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Measuring Return on Investment in Social Media Marketing is Fuzzy Math



Try Return on Engagement instead

Dustin and Rob have an interesting conversation going on about measuring ROI in Social Media. I’m increasingly perplexed by this concept.

How do you measure “investment” in social media? A, or ActiveRain blog costs exactly $0. Let’s say you get one deal per year by blogging. A facebook profile costs you exactly $0. Let’s say you convert one lead from your facebook network into a deal per year. Let’s see, anything divided by zero is… Infinity, I guess. That’s one hell of an ROI!

Okay, so there’s the time factor. Sure it takes time to write a blog or do the social networking thing. You can do this during unproductive times of the day. Nobody at the open house? Type. Waiting for a client to show up for a meeting. Type. Kids gone to bed and the spousal unit is watching a boring TV show? Type.

Consider the opportunity costs

Now, consider the opportunity costs of not sharing your expertise. If you don’t write about what you know, the only people who benefit from your knowledge are you and your current clients. Knowledge is a Realtor’s greatest asset and to not share it is to squander it. Basically, to not share your expertise widely is like holding your expertise in inventory, and everyone knows that holding inventory costs money.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the net cost of blogging is effectively zero dollars. Some will quibble with this, but remember to consider the opportunity costs of holding your knowledge closely.

How do you measure “return”?

Okay, now how do you measure “return”? Well, let’s consider the more conventional marketing avenues: Can you ever say for certain that you converted a lead into a client BECAUSE of the newspaper ad, or BECAUSE of the calendar, or BECAUSE of the church pot-luck dinner? Not likely. It was probably a combination of factors that helped you convert them. There is no silver bullet. So to which activity do you attribute the return?

I’m in the habit of saying that in order to be successful in any business, you need to be able to do a bunch of things well, not just one. So it is in real estate: You need to figure out which bunch of things you’re going to be good at, and ignore the others. If you hate cold-calling and you can get leads by blogging instead of cold-calling, why would you spend your time doing what you hate? It shouldn’t take a psychologist to tell you that you’ll get better results by doing what you love.

A squiggly line

Based on my personal experience, I’m also fond of saying that I can’t draw a straight line between my blogging efforts and any success I’ve had in business. But I can draw a squiggly line. 2007 was the most remarkable year of my career, and I attribute it in large part to social media. Did I get a new job just by blogging? Nope! I networked in real life. Did I get the freelancing and public speaking gigs just by blogging? Nope! I got papers published and spoke for free. Did I just blog my way into a photo shoot and get my picture taken for the cover of my professional society’s national magazine? Nope! I volunteered for committees, showed up for events, and followed through on commitments.

Could I have done all of the above without blogging? Maybe one, but definitely not all three.

We’re so convinced that we can measure everything! I think that in some ways, the social web renders certain bedrock business equations, like return on investment, null and void. If small is the new big and free is a business model, we certainly have a paradigm shift to deal with. Are you comfortable with ambiguity? Are you willing to try a less objective measure?

I offer a different equation

So I offer a different equation: Return on Engagement. Instead of thinking about return on investment, consider how you can engage your social media farm. The extent to which they’re engaged with you is the extent to which they’re likely to think of you when they need to move. And because referrals will come when there’s trust and engagement, even though you may NEVER convert someone in your social media farm into a client, they will be more likely to think of you to the extent you’ve engaged them through social media.

This concept won’t resonate with everyone, but I know many genius agents understand this intuitively.

(Photo credit)

Writer for national real estate opinion column, focusing on the improvement of the real estate industry by educating peers about technology, real estate legislation, ethics, practices and brokerage with the end result being that consumers have a better experience.

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  1. Rob Hahn

    March 25, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    Interesting points, Ben. But even your shifted metric has no data available, no proof in the pudding.

    Return on Engagement still connotes a return on an activity. In the marketing world, the key isn’t the result per se (the transaction) but “lift over control”. Meaning, holding all other factors equal, does Activity X result in a significant, measurable improvement over not doing Activity X?

    You can draw a squiggly line — you networked in real life. You got papers published, etc. etc. Would another person who also networked, who also got papers published, etc. have had the same success you did without blogging or social networking?

    If the answer is Yes, then all of your blogging and social networking had zero return on engagement as well.

    I’ll post more over at Notorious, as your well-considered post deserves an equally well-considered response. 🙂


  2. Sparky

    March 25, 2008 at 3:30 pm

    Ben – Thanks! You answered my question!….

