while also understanding that–in some cases– social media represents a simple cost of doing business, like printer toner, telephones, energy, a water cooler, etc. It absolutely should provide a return, and you should do everything to measure the investment and the return. But even when you can’t measure it precisely, it’s still a necessary expenditure. After all, imagine if you office ran out of paper toner. You might get by for a day or two, but not much longer than that.