How to Measure the ROI of Social Media (No, it's Not Impossible!)


Measuring the success of various campaigns is a core aspect of a marketer’s job. It’s essential to see how your marketing efforts are contributing to the business’s bottom line. Yet according to Social Media Today, 70% of online businesses that utilize social media don’t bother to measure ROI.

It’s pretty shocking to discover that the majority of online businesses are conducting their social media marketing completely in the dark, with no clues as to how social media contributes to the success of their businesses. To be fair, it’s not entirely their fault – social media ROI is a difficult beast to tame, the bane of marketers around the world.

Why is Measuring Social Media ROI Difficult?

Some say that measuring the ROI of social media simply can’t be done! Like traditional billboard advertising, some businesses throw up their social media campaigns and hope for the best, trusting that something good will come of their efforts.

Part of the reason that measuring social media ROI is so difficult is that many companies marketers try to measure social media success through the social channel, examining metrics concerning “likes” and “tweets” that aren’t easy to monetize, while businesses are primarily concerned with website visits, email subscribers, calls and sales. Throwing around foreign terminology that doesn’t relate to the bottom line confuses business executives and can often make marketers sound like snake oil salesman.

ROI social media

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When measuring ROI with social media, it’s helpful to take into account how you measure other advertising channels, and incorporate familiar business phrasing. If you use PPC advertising, try assessing social media in terms of cost-per-click or cost-per-impression. If you focus on lead gen, try measuring in terms of cost per acquisition, etc. This adds credibility to your efforts and makes it easier to compare social media marketing with other forms of online marketing.

What Social Media Does Best: Generating Soft Leads

Social media is a prime tool for developing brand identity and familiarity, building engagement, and creating “soft” leads. There is a good amount of confusion about where social media exists on the conversion funnel, and understanding how social media serves as a place to gather soft leads helps provide some illumination.

Soft leads exchange their email address for something of value. This item of value can be in the form of a white paper, ebook, or physical commodity like a coaster set or free sample pack. The hope is that eventually, with the help of email marketing, soft leads will develop into hard leads, which are customers or very qualified prospects.

The exchange of an email address for an online or offline good is common practice on social media sites like Facebook. It gets a bit tricky because you can’t get a user’s email addresses directly on Facebook, but must instead go through a third-party app. It’s fairly simple though – there are many third-party Facebook apps which help you build submission forms or contest pages that are then set up as tabs within Facebook.

ROI on social media

Since most businesses use social media at least in part for lead generation, it can make sense to think about social media ROI in terms of cost per lead and/or cost per acquisition, especially if gaining new leads is a major goal for your business.

How to Measure Social Media ROI

We’ve talked a bit about why it’s traditionally difficult to measure social media ROI, and where social media fits in the marketing big picture. So, exactly how do we measure social media ROI?

Social Media Built-In Platform Analytics Tools

 Many social media sites, understanding the need for marketers to measure their social media performance, provide built-in analytics tools for tracking engagement, likes, shares, etc. There’s Facebook Insights, LinkedIn Company Page Insights, and Pinterest Web Analytics to name a few.

Social media tools like these are handy at measuring your performance within the social media platform, but do little to show how your social media actions affect the bottom line or contribute to conversions, which usually happen outside that platform and on your own site.

Facebook Offers

 If you are looking to get some glimpse into how online social media actions can affect physical offline sales, Facebook Offers provides some insight by offering online coupon offers than can be redeemed offline.

ROI in social media

This lets marketers experiment with how social media actions can be monetized into in-store purchases. Facebook Offers operates similar to Google Offer Extensions for AdWords, which lets AdWords advertisers attach a discount coupon to a Google ad.  

Google Analytics

 Google Analytics is the most powerful tool for measuring the ROI of social media. Google Analytics social reports can show marketers the impact of social actions, which social networks are yielding the best results, which content is most popular, and how social can result in conversions.

Google Analytics gets a fairly regular stream of facelifts, tinkering with where certain reports are nested. This is what the most current setup of Google Analytics’ social reports section looks like.

Measuring social media ROI

Let’s go through these reports step by step:

  • Network Referrals: This section shows how users get to your site from different social networks and how many visitors various social media platforms bring in. Marketers can also compare social referrals to the total number of site visits.

google analytics social media network referrals

Return on Investment Social Media


  • Data Hub Activity: The Data Hub Activity section shows an activity stream of how people are saving, liking, sharing, and commenting on your content across various sites. Some Data Hub Partners connecting to display activity through Google Analytics are Delicious, Meetup, Google+, and Reddit. You’ll notice that many larger social media platforms with their own built-in analytic tools aren’t included.

