Every talking head on the Web marketing space has an opinion about social media.

Gary Vaynerchuk compares the ROI of social to the ROI of your motherBrian Solis says there is no specific answer, but we should begin by attempting understanding of intentions and circumstances, rather than tying social media to one specific goalUnmetric CEO Lux Narayan says it’s a question worth laughing about.

if this then thatI’ve found that when you ask really intelligent people to explain answers to problems they don’t know the answer to, you’re likely to leave the discussion impassioned, excited, yet still just as confused. (I mean, who didn’t spike interest watching Gary talk about your mother?)

Not that these guys aren’t working toward some fundamental understanding of ROI in a very new and different business environment, the problem solving is just clouded in rhetoric. If a small business owner asks me to help him or her understand time spent on social media, I certainly won’t waste time by mentioning their mother, defining uncertain business outcomes, or laughing at the question.

I’d tell that person that success on social media is like success anywhere else. If you put in the time and research, then you’ll experience positive results.

A colleague recently shared a really powerful website with me, If This, Then That. The software was developed on a very simple, yet powerful statement. It allows you to set simple conditions to deliver meaningful results. If _____ tweets, then text message notify me, for example. (It obviously goes much deeper)

If this, then that.

It’s the simplest of logical conditions and one we learn early in grade school. As we develop as children and adults, we learn hundreds of true if/then statements.

  • If I’m tired, then I should sleep.
  • I’f I’m thirsty, then I should drink water.
  • If I ask a question, then I’ll get a answer (Well, most of the time).

So why is it so difficult to keep the most simple logical condition in mind when thinking about social media?

Social media has always existed as a sort of imaginary space. You simply set up your profile as you see fit, and the work was mostly done. You stalk old friends, make new ones, occasionally post the life-update on your wall or message board, and move on. Social existed as this very personal relationship based space for years until networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn created products more conducive to brand marketing. However, preconditioned as we all were, brand pages went up in the same vain as personal profile pages, thinking the work was done there.

That’s not how any business operates.

Social media for business isn’t magical. Having a page isn’t good enough. (Would you think simply buying office space would be good enough?)

For a bizarre reason, businesses began to expect the thens without the proper ifs. 

  • If I build a page, then people will just join it.
  • If I do nothing with my page, then my fan count will continue to grow.
  • If I ignore customers and prospects on social, then my retention will improve.

All three sound equally offensive to say out loud, but it’s how over 50% of businesses are treating the social space.

Back to the most common (by a long, long shot) question from small business owners about Web marketing:

What do I do about social media?

Well, here’s a start.

  • If you build a page and market it, then people will join it.
  • If I manage my page and maintain fresh content, then my fan count will continue to grow.
  • If I engage and interact with my customers and prospects on social, then my retention will improve.

If you begin to treat your social media as if it were an actual business, then you can begin calculating ROI.