  3. Todd Carpenter

    March 25, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    I totally see your point Ben, but for me, there’s no such thing as spare time. The monetary cost of social media may be very low, but the time it takes is considerable. That same time could be used to cold call, or send out a newsletter, or even kick back and watch hockey. No matter what, it’s not free.

  4. Ben Martin

    March 25, 2008 at 3:47 pm

    @tcar I never once mentioned spare or free time. I called it unproductive time.

    I’d be curious to hear your feedback on the analogy of knowledge as inventory.

  5. Todd Carpenter

    March 25, 2008 at 3:57 pm

    I see unproductive and spare as the same thing. Time is time, and If I’m going to devote it to work, it has to pay off. My blogging efforts have definitely paid off, but if the time was better spent doing some outside of the web, I’d drop blogging in an instant.

    I totally agree with you knowledge analogy. Websites tell customers that “I’m the expert”. Blogs prove it.

  6. Sparky

    March 25, 2008 at 4:08 pm

    Time is still money, regardless of whether it’s unproductive time or otherwise. So in some sense, you probably could measure/gauge the ROI on your social networking time. But for me, I don’t see the value of qualifying something that I already know if working effectively.

  7. Wade Young

    March 25, 2008 at 8:59 pm

    I don’t have any unproductive time. At work I am busy from the time I arrive until the time I force myself to depart. At home I have a wife and a 5 year old — enough said. The fact that the social media isn’t paying off in real dollars for so many people is disconcerting to me. I know that some people hit home runs, but most bloggers fail to produce results in the dollars category, at least as far as I can tell. I agree that people should blog if it works versus doing something they hate — such as making cold calls. I like networking, so I spend a lot of time at that. Blogging isn’t a zero cost endeavor. The cost is extremely high. Doing it right requires a lot of time, and time is the most valuable thing any of us has. I think it also requires a tremendous amount of patience as those who do see results in terms of dollars often do not see them until they have been blogging for quite some time.

  8. Ben Martin

    March 26, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    Wade, wow, we lead very similar lives. I have a demanding job, a wife and a five year old, too! I will disagree that time is the most valuable thing. Expertise is more valuable in my view. If time were more valuable than expertise, Realtors would charge by the hour. I don’t have anything else to argue with you about. 😉

  9. Laura S Flournoy

    March 26, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    Never has it been so obvious to me that while for some the cup is half full…. to others it is half empty. Social media does seem to have played a very important role in your life and career. But I would be willing to bet that your disposition has added the immeasurable successes to your career, and would no matter what field you were in. Great writing.

  10. Bob

    March 26, 2008 at 1:22 pm

    Now, consider the opportunity costs of not sharing your expertise. If you don’t write about what you know, the only people who benefit from your knowledge are you and your current clients. Knowledge is a Realtor’s greatest asset and to not share it is to squander it. Basically, to not share your expertise widely is like holding your expertise in inventory, and everyone knows that holding inventory costs money.

    i like this paragraph. I think it is the crux of the value of blogging. I don’t write trivia, I seek to write what engages the reader in such a way as to meet a need. As a result, what I have written about over the last 6 months has engaged hundreds and is now generating several listings a week. By June 1st, it will easily be a listing a day.

    What I don’t do is write for the sake of writing. I’m not that good a writer and not that interesting a read.

    Knowledge is a Realtor’s greatest asset,

    It’s that principle that is the Achilles heel for many agents who blog with no results because they have little knowledge to bring to the table and it shows in what what they write about.

  11. Andy Kaufman

    March 26, 2008 at 3:57 pm

    I’ve thought about this for a while and what I’ve determined is that your ROI from Social Media Marketing is closely aligned with how much you’ve embraced it as a way of life.

    Social Media Marketing is MUCH bigger than blogging. It’s commenting, it’s twittering, it’s facebooking, it’s flickring photos, it’s digging & stumbling articles. We use these tools to connect and to help each other out which in turn it helps us. My network is my personal community. I’m continually looking to build it and interact with it in ways that provide value so that when I need something, I’ve already built a reserve of social capital to draw upon.

    Another thing…Online friends are great, but crossing that digital divide and connecting offline makes those bonds that much stronger. That’s the reason why SXSW rocked so much. There were great panels and great parties, but getting the chance to connect with so many of my online friends in real life was what really made it so special.