Social media marketing ROI

  • Landing Pages: The Landing Pages tab measures the popularity of your page content, showing which of your website pages are getting the most views from social media referrals.

  • Trackbacks: The Trackbacks report shows the sites that link to your content, what content is being linked to, and how many visitors are reaching you through that stream.

  • Conversions: The conversions tab shows you which social sites have brought in the most conversions and each conversion’s value in a dollar amount. This section helps to monetize social efforts and aid in measuring social media ROI.

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Conversions must first be determined by the business, setting up conversion goals in the Conversions>Goals section. This allows businesses to decide for themselves what they want to be considered a conversion and the conversion’s financial worth. A conversion could be an ebook download, an online purchase, filling out a form – it’s up to you! Once these goals are set, Google Analytics can show you which conversions come from where across various social media platforms.

The Conversions tab is key for being able to measure social media ROI against other marketing initiatives. Key performance indicators are as important with measuring social media ROI as they are with other marketing efforts.

  • Plugins: This section deals with on-site engagement, showing which social buttons are being clicked on your site and what content is being shared.

  • Visitor Flow: Visitor Flow illustrates the path various users take as they click through to your site from different social media sites. Visitor Flow shows which web pages users arrive at coming from social media platforms, their next interactions on your site, as well as where drop-offs occur.

  • URL Tracking: Google Analytics also has a feature that helps users add custom URL parameters to their thank-you goal pages, enabling marketers to track the amount of traffic driven through any given campaign.

The Google Analytics URL Builder makes this process easy, letting you append the end of a URL with information that tells Google Analytics the campaign, the medium, and the source of where the link originated from or was posted. The resulting URL is usually pretty long, but it can easily be shortened and shared across social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. You can then see in Analytics when people have gotten to your site from a social network, by looking for the appropriate parameter.

The custom URL parameters work with Google Analytics to show how successful various campaigns are at delivering conversions. This data can even by synced with sales data when using marketing automation software like Marketo.

These Google Analytics social reports and features are huge assets that help marketers calculate the ROI of social media, helping businesses locate the value of social media and discover how social media marketing contributes to a business’s bottom line.

The ROI in Social Media That Cannot be Measured

The flutter of a butterfly’s wings, dewy morning grass beneath one’s feet, the tender love for a Pinkberry sundae – these things can’t be measured. In the same vein, not all the rewards of social media can be measured. As corny as it sounds, social media serves as a powerful tool for building relationships – and relationships really are difficult things to measure!

As with many online actions, it’s often difficult to measure the offline benefits. Maybe your Facebook posts don't drive any conversions today, but a user may see those posts and become more familiar with your brand by doing so. That familiarity later on might mean choosing you over an unknown competitor, or clicking your Google AdWords ad since your brand rings a bell.

Social media also aids newer businesses in developing their brand’s personality and building a voice. For companies that deal with dry topics relating to finance, insurance, and other yawn-worthy fields, social media can serve as a spot for introducing a more relaxed and casual demeanor of the company.

Hopefully you now understand a bit about how the ROI of social media can – and can’t – be measured. Do you have any other tools or methods for measuring the ROI of social media? Let us know in the comments if you have any ideas!


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Victor Pan
Apr 25, 2013

Relevant video. Relevant infographic (h/t to Bill Crosby for passing this along to me via Twitter).Slapstick comedy and amazing statistics aside, I think the main problem is that small businesses know they want to get more business from social media, but don't know how.And too often, you have these "social media consultants" who don't understand the business trying to sell facebook fans, pluses, and impressions as ROI. Yikes!To measure social media ROI, you need to effectively know both the business, and the audience you have and the social media websites they reside in.

Megan Marrs
Apr 26, 2013

Spot on as usual Victor!

nickie snyder
Apr 26, 2013

Hi Megan. I must say it was really a good read. One must also measure performance, or else the unnecessary activities being performed will be wasting time, money and effort. 

Megan Marrs
Apr 26, 2013

Glad you liked it Nickie! Yup, measuring performance is a must. No point in doing it any other way.

Apr 26, 2013

Thanks for the tips - it's often been a struggle to prove any social media ROI, but it looks like GA has stepped up their game recently!

Megan Marrs
Apr 26, 2013

Hey Michael. I think Google has seen the lack of resources for measuring social media ROI and the need for marketers to have access to this data, and has made an effort to incorporate more social data and goal tracking. Let's hope others do the same!

