Social media got real when the numbers got real, and that was not right away. It's hard to blame the executives (many of whom were not on social media) for saying, "Why should we spend money on this stuff when we don't know what the return on investment will be?" (Especially in the recession.) I'm bullish on Google+'s ability to move ROI metrics, for the following reasons:
- Google immediately released a new slate of metrics tools. Facebook Insights only gradually grew into a tangible role.
- These tools are primarily focused on how users share your content on Google+, rather than basic user demographics, including an emphasis on the new +1 sharing button. This harnesses the social graph, an evolving realm of search. So you see what users are sharing, and their web activity after they share.
- Companies like Radian6, General Sentiment, Coremetrics, and Facebook itself have answered a demand for social metrics. Google Analytics are very strong, too. The changes brought by Google+ won't mean a reset in this progress. The data infrastructure -- and market -- are already there.
- Ford is already up with a brand page on Google+. Brands will not hesitate to plunge in, and apply real business objectives. (And kudos to Ford for going first. You can make a strong argument that the most important measurements to social ROI are at the top of the marketing funnel -- or have even added a new layer at the top. In other words, don't just focus on the bottom line, and get in the game. You want to be there, in front of your customers, where all ROI begins.)
- By metrics, do you mean sales, or another end goal? Conversion is just one category of social metrics, the other large areas being insights, awareness, and affinity. All provide meaningful data. It was unfair to demand ROI in the form of sales from a new channel in the recession. No channel was strong in sales in 2008-2009. (And social commerce has not responded since.) But a free platform has done quite well in showing who your customers are (insights), whether they're getting your message (awareness), and whether they are brand advocates as they engage with you (affinity).
- Are you looking at communications as a means to an end? Ultimately social is a conversation, and always will be. If you have a motive, you're selling the exploratory role of the conversation short: You don't know what you'll learn (and be able to measure), unless you go in with an open mind. Besides, how much do you enjoy the hard sell? (Even click-throughs to your site are not the be-all end-all: engagement about your product is valuable wherever it happens.)
- Is your business really ready to adapt, again? Many large companies wanted Facebook and Twitter to neatly dovetail into their existing strategies, and that didn't necessarily happen. Companies had to get a little more Facebook, a little more Twitter, to invest in the tools, and learn to use them. They may have to get a little more Google+, too. And they won't get there on the sidelines, frowning and saying, "Show me the money." Go master the platform, and develop your goals. Then you'll know if you're hitting meaningful numbers.