    Plus you get to learn things like… Benn really doesn’t have a perpetual coffee mug in front of his face 24/7 😉

  12. ines

    March 26, 2008 at 9:39 pm

    Putting everything aside – to think of all the friends that would welcome me into their cities all around the nation that I wouldn’t have known if it weren’t for social networking is truly amazing. I received 3 referrals this week through social networking. To me it’s a no-brainer – but it does take time. If I wouldn’t enjoy it, it would be a totally different conversation.

  13. Jacob Morgan

    March 29, 2008 at 7:37 pm

    right on Andy, we definitely have the same point of view on this (thanks for the blog comment by the way). Social media is all about crossing the digital divide and connecting with people offline!

    Looking forward to the barcamp, sounds like an awesome time


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Opinion Editorials

Ways to socialize safely during quarantine

(EDITORIAL) Months of isolation due to quarantine is causing loneliness for many, but joining virtual social groups from home may help fill the need for interaction.




Quarantining, sheltering in place, staying home. We’re tired of hearing it; we’re tired of doing it. Yet, it’s what we still need to be doing to stay safe for a while longer. All of this can be lonesome. As the days turn into weeks and weeks into months, the alone time is getting to even the most introverted among us.

Solitary confinement is considered one of the most psychologically damaging punishments a human can endure. The New Yorker reported on this in a 1992 study of prisoners in detention camps in the former Yugoslavia, as well as Vietnam veterans who experienced isolation. These studies showed that prisoners who had experienced solitary confinement demonstrated similar brain activity to those who’d suffered a severe head injury, noting that “Without sustained social interaction, the human brain may become as impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic injury.”

We aren’t meant to be solitary creatures. Your “pandemic brain” is real. That fogginess, the lack of productivity, can be attributed to many things, including anxiety, but being kept apart from other humans is a big part of it too. Be kind to yourself, give yourself grace, and join others virtually. Be it an app, a class, a Facebook group, a chat room, or a livestream, someone somewhere is out there waiting to connect with you too.

The good news? We are lucky enough to live in an era of near limitless ways to interact socially online. Sure, it is different, but it is something. It’s important. The best thing about this type of social interaction is being able to hone in on your specific interests, though I’d caution you against getting caught in an online echo chamber. Diversity of interests, personality, and opinion make for a richer experience, with opportunities for connecting and expanding your worldview.

Here are a few suggestions on ways to socialize while staying home and staying safe. Communicating with other humans is good for you, physically and mentally.

Interactive Livestreams on Twitch:

Twitch is best known as a streaming service for video game fans, but it offers multiple streams appealing to different interests. This is more than passive watching (although that is an option, too) as Twitch livestream channels also have chat rooms. Twitch is fun for people who like multi-tasking because the chat rooms for popular livestream channels can get busy with chatter.

While people watch the Twitch hosts play a video game, film a live podcast, make music or art, mix cocktails, or dance, they can comment on what they’re watching, make suggestions, ask questions, crack jokes, and get to know each other (by Twitch handle, so it is still as anonymous as you want it to be) in the chat room. The best hosts take time every so often to interact directly with the chat room questions and comments.

Many Twitch channels develop loyal followers who get to know each other, thus forming communities. I have participated in the Alamo Drafthouse Master Pancake movie mocks a few times because they are fun and local to Austin, where I live. Plus, in my non-quarantine life, I would go to Master Pancake shows live sometimes. The chat room feels familiar in a nice way. While watching online is free, you can (and totally should) tip them.

Online trivia in real time:

There are some good options for real-time online trivia, but I’m impressed with the NYC Trivia League’s model. They have trivia games online on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. The NYC Trivia League seems to have figured out a good way to run the game live while keeping answers private from the other teams. They run games on Instagram Live with a live video of the host, and participants answer via the question feature. Clever!

Online book club:

First I have to shout out my Austin local independent bookstore, BookPeople, because they are fantastic. They run book clubs throughout the year, along with readings, book signings, and all things book-related. BookPeople hosts several online book clubs during these lockdown days, and most people will find something that appeals to them.

I’m also impressed with this list from Hugo House, a writer’s resource based out of Seattle. This list includes Instagram and Goodread book clubs, book clubs for Black women, rebels, and poetry lovers. The Financial Diet recommends the Reddit book club, if you are comfortable with the Reddit format. Please note that it’s a busy place, but if you like Reddit, you already know this.