Jeff Skal
Apr 29, 2013

Great write up, Megan.It's always been a trouble to prove social media ROI, especially for brands who don't have an easy way to track direct sales. But as you stated, improvements are being made to tools to help us prove the power of social media marketing (first click attribution, etc.).We took a stab at proving that contextual social traffic drives more engaging site visits than search engine advertisements in a quick seven-campaign study. It turns out, over all of our campaigns that had both social media and search advertising components (both B2B and B2C), social media drive longer visits, more page views, and lower bounce rates.Taking a look at how your search referrals perform compared to other types of digital media (where people are more willing to spend marketing dollars) may be a good way to prove that your social marketing efforts are worthwhile.

Megan Marrs
May 06, 2013

Great advice Jeff, thanks for sharing! We are certainly lucky that progress can happen so quickly online - I'm sure before we know it measuring ROI on social media will be easy as pie.

Darrin Fleming
Apr 30, 2013

Great post Megan!  I truly believe that there both is an ROI of Social Media in B2B sales and marketing and that it can be measured.  We have developed a tool to estimate the value.  Here is a link, let me know what you think:

May 01, 2013

Thanks for the tips, I know no other tool to measuring  the Roi.

Megan Marrs
May 06, 2013

Glad it helped!

Kushal Arora
May 12, 2013

Hi Megan,Is there a manual way (i.e. non-Google Analytics) to measure the ROI of a social media campaign? I understand that Google Analytics must be useful, because much content online refers to it for detailed measuring of a campaign. But what of those, such as myself, who aren't using that tool, and yet want to measure and show the ROI of a online campaign? Besides that, I found your article useful. Thank you for helping me learn something new. 

Megan Marrs
May 17, 2013

Hi Kushai - There are certainly others tools on the market that can help you with measuring the ROI of social media, but they are likely to be a bit pricey - Google Analytics is great because it's free! 

Dan Posner
May 13, 2013

Great Post Megan! I agree with you that measuring ROI on social media is not impossible. I have seen many companies do so successfully and now they run their business strictly through social media avenues. One of which the father quit his day job because of what social media was able to offer his family. Social media is so crutial in the marketing world that I beleive a company will have a hard time succeeding without it. Unless you are Apple of course! The great thing about social media is that often times you don't have to spend a lot of money on it, which can offer a large ROI. But you do have to make the most of it and dedicate the time necessary  for it to succeed. 

Megan Marrs
May 17, 2013

Right on Dan!

May 17, 2013

Thanks for the posting man. Gladly helped to me. it is a manner while doing the promotion, reaching the targetted audience, gain the maximum traffic and succeded into the business. Keep going Well............!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Megan Marrs
May 20, 2013

No problem dude!

Jeff B
May 24, 2013

Hi Megan,Great run down on some of the best ways to evaluate the effectiveness of social media efforts. I'm glad to hear you reference taking traditional approaches to measuring advertising ROI as the principles are still the same, just the technology is different.One of the key factors that I always think about when measuring the ROI of social media activity, is to first consider the role that it is meant to play for a brand (awareness, education, conversion, purchase, customer service etc). I wrote more about this idea on the tentsocial blog at: Know Your Role on Social Media  Would love to hear any thoughts you have on this approach. Keep up the great posts!Cheers,Jeff B. 

Megan Marrs
May 28, 2013

Hey Jeff, thanks for commenting and thanks for sharing that post, I really enjoyed it. Especially good point about needing to understand your own business before trying to measure ROI. You definitely can't jump right into product promotion for your first tweet!

Jun 07, 2013

Great read! I'm interested in taking a deeper dive into Google Analytics to see how granular the social media metrics can get. You might find this article from AdWeek interesting, which discusses the dissolution of Facebook offers and how sponsored content is going to change its appearance within our News Feeds (no longer will appear as standalone content). Definitely find it helpful that Google keeps its beta solutions in that state for sometime, as there are always new and exciting ways to discover problem solving methods, such as those that pick the brains of social media publicists like myself.Thanks!-Eric

Sep 21, 2013

This was a good article. Also you have to remember  ROE return on engagement.  True genuine engagement in social media can convert to sales, leads, awareness etc.. Increase your engagement to reach more fans.Tishacar

Apr 02, 2014

There are many tool for that also It can be particularly challenging when justifying the budget for social media marketing. SMM is often best measured in terms of audience reach, engagement and sentiment, these actually measure ROI unless the user actually can input the actual expenses.

Humaid Merchant
Aug 18, 2014

Shouldn't the first image of Nigel West Dickens selling Elxir be credited to Red Dead Redemption? 

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