GL Insight – What’s the Social Media ROI?

What’s the Social Media ROI?

That’s a question that all social media practitioners get every day and it is important to build the case for selling social media projects internally.

GovLoop has teamed up with Booz Allen Hamilton to conduct an investigation into the usage of social media by our government at the federal, state, and local levels. We want to identify and assess the impact that the use of social media has had on efficiency, morale, budgets, outreach, internal communications, leadership effectiveness and other results.

To that end, we are conducting a survey of GovLoop members to get their input on what’s worked, what hasn’t, and why. The results of this survey will be published in a report and made available to those who take the survey (that’s you 🙂

For each survey respondent, GovLoop will also make a donation to Social Media Club – Education Connection to further the development of social media education.

Please take the survey and share your ideas

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Christoph Berendes

If this survey uncovers success stories along with details that demonstrate “what made us think this worked”, it will be incredibly valuable.

I’ve argued that though we may end up at web metrics in evaluating social media, they’re a bad place to start – http://bit.ly/degqAT .

There’s a similar risk with “return on investment”. The most effective practitioners of Social Media for Gov2.0 are, generally, not also going to be wizards at financial analysis. ROI is useful in evaluating some businesses and some investments, but it relies on record-keeping practices and definitions that started with double-entry bookkeeping in the 14th century, and it’s most useful when comparing bunches of similar projects or proposals.

Social media doesn’t have that history, and we’re generally not yet to the point where we’re comparing dozens of social media efforts or proposals against one another.

I’d like the folks with social media successes under their belts to think about what drove their gut feelings that one project was a success and another wasn’t: what did you observe or experience that made you think “this is great”, or “oh, oh – we need to work on this”?

Eileen Brooks

We’ve heard that, among states, functionality varies and there are bandwidth concerns, blocked sites and hardware issues. We’re told that web events are becoming more common in states, but they need to expand and upgrade their hardware/technology and few use video conferencing. Some states are starting to use IM for caseworkers to connect across state lines. In our program, only a few states or counties recently began using facebook or twitter to connect with and inform their program customers and partners and it seems to be working for them.

Gavin McLeod

“The results of this survey will be published in a report and made available to those who take the survey (that’s you :)”.

That may be a shame. Making the results available only to those who have already been through the process excludes those for whom the results would be of most use, namely those who are only now trying to “build the case”.


I think that’s the trick. People always want ROI but it’s also a trick question as what’s the ROI on your phone or email. But I’ve noticed that actually pushing back and asking what’s the ROI on other products doesn’t really work. Need at least some story on what’s the value and how you can begin to measure.

Kristy Dalton

I took the survey, thanks for the opportunity! I just put together a web/social media report for the City of Reno, in case anyone’s interested. (page 15 on sm). I doesn’t delve into citizen satisfaction (one day), but I considered citizen engagement in the metrics. WebsiteReport-.pdf

Arvind Nigam

Indeed, ROI in case of social media is like find the value of Facebook when it was launched. Even Microsoft said jokingly …”what’s in Facebook, it is no rocket science!” Now look at Zuckerberg, five years down the line.

Anyway, IMHO the report should be public and viewable by everyone and not just by those who take the pill of survey 🙂

CEO – Bubble Ideas

Srinidhi Boray

ROI is a wrong metric to be applied for a social-networking especially that engages the federal folks working across the agencies working towards delivering services to the citizens. In principle ROI applies to a commercial entity.

This question is akin to asking why allow phones and internet for the fed folks to use. What is the ROI in using phones, blackberry, pda, internet, etc? These have become ubiquitous components of communication infrastructure.

Again it is an ill-conceievd money spent that will make BAH go laughing to bank.

Regarding the valuation that Facebook has achieved, these are all value perception (not reality value) based on the consolidating the business opportunity that a system has been capable of localizing a dense consuming population, to who the advertisement can be targeted and social engineered into buying habits.

Social-networking will turn into an infrastructure where convergence and concurrency of knowledge management is better realized.

Anthony M. Cresswell

First, “social media” includes such a wide variety of things that it doesn’t make sense to talk about ROI for all in the same terms. Second, the typical meaning of ROI is in strictly financial terms, which is too narrow for government. We prefer to talk about public value, which includes financial and performance returns at the agency level and extends to returns to citizens, stakeholders, and society as a whole. That’s a tough problem, but we have made some progress in that direction. You can look at http://www.ctg.albany.edu/publications/reports/advancing_roi.

Philipp Mueller

I think it is dangerous to think about social media as a class of features. We are confronted with a new form of organization that should be used strategically to redesign public value process chains. Therefore, asking for the ROI is the wrong metric.

Arvind Nigam

@srinidhi I think you are not aware that Facebook is cash positive. The valuations that currently run around facebook & twitter are for real, and I can bet on that one 🙂

To give you an example, just one organization Zynga – a gaming infrastructure which works on Facebook – has had revenue of over ~ $ 200 million last year. And a significant portion of it goes to FB…. so underestimating the valuation of social networking would be fraught with misconception.

ROI/evaluations/IRR calculation on social networking is like considering it for creation of a giant petrochemicals complex where first few years are used up in creating the plant, infrastructure, connections, testing, licensing, DCS panels etc. etc. etc. And then finally the hydrocarbon is released in to the system to get polymers from the other end….leading to profit, shares and everything else around economy.


Steve Radick

Guys – as one of the sponsors for this survey, I have to jump in here. In these terms, “ROI” doesn’t necessarily speak only to investment of money. Investment can mean time, resources, passion, etc. Yes, there are some questions in here about how much $ has been spent, but that’s not the intent of the survey. We’re more interested in learning what benefits have your organization realized through the use of social media. Are employees more engaged? Do you feel like you’ve become more transparent? Are employees more productive? We want to find out some of the “softer” metrics of ROI, not just the money.


Indeed – I think ROI for items can be variable. Think about ROI for a conference. The return could be you made useful contacts. The ROI could be you learned new materials. The ROI could be you were engaged. Lots of variations but in the end people want to know “was it worth it?”