Cooking class or virtual tasting:

This is doubly satisfying because you can follow these chefs in real time, and you end up with a meal. There are a couple on Instagram Live, such as The Culinistas or Chef Massimo Bottura.

You can also participate in virtual tastings for wine, whiskey, or chocolate, though you will have to buy the product to participate in the classes (usually held over Zoom or Facebook Live). If you are in Austin, Dallas, or Houston, I recommend BeenThere Locals. The cost of the course includes the wine, spirits, or cooking kit in most cases, and all of the money goes to the business and expert hosting the class.

Look for your favorite wine, spirits, cheese, chocolate makers, and chefs that are local to you to find a similar experience. Most either prepare the class kit for pickup or delivery within a local area.

Quarantine chat:

To interact with another quarantined person seeking social interaction, there’s Quarantine Chat. Quarantine chat is one of the ways to connect through the Dialup app, available on iOS and Android devices. Sign up to make and receive calls when you want to speak with someone. The Dialup app pairs you randomly with another person for a phone conversation, at a scheduled time, either with anyone or with someone with shared interests.

Quarantine chat takes it a step further with calls at random times. When your quarantine chat caller calls, you will not see their number (or they yours), only the “Quarantine Chat” caller ID. If you are unable to pick up when they call, they will be connected with someone else, so there is no pressure to answer. It’s nice to hear someone else’s voice, merely to talk about what you’ve been cooking or what hilarious thing your pet is doing.

Play Uno:

Uno Freak lets people set up games and play Uno online with friends or strangers. Players do not need to register or download anything to play. Uno Freak is web-based.

Talk to mental health professionals:

If your state of loneliness starts sliding toward depression, call someone you can speak to right away to talk over your concerns. When in doubt, call a trained professional! Here are a few resources:

  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): The NAMI HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 am–6 pm, ET, 800-950-NAMI (6264) or
  • Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to this text line 24/7 for someone to text with who will also be able to refer you to other resources: U.S. and Canada: 74174, U.K. 85258, Ireland: 50808.
  • Psych Central has put together this comprehensive list of crisis intervention specialists and ways to contact them immediately.

There are many ways to connect even though we are physically apart. These are just a few real time ways to interact with others online. If you want something a little more flesh and blood, take a walk around the block or even sit in a chair in front of where you live.

Wave at people from afar, and remember that we have lots of brilliant doctors and scientists working on a way out of this. Hang in there, buddy. I’m rooting for you. I’m rooting for all of us.

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Opinion Editorials

Working remotely: Will we ever go back? (Probably not)

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Now that the pandemic has opened the door on working remotely, there’s no way we’ll put the genie back in the bottle. But, here’s some ways you can adapt.



Woman working remotely on her couch with a laptop on her lap.

When it comes to working remotely, will the toothpaste ever go back in the tube?

Mark Zuckerberg recently said, “We are going to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work at our scale…” By 2030, Zuckerberg anticipates that over half of Facebook’s workforce will be remote. Many other companies are jumping on the work from home bandwagon. Working remotely has helped many businesses manage the pandemic crisis, but it’s unsure what form remote working will take over the next 10 years.

We know that employees are responding positively to WFH, as reported in this article – Employers: Lacking remote work options may cause you to lose employees. As offices transition to a post-COVID normal, here are some things to consider about your office and remote work.

What does your business gain from allowing workers to WFH?
The future of remote work depends on a conscious application of WFH. It’s not just as easy as moving employees out of the office to home. You have to set up a system to manage workers, wherever they are working. The companies with good WFH cultures have set up rules and metrics to know whether it’s working for their business. You’ll need to have technology and resources that let your teams work remotely.

Can your business achieve its goals through remote work?
The pandemic may have proved the WFH model, but is this model sustainable? There are dozens of benefits to remote work. You can hire a more diverse workforce. You may save money on office space. Employees respond well to remote work. You reduce your carbon emissions.

But that can’t be your only measure of whether remote work fits into your vision for your organization. You should be looking at how employees will work remotely, but you need to consider why employees work remotely.

The work paradigm is shifting – how will you adapt?
The work environment has shifted over the past century. Remote work is here to stay, but how it fits into your company should be based on more than what employees want. You will have to work closely with managers and HR to build the WFH infrastructure that grows with your organization to support your teams.

