How Is Social Media ROI Calculated In The Hyper-Connected Digital Age?

How is social media ROI calculated in the hyper-connected digital age? It seems like a fairly standard question but one I haven’t seen blatantly asked to those digital strategists, social media managers and marketers who leverage various social platforms on a day-to-day basis.

As part of Sports Business Chronicle’s One Question series, we asked nearly a dozen professionals across the sports business landscape their thoughts. Participants’ emailed responses are below in their entirety. There wasn’t a word limit placed on the prompt.

If you’re interested in other articles in the series, such as the most underutilized social platform in sports, the role of today’s chief marketing officer and the emerging sports sponsorship category, click here.

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The ROI of social media depends on your brand’s objectives. For the PGA TOUR, social platforms represent a way to connect with audiences that we may not be able to reach in more traditional media outlets. It’s also about reaching those fans in different ways, bringing them behind-the-scenes at our tournaments, enabling connections to our players and trying new forms of storytelling. Having an active social media presence is also important when it comes to our sponsors and helping to amplify their connection to the PGA TOUR.

Sloane Kelley, Senior Director of Content, PGA TOUR

The value of a sports club or company’s social media following can be calculated by how much of a commercial return they gain from their audience. This might sound very simple, but for a sport’s team with a large social media following, they should be ensuring their sponsors and commercial partners are integrated into their content. A return on how much a club is investing in digital and social medial production should be established by how much content being created is commercially driven or directly associated to a sponsor, and how far reaching that content is.

Pete Lock, Digital Media Manager, Brisbane Heat 

Engagements are a vitality metric which tell us if our content resonates. Total video views across all platforms and monetizable impressions are key overall business health metrics. There’s increased accountability for Social ROI within our organization. The industry is evolving, and the tools for monetization on social are really starting to come to fruition. From content licensing, to pre and mid-roll, and branded content opportunities, we’re leaning in on cross platform solutions which will enable brands to harness the entire consumer journey in sports.

Alexis Ginas, Senior Vice President of Cross Platform Solutions, FOX Sports 

This should be influenced and varies by the organization’s strategic goals. For example, FC Bayern’s goal in the Americas is to grow our fanbase. We have market-specific strategies and tactics to execute them, whether that is our digital platforms, via fan clubs or partner activations. Based on our experience and objectives, we are seeing a significant return on investment in our high engagement rates on our U.S.-specific social channels, increased fan club numbers across the country and new sponsorships we can activate in the market. The key to successful ROI is having a defined strategic focus from the start, knowledge of the market and ability to execute accordingly.

— Rudolf Vidal, President, Americas FC Bayern Munich

I believe that it’s foolish to measure social media efforts strictly from a traditional ROI perspective (although good luck selling that philosophy in most companies). While we are able to directly convert social into tournament ticket sales and sponsor fulfillment, in the college sports world, revenue is just a part of the puzzle. The other two Rs, reach and recruiting, drive the large majority of our social strategy. Recruiting can be hard to measure but we realize social media is primarily where that audience lives. Reach is easier to measure but the key for our team is turning that into engagement as we value a steady-growth, active audience more than creating a large, passive one.  We live in a market with 32 other Division I conferences and 347 programs, and social media is a perfect tool for differentiation, brand enhancement and delivering our core messages to these audiences.

Within this framework and as traditional outlets reduce coverage, the conference created BIG EAST Shootaround, our own weekly, digital men’s basketball show, distributed on our social and digital platforms. BIG EAST Shootaround allows us to showcase our programs in unique ways and allow our conference and teams to reach new audiences. Even after original air, the show drives our content schedule as segments are re-distributed on social and packaged for our universities to share with their own audiences and recruits. At the end of the day, we realize our fans aren’t going to automatically find us and social media allows us to be a proactive participant in the conversation surrounding the BIG EAST.

Brad Zak, Director of Social and Digital Content, BIG EAST Conference 

Calculating the exact ROI of social media is quite challenging mainly because social media is approached differently by organizations based on their needs, as well as the ever changing nature of the platforms themselves. That said, I think we can look at the value social media can bring to an organization in a few ways: as a direct revenue stream, as a marketing platform, as a communication tool, and most importantly, as a touchpoint of the brand. Ultimately, I believe social media should be a resource to help more people learn, engage with, and care about your brand.

The easiest ROI would be the direct revenue that can be generated from activating sponsors across the content on social channels. By calculating a dollar amount that each post or a content series could be worth based on engagement and reach, an organization can sell its social inventory through branded content. The danger in this lies in sponsorship teams seeing social media as an endless stream of sponsored posts without any regard to how it can affect the brand.

As a marketing platform, social media platforms sell access to user data which allow organizations to reach the people that will care most about their brand. From this standpoint, social becomes a huge part of an organization’s marketing strategy and a major expense within digital marketing. Facebook ads alone can account for a significant spend where the ROI may not always be direct. Building brand awareness and reaching new users on social is essentially an investment in finding those who will care about your brand. It becomes your responsibility to retain and convert that relationship into more than just a simple “like” or “follow”.

As a communication tool, social media allows brands to connect directly with their fans in meaningful ways that build loyalty. Instant communication can allow for much better venue experiences (i.e. support twitter accounts) and provide exciting experiences fans who live far from their favorite team (i.e. 360 interactive stadium tours).

