Social Media ROI: stop obsessing about engagement and focus on conversions!

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been lectured to on the virtues of social media ‘engagement’ recently. Everyone seems to be on a likes, retweets, comments and shares safari – smart device in hand ready to socially zap the next consumer into an engaged brand frenzy.

I get it. Lots of likes, retweets and comments make your social media network look busy, popular and successful. These are all important things in an online environment where akin to a popular bar or café, looking like the place to hang out online is as much about creating and sustaining positive communities around your brand as it is delivering compelling, relevant content.

So you’ve captured their attention, but what are you doing with it?

Bar and café owners know that at the end of the day, it’s the lattes they pour and cocktails they shake that pay their rent and make their business profitable (or not). They know how many lattes they need to sell each day to break even or make a profit – it’s their key conversion metric coming from their regular customers and passing foot-traffic.

Social media strategists and managers, in their obsession with producing content geared for engagement (or entertainment), seem to have lost sight of the fact that just like that bar or café, they too need to focus on that client conversion metric.

Firstly they need to know what that is for their client. Then they need to figure out exactly to accurately measure the strategic purpose of those social media activities. The call to action proof is NOT in likes, retweets, shares and comments: theses are NOT conversions.

Conversions occur when a social media user responds to your call to action. That is, they (this list isn’t exclusive):

  • Click your URL and visit your website
  • Watch your Video
  • Click your ‘Shop Now’ button (and browse, or browse and buy)
  • Subscribe to your product or service (or newsletter); or
  • Download your app

Conversions can also occur via dark social – when a social media user is influenced by your content enough to visit your website the old fashioned way by typing the URL into their browser or visiting your bricks and mortar store. Regardless, conversions are a critical metric in reporting social media ROI – and they are rarely as simple as generic social media data sets will have you believe.

Unless you are selling discrete products via a ‘Buy-It-Now’ style button, ad set or content posting cycle where correlating clicks-to-sales is relatively straight forward; the social media conversion metric is usually far more complex.


Hypothetical Case Study: Mercedes Benz Australia

Mercedes Benz Australia has around 363k fans on their Facebook page.

Out of that audience, they range from a few hundred to a few thousand ‘Likes’ on each piece of content. Similarly, comments and share rates vary.

But how many Mercedes Benz vehicles do they sell as a result of their social media marketing on Facebook?

In 2014, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries reported some 1,113,224 new cars were sold in Australia.

In 2014, Mercedes Benz reported selling 31,895 new cars in Australia.

That equates to:

2.86% of all new cars sold in Australia


8.7% of their Facebook audience*.


Note the * ?

This qualifier means that not all customers who purchased a new Mercedes Benz car in 2014 will necessarily be their Facebook fan or in any way influenced by their Facebook marketing. So this in itself is not a reliable conversion metric.

In fact, the audience avatar of a new or first time Mercedes Benz buyer is explained in detail here on Stephen Zoeller’s Marketing Blog. You can see the levels of audience segmentation, paid, earned and converged media tactics in play. More importantly, this article doesn’t explore what the demographics of an existing or repeat Mercedes Benz customer may look like, which we can assume differs significantly from new, first time buyers.

So how would Mercedes Benz Australia calculate their social media ROI?

How many new cars are sold as a result of their Facebook marketing?


To find out we need to look beyond social media and toward quantifiable data sets like the kind we can see in Google Analytics.

Measuring the web traffic generated from their Facebook page for example, would give a clear idea of how many website visits were occurring as a result of this social lead. This lead can then be tracked through to sales enquiries or test drive bookings. If Mercedes Benz are clever, and I suspect they are, they would track website visitors to map their website journey (pages viewed, time on each page and enquiries made). At which point, extrapolating sales from social media leads becomes a much more precise piece of discrete and valuable data.

If you’re now thinking: “Why then invest, in Facebook (or social media) at all if the returns are so low?” – consider the strategic content marketing and communications spend required to:

  • Influence current and future buying decisions in the on and offline luxury car marketplace
  • Maintain perceptions of vehicle prestige and luxury
  • Raise brand awareness to target new buyers who may have previously thought the brand too expensive (especially in the lower market segment where you can get into an A-Class for example for around $40k)
  • Protect their brand and intellectual property from impersonation; and
  • Build a village of support before they need one in case an organisational crisis occurs (such as a recall).

Mercedes Benz Australia play the social media long game to convert likes to cars. More importantly their ROI on conversions can be quantified fairly accurately when you take a step away from social media and look at the social leads as a discrete factor in a broader consumer online researching and purchasing journey. The same holds true for any other company in any other industry.



Likes are nice.

Comments, and retweets are great.

But you know what is better?



Converting likes to sales, votes and/or influence should be your ultimate social media end-game.