Social Media ROI – A Guide for Start Up Businesses

social media roi guide for small businesses

Social Media ROI

By Stuart Quate

While I have used social media in its modern digital sense for almost 20 years, it was only on becoming a Social Media Consultant for Meltwater Buzz in 2011 that I started focusing on it as a business marketing tool.

Since then I have managed campaigns across social media for a range of businesses from freelance and start-ups to large multinational organisations. Any campaign requires investment, both in time and media spend, and it can sometimes be difficult for businesses to understand the return.  Hopefully this article helps.


What can you expect?

To use an analogy, marketing is a bit like going to the gym – any real benefit comes with consistency and repetition over a prolonged period.  In other words, running a single campaign over a month is not guaranteed to get you anywhere.  Any idea you might have that spending £100 on your first Facebook campaign is going to return £1,000 of business or whatever figure is in your head, is unlikely.

When you are a start-up and no-ones knows who you are, it’s more about building an audience by creating engaging content, building trust around your product or service and hopefully generating some good will, reviews and testimonials.

That is not to say that a short-term sales return cannot happen.  I ran a very localised last-minute Facebook ad (£20 over 24hrs) to promote a small shop event, this ad was the only piece of marketing that went out to inform people the event was happening (the day before!). The event generated £5K of business the next day. This was great, but unfortunately tends to be the exception rather than the rule.


Remember that social media is just part of the sales equation

It is quite possible to run your entire business via a social media platform, you could have a business Facebook page which also has a shop and that can be successful. However, for most business, the hub of your online activity is your website. 

Social media is generally used to engage with your audience and draw them back to your website where you can tell them more information about your product or service and potentially also sell to them online if you have an ecommerce platform.  In this case the social media campaign function is to drive traffic to a landing page on your website. This landing page is then what does the hard work in terms of selling, and so needs to contain all the relevant information in clear language, be optimised for fast loading and of course be mobile responsive. 

For example there are many people who are interested enough to click on an ad, but who get bored and leave after a few seconds if the landing page has not loaded for them. In this case the ad may be working perfectly, but the landing page needs optimised. if you are getting lots of clicks and lots of traffic landing on your page, but still not selling. then you need to look at how the page content is presented (the quality and relevence of any text, images and video) and also possibly look at your pricing strategy.

It is important to make the customer journey and buying process as easy as possible and the ad is just one part of this.


Your not alone – established brands are still trying to figure it out

I know my way around social media and digital marketing pretty well at this point, but there is always more to learn.  Social media and digital marketing is a vast field of study that is growing every day. The platforms themselves are constantly updating and changing their algorithms and even the biggest brands with massive resource have difficulty keeping track. Even big brands like the mobile network Three have difficulty working out ROI. A recent article by Marketing Week quotes Kat Ward-Smith, Three’s Director of Brand and Marketing Communications with regard to social media ROI.

“ROI in the traditional sense of the term is not an easy [thing] to measure and is something the industry continues to battle with… It’s more complex than just ‘this post got loads of likes’. Engagement is best measured when paired with a form of brand tracking. People are starting to realise that social is rarely an immediate win. It requires patience and a long lead to shift the dial.” – Kat Ward-Smith


Then why use social media?

The big benefit of social media advertising is the cost.  Most start-up businesses are not in a position to start putting ads on TV, radio and in newspapers, magazines or on billboards. Social media is affordable, starting with a minimum media spend of £1/day across Facebook and Instagram and producing good reach and cost-per-click, while also provide excellent audience targeting. Other platforms can provide more niche targeting. LinkedIn for example has a range of variables not available on other platforms, but tends to be much more expensive – to get human support you need to spend £6K upfront for the year.  As a comparison £6K would get you a standard billboard for a year, but without the targeting and analytics.

The great thing about any form of digital advertising is the analytics.  You can look at what is working and not working and keep tweaking the ad – whether it is using different language, different images or targeting a different audience. You can do this for a minimal cost and when you find what works, you can then have more confidence in spending a larger budget.

Also, it is important to note that you can have a successful social media campaign even if you have only just set up your account.  Having lots of followers is great, but most of your followers never see the content you put out on your business page, unless you pay for them to see it.

Facebook’s Head of News Feed Adam Mosseri said that Facebook began to “shift ranking to make News Feed more about connecting with people and less about consuming media in isolation.” – Januray 2018

This has actually been happening slowly since 2014 and is set to continue. It basically means that Facebook places the content produced by a person’s friends and family ahead of marketing content produced by businesses – meaning businesses have to pay for their content to be seen.

On the plus side, if you pay for people to see your content, then they see it whether they are following you or not.


Tricks and tips

  • Remember that ROI is what you want it to be. Do you want to grow your social media following, or raise awareness around your brand or send more traffic to your site or do you want to directly increase sales? Make this decision before you start as your goals for sharing content and advertsiing will not always be the same and therefore how you measure success will also differ.
  • Use a marketing mix of organic and paid content across a range of channels.
  • Choosing a single social media platform to focus on as your core channel while using the others as supporting channels may be a good way to go initially as creating content, publishing, engaging and monitoring can all take up a lot of your time.
  • Push out your content regularly – it can be useful to have a schedule worked out in advance.
  • Content that is useful, funny or interesting will gain higher engagement.
  • When it comes to paid advertising, start small. Experiment with different ad styles and audience combinations until you get the right mix before investing too heavily.
  • Content creation can take time and be technically challenging, requiring skills such as copy writing, photo manipulation, illustration, video editing, targeting and analysis – sometimes it is worth asking for help.