Where’s the ROI for Social Media Marketing?

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This article first appeared in the NAHB’s Sales & Marketing Ideas Magazine in November 2009.

What’s your measure of success?

In home building, measurements are a fundamental. Without them, rooms wouldn’t be square and homes wouldn’t be plumb. From the cost per square foot to the R value of insulation and the pitch of the roof, everything is measured.

Measuring the success of your social media program can be just as straightforward. There are four measurements to consider as you construct and monitor your social media marketing program to calculate its return on investment (ROI).

Web site Tracking Report

As you create, post and converse on line, one thing is certain: more visitors should go to your Web site. I like to refer to this as “eyes on site.” These visitors will follow the direct links you’ve created on other sites and they’ll find your site through the keywords that differentiate your company – the same ones you’ve carefully integrated into your conversation.

The result? Your Web site Tracking Report should show more referring URLs (Web sites) and more keywords directing visitors to your site.

After a social media campaign begins, two things should happen. First, various social media sites, such as PRweb, Facebook and Twitter, will start showing us as referring sites that send visitors to your Web site. This list should include your blog.  Your blog is the foundation of your social media program and a well-built one should become one of your top five referring sites.

Second, people should begin finding you when they Google terms like “luxury home in (your city)” or “green builder” or whatever keywords you’ve selected to describe your business. The search engines will find you because you will have incorporated these terms into your text on your site, your blog and other online outlets. Furthermore, you’ve used these terms when you’ve selected tags and categories that help search engines find relevant content.

On your tracking report, you’ll see that people have begun finding your site by searching for these terms, not just by searching the name of your company. This is good news because they’ve always been using these terms to search. They’ve just been finding your competitors.

SERP Results

“When you Google your name, do you like what you see?” It’s the question I ask every client and industry peer. Before you embark on a social media marketing campaign, your search engine results pages (SERPs) can be pretty alarming – or pretty boring.

Perhaps you search your name and find yourself needing a strong dose of reputation management because the unhappy buyer from five years ago still manages to keep the disparaging remarks on his blog ranked more highly than your Web site. Or your business may be pushed down on the page by builders sharing your exact name or a similar one. Or if your company hasn’t built an online brand yet and doesn’t have a strong SEO program, your site may not appear on first page results at all (and studies show that most people will not take the time to go to page two).

When you initiate your social media program, the exact messages you want potential buyers to hear infuse the Web in the form on online press releases, blog posts, YouTube videos and similar outlets. Suddenly, the search engines find your name and links to your Web site in many more places. When those are the results that appear in your Google search, you’ll know your social media campaign is making a difference.

Friends, Fans and Followers

Let’s talk quality, not quantity. As of this writing, Bowen Family Homes in Atlanta has approximately 467 fans who receive news and updates from its Facebook fan page. What makes that number even more impressive? At least half of them are real estate agents who joined as part of a special promotion! Now Bowen Family Homes has a free, direct link to at more than 200 agents at the click of a mouse.

Social networking is the hottest form of permission-based marketing out there. When you measure the reach, depth and length of your conversations, be sure to tally the numbers of influencers related to your primary business of selling homes. As that list grows, so will your social media marketing success.

Where the rubber meets the road

You’ve waited for it, and here it is: Measure your social media marketing success in terms of sales. Recently, the marketing manager for a home builder posted on her Facebook page a link to her blog post about a furnished model home for sale. Within moments, a friend commented that she had placed a call to her friend who was out looking for homes in that price range and location at the very moment.

If only social media marketing results were always so easy to spot. As your company name and links to your site appear online more frequently, tracking the exact paths of buyers who eventually make their way through your Web site to the closing table can be difficult. But rest assured – they’ll get there. I predict soon everyone will mark “online” on their registration cards instead of saying they were just “driving by.”

Need some proof that social media marketing impacts sales? Consider Highland Homes in Lakeland, Fla. After slashing their traditional ad budget, they invested in a major social media marketing campaign in the fall of 2008. The result? Highland Homes has averaged 60 contracts per month in 2009, while their typical months in 2008 averaged 35 contracts.

That’s not just rubber meeting the road. That’s people moving into homes, money changing hands and businesses staying afloat during a tough market. And that’s mark that social media marketing has the potential to achieve.