“Social creativity” vs. ROI: Why hard metrics don’t matter in social media

Miles Davis is a good example of social creativity. Not only was he one of the greatest improvisers in his field, he had an innate ability to reinvent himself throughout his career.

When embarking on social media most companies ask themselves: “What do we get out of this? What’s the ROI? And how do we measure it?”

While this kind of thinking seems reasonable, and quite logical too, I believe it also poses a big problem for most companies, not least B2B companies where an actual conversion is often far away.

Actually, I have reason to believe that today hard metrics are hampering at least every second B2B social media programme around the world. Why? Because hard metrics force the companies down a path that’s too rigid and focused on short-term success.

While the discussion of what success means in a social context is often neglected social media managers end up navigating according to hard metrics with limited ability to manoeuver and be creative, i.e. find new ways that add value.

Writing the script as we go along

Let’s backtrack a bit and ask ourselves what kind of rules or logic we should apply when engaging in social media: Is it business rules or social rules?

The answer is evident: Business rules don’t apply. Social media is about the users connecting, and companies rely on the users’ mercy.

So it must be social rules then, right?

No, not really. Because there are no rules for how to be social. As Darwin taught us, the world is changing constantly, and we as human beings therefore need to improvise, not least when it comes to being social.

We need to write the manuscript as we go along.

Social creativity

This goes to tell that there’s a basic creativity aspect in our lives: We’re creating the social in every now, and we need to be creative in order to be successful in social life.

Translating this into a company’s social media engagement means that creativity and ability to improvise is necessary in order to engage successfully. Plans and measurements only make sense insofar they improve our ability to perform “social creativity”.

Here, creativity doesn’t mean something strange or even mad. It’s something we all do. Creativity is when we create something new that adds value in the given situation or context.

An end in itself

You might even claim that “social creativity” is the true engine behind the progress of mankind. Our social nature and structure is what has made us successful (“we did it together”), and being social is therefore an end in itself.

In other words, the ultimate goal with any social media campaign must ‘simply’ be to create new and better ways to be social. And in that scheme of things soft (qualitative) metrics are much more valuable than the hard (quantitative) ones.

The future of social media

From the early topic-based Internet to the egocentric digital network connecting people rather than homepages. In a few words, that’s the development we’ve witnessed the past 15-20 years. But what’s next? And what if we look ten years ahead?

This can only be a game of qualified guessing. It’s a cliché… but we never know exactly what lies ahead. Or to quote Jim Morrison: “The future’s uncertain and the end is always near”. A statement you cannot argue with.

But returning to the topic of the future of social media you could say, as Austen Mayor does on socialmediatoday.com, that we’re already in the future: “social media as an industry is very well versed and experienced.”

However, there’s no doubt that we’ll see social media and web-network technologies grow immensely the next two years. There’s plenty of room for improvements and growth. Geolocation is one prominent area where we’ve only seen the beginning.

Augie Ray discusses this issue in this interesting interview:

And ten years from now?

If we look ten years ahead the way of interacting and communicating introduced by social media will be the standard. Simply because the decisions makers in societies will be part of a generation where social media is the DNA.

This also entails that technology will become more sophisticated and almost invisible.

We tend to forget it but technology is not a goal in itself, only a means to an end. And the ‘end’ is ‘the community’, i.e. a network that enables us to connect with each other in more optimal, efficient and meaningful ways.

For companies, marketers etc. this will mean a move away from ‘channel thinking’ towards ‘relationship thinking’. We’re already talking about relationship building, and has been for a number of years, but the ‘channel thinking’ is still pre-dominant. Today, it seems no one disagrees with the need for multi-channel approaches.

But the channel thinking is basically sign of us still being at a early stage of the evolution of social media. Let’s hope we can pass that stage one day not too far away.

Three stages/decades visualized

Below you find three visuals describing the three stages mentioned above.

1) The early technology-oriented and topic-centered years with homepages, AltaVista.com etc. (the 90’s)

2) Web 2.0 and the rise of  social media (the 00’s) (companies on the sideline)

3) Technology made invisible, network prevails, companies are an integrated part of the network (targeted messages, less or no mass communication) (the 10’s?)