Social Media ROI, the art of metrics and methodology

Last week I spent an evening visiting the Seattle Art Museum’s collective display of Michelangelo. The exhibit helped define several concepts I had regarding social media and the elusive hunt for ROI. I decided to write this piece to shed the light on my perspective of looking past the numbers I love so dearly and asking the bigger question: what is the value of social media?

To answer this very complex question I needed to ask Michelangelo for assistance in defining how the world perceives his value.

How does this relate to social media?

Like Michelangelo’s artwork, social media is a connective layer of communication. Depending on the exact medium of social media and the audience we refer to, the before and after result of communication is an increased awareness on many fronts: personal, intellectual, emotional, conditional, relational and even spiritual.

When asked about the ROI of social media, I have often realized the question is attempting to quantify hundreds of interlocking pieces that are not fully comprehended. The unfortunate pitfall of the elusive social media return-on-investment question is that both the professional and the audience has allowed the term to become generic and all-encompassing.

If we compare the problem to Michelangelo’s masterpieces: any singular section can be given the YES / NO question of “Is it art?”

If Michelango’s entire work was placed into the category of “art”, defining any singular piece of his work as a beneficial statement becomes clouded.

Reducing the definition to an understandable level

If we could go back in time and question Michelangelo on the value of his insightful use of the brush: would he be able to quantify or qualify the nature of his work? would he be able to express the value of his perception and why he applied the art of his science to hundreds of masterpieces?

Can a painter quantify the percentage of return on the dollars spent on the paintbrush vs the person using it, then counter-balance the quality of paint, the absorbing factor of the canvas and comparing it against the drying time? Probably not. We wouldn’t even know where to start our question.

Even if an expert could help us define our beginning questions and help us understand the types of canvas and paint available, would you think the answer would result in anything of meaning to us? Probably not. We wouldn’t grasp his answer until much later.

If you gazed upon Michelangelo’s work and asked yourself the question: is there an ROI to art? Perhaps you would realize that the value of art is not within ROI, but expression of the human condition.

Instead of complex, perhaps simplicity?
Is Return on Investment simply a YES / NO statement?

When asked about the ROI of social media, I often realize the person asking the question is attempting to quantify the ideas of both common sense and the human condition. Streamlined and relevant communication is a fundamental component to how we function. Proving an inherent knowledge of best business practices and connected value assists in defining the value statement of Social Media, knowing that technology can assist in creating, categorizing, expediting and sharing information.

The problem with most complex projects is a failure to create this fundamental understanding.

In a perfect world the value of communication is within thousands of minute details that goes unnoticed by the casual observer.  If you grade any communication by a YES / NO qualifier AND substantiate its benefit towards reaching a communications epiphany, ROI becomes an issue of YES / NO.


  • If you are a painter, does a paint brush have value? YES / NO
  • If you bring several paint brushes to the job site, does it increase credibility with clients? YES / NO
  • If you can describe the use of different paintbrushes, does it provide acknowledgment of expertise? YES / NO
  • If you can clarify when to use a paintbrush and when not to, can you save a client money? YES / NO

Establishing understandable points to the question of ROI is essential for any profession.

The ultimate answer to social media return on investment is not within creating a problematic equation of ROI for social media, but to educate decision makers on the fundamental benefits they are reaching by understanding communication channels. 

The next time you hear the question “Is there social media ROI?”

the rhetorical question “Is there value in communication?” may be the answer.

“Genius is the ability to reduce the complicated to the simple.” ~C. W. Ceram