We don’t know exactly how remote work will change over the next decade, but we do know that the workplace is being reinvented. Don’t just jump in because everyone is doing it. Make an investment in developing your WFH plan.

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Opinion Editorials

The truth about unemployment from someone who’s been through it

(EDITORIAL) Unemployment benefits aren’t what you thought they were. Here’s a first-hand experience and what you need to know.




Have I ever told you how I owed the government over two grand because of unemployment in 2019, and only just finished paying it back this year?

This isn’t exactly the forum for memoirs, but this is relevant to everyone. So I’ll tell y’all anyway.

It all started back in 2018 when I came into work early, microwaved my breakfast, poured coffee, and got pulled into a collaboration room to hear, “We love you and your work, April, but we’ve been bought out and you’re being laid off.”

It was kind of awkward carrying my stuff out to the car with that Jimmy Dean sandwich in my mouth.

More awkward still was the nine months of unemployment I went through afterwards. Between the fully clothed shower crying, the stream of job denial, catering to people who carried rocks in their nostrils at my part-time job (yes, ew, yes, really), and almost dying of no-health-insurance-itis, I learned a lot!

The bigger lesson though, came in the spring of the following year when I filed my taxes. I should back up for a moment and take the time to let those of you unfamiliar with unemployment in Texas in on a few things that aren’t common knowledge.

1: You’re only eligible if you were laid off. Not if you had quit. Not fired. Your former company can also choose to challenge your eligibility for benefits if they didn’t like your face on the way out. So the only way you’re 100% guaranteed to get paid in (what the state calls) “a timely manner”, is a completely amicable split.

2: Overpayments have to go back. Immediately. If there’s an error, like several thousand of Texans found out this week, the government needs that cash back before you can access any more. If you’re not watching your bank account to make sure you’re getting the exact same check each time and you have an overpayment, rest assured that mistake isn’t going to take long to correct. Unfortunately, if you spent that money unknowingly–thought you got an ‘in these uncertain times’ kinder and gentler adjustment and have 0 income, you have a problem. Tying into Coronavirus nonsense is point three!

3: There are no sick days. If ever you’re unable to work for any reason, be it a car accident, childbirth, horrible internal infection (see also no-health-insurance-itis), you are legally required to report it, and you will not be paid for any days you were incapacitated. Personally, my no-health-insurance-itis came with a bad fever and bedrest order that axed me out of my part time job AND killed my unemployment benefits for the week I spent getting my internal organs to like me again. But as it turned out, the payment denial came at the right time because–

4: Unemployment benefits are finite. Even if you choose to lie on your request forms about how hard you’re searching for work, coasting is ill-advised because once the number the state allots you runs out…it’s out. Don’t lie on your request forms, by the way. In my case, since I got cut from my part-time gig, I got a call from the Texas Workforce Commission about why my hours were short. I was able to point out where I’d reported my sickness to them and to my employer, so my unpaid week rolled over to a later request date. I continued to get paid right up until my hiring date which was also EXACTLY when my benefits ran out.

Unemployment isn’t a career, which is odd considering the fact that unemployment payments are qualified by the government as income.

Ergo, fact number five…

5: Your benefits? They’re taxed.

That’s right, you will be TAXED for not having a job.

The stereotype of the ‘lazy unemployment collector burdening society’ should be fading pretty quickly for the hitherto uninformed about now.

To bring it back to my story, I’d completely forgotten that when I filed for unemployment in the first place, I’d asked for my taxes NOT to be withheld from it–assuming that I wasn’t going to be searching for full time work for very long. I figured “Well, I’ll have a tax refund coming since I’ll get work again no problem, it’ll cancel out.”

Except, it was a problem. Because of the nine month situation.

I’d completely forgotten about it by the time I threw myself into my new job, but after doing my taxes, triple checking the laws and what I’d signed, it was clear. Somehow…despite being at my lowest point in life, I owed the highest amount in taxes, somewhere around the 2k mark.

Despite being based on a system that’s tied to how much income you were getting before, and all the frustrating “safeguards” put in place to keep payments as low and infrequent as possible, Uncle Sam still wants a bite out of the gas-station Hostess pie that is your unemployment check. And as I’m writing this, more and more people are finding that out. And even as we enter 2021, there is still more to be aware of – we’re not out of the woods yet.

I’d like to end this on a more positive note… So let’s say we’ve all been positively educated! That’s a net gain, surely.

Keep your heads up, and masked.

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