The most important ROI (and most difficult to quantify) of social media is its impact on brand perception and being an effective touchpoint for users. In today’s digital world a social account is a direct extension of the brand, and most (if not all) interactions between a user and your brand will probably take place on social. Look no further than the damage and backlash a poorly crafted post may have on a corporation.

At the end of the day, it’s easy to get caught up in metrics like follower growth and total video views to highlight the work a social team may do, but I think the most important metric is how your social can make people feel and think about your brand. Is it a daily Chabot message that makes them feel more connected with their favorite team? Are you taking them behind the scenes with their favorite player via an Instagram Story takeover? Whatever it may be, these meaningful interactions and experiences need to be the center focus of any social strategy that revolves around building the brand in a positive way. Now we just need to figure out how to put this on a chart to show our boss…

Vincent Wiskowski, Director of Social Media, United Soccer League 

Monetization from social comes from connecting the data yield from engagement to CRM efforts. The obvious connection is creating sales efforts against stated correlations (ex: fans like a certain player, fans respond to a certain musical artist, matchup, piece of merchandise, etc.). The deeper creative insight and monetization opportunity will come from creating data lakes from social engagement and mining them for TBD connections and correlations — giving fans what they want is an obvious focus for marketers — getting insight as to what’s next, what’s unexpected, is where the real opportunity lies. Properly aligning the data yield from social to CRM efforts begins to answer these questions and leads to ROI.

Adam Zimmerman, Senior Vice President of Marketing, Atlanta Braves 

Depending on where you’re standing, social media ROI can have a bevy of definitions. If you work for a team or a league, social ROI can be measured through your organic/paid efforts in selling tickets or leveraging partnerships through content or various activations. If you work for a brand, it’s likely that one of your biggest measures for success will come down to product sales. But if you work for a company that doesn’t sell direct-to-consumer (like myself) you’re doing whatever you can to positively alter top-of-mind awareness.

It’s clear that strategies vary from organization-to-organization, meaning one person’s goals and objectives will differ in importance compared to someone else.

As long as you and your team have developed a sound strategy that is in-line with your company or organization’s business goals, and remain committed to it through your content and delivery strategy, you should have no problem identifying whether or not you’re getting bang for your buck on social.

Richard Obrand, Specialist, Digital Content, CCM Hockey

While every organization differs in how they value their digital media returns, the best tend to valuate their metrics, followings, and engagements. By doing so, companies are able to tie meaningful analytics to their digital content and platforms, and in turn, create opportunities to monetize through sponsorship. In these scenarios, social media ROI is multi-faceted and calculated through sponsorship revenue, brand awareness valuations, first-party monetization platforms (ex: Twitter Amplify), conversion rates, and more.

Shahbaz Khan, Senior Manager of Digital Content, Minnesota Timberwolves 

Ultimately, social media ROI should be calculated based on its impact to your business objectives. With social media, the possibilities are seemingly endless — from generating revenue, driving engagement and awareness, developing an in-depth understanding of your audience and beyond. Once you determine your strategy, you can measure ROI based on how it supports your overall goals.

Grace Hoy, Social Media Manager, Kansas City Chiefs 

When it comes to calculating the ROI on our social media efforts, there is no simple answer. In fact, it is determined in several steps that occur over a long period of time with the focus being on growing brand awareness, followed by growing fan engagement and ultimately bringing in more revenue for our organization. When we look at brand awareness, there are several questions we have to ask ourselves before we go out and start posting on every platform. Are we providing our fans meaningful content? Are we bringing them closer to the team? Do we truly understand our target market? What makes us stand out above our competitors? We have to make sure that we are giving them a reason to follow us. Whether this be behind-the-scenes access, a specific tone or user-generated content, there has to be something that makes us special in this social media world. It should also be noted that in order to grow our brand’s awareness there is going to have to be money put behind our best content. There is no secret that platforms, specifically Facebook, are making it far more difficult for brands to gain reach fans organically. Make the investment by putting money behind your work to reach not only your current fans, but new ones as well.

From there we can look at growing our engagement numbers. Now typically when people think of the social term “engagement”, the first thing that pops to mind is a viral tweet or something of that nature. While these are great and needed, how much are they truly effecting our brand? There needs to be something that keeps bringing the fans back to our page. We need to let them know that they are a key part in who we are and what we hope to achieve. This comes by delivering quality content to them as well as liking their comments and replying to them wherever possible. Fans want to have brands speak WITH them, not TO them. Show them that they’re cared about and that they’re a part of the team.

Finally, how can we monetize? For me, the thought process behind social media for a sports organization is, “How can we reach new fans and get them out to the stadium for the first time? From there how do we turn them into multi-game and partial plan purchasers? And then how do we turn them into loyal season ticket members?” Let’s go back to the point on fans wanting to be spoken with. Beating them over the head with ticket purchases is counterproductive. Let’s use our best social content to provide with something that interests them and makes them think, “Hey, you know what? This team has some great stuff on social, let’s go and check out a game sometime.” The other need in order to properly monetize is by getting partners on board to help sponsor some of the best content that is being produced so that way both parties are receiving a benefit from this deal.

It’s hard to remember at times, but growing our brand is something that is going to take some time. While each team will and should have their own strategy, the fans should always be on the top of the mind. If we can show them how valuable they are to us, they will ultimately re-pay the favor.

Dylan Gannon, Social Media and Content Manager, Colorado Rapids 

About Mark J. Burns

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