Social ROI? It’s the big question out there. Sales no longer come from a linear model. The new mantra is conversation. But how do you track online discussions?

First, what is ROI if it’s no longer just return on investment? According to Gianandrea Facchini, CEO and founder of the social analytics platform Buzzdetector, it’s return on engagement, return on trust and return on influence.

ImageWith these new ROI goals, new metrics are necessary. “Our job is to collect the most relevant information, process it to analyze it and deliver insights,” explains Facchini, who created Buzzdetector in 2007 inspired by a chance encounter at LeWeb Paris with the guys from Netvibes. “Organizations, regardless of their size, may need someone standing beside them to gain market intelligence. Market intelligence is by far more and more complex if we take into consideration all the aspects that may impact the business of any organization.”

Facchini points out that markets no longer stand by themselves but are linked to other topics. “You produce remedies and your brand is discussed in a forum or a social network about vivisection. You market food and get quoted in an online vegetarian diet discussion,” says the Florence, Italy resident and businessman with a background in advertising and media.

This is where Buzzdetector brings the conversations around to results. The Italy-based web and social analysis firm takes note of these factors and brings them to their client’s attention in advance.

Buzzdetector has been working with pharmaceutical companies since 2008 and has delivered interesting case studies such as one they did for Boehringer-Ingelheim. “We listened to web and social media for more than two months and our conclusions allowed the brand to launch an ad campaign based on our recommendations,” Facchini says. “The TV campaign has since been driving sales peaks whenever it is aired.”

Image “One of the most important things that pharmaceutical companies need to pay attention to is the fact that while the seasonality of ad spending remains rather stable, conversation and search are definitely less predictable,” he says. “We found that climate changes and heavy usage of air conditioning impact the spread of throat aches, flu, cough and thus drive conversation peaks on those topics. Pharmaceuticals do not leverage that in their ad spend, as the traditional time for such ailments is winter.”

Buzzdetector learned this with its new PhTOOL developed with the University of Florence. Housed within its web-listening platform that is included in a CRM and business intelligence solution, “It helps clients better understand what to do to be closer to customers when they chat about a disease, about remedies, and how to include the information when planning their marketing and communication activities,” Facchini says. “The tool shows the correlation between sales, ad spending, organic search and conversation trends in one graph.”

PhTOOL can easily be adapted to other markets. 

Today, the social startup also works with other multinational companies such as Nestlé and MSC Cruises, as well as advertising and media agencies.

“Our goal is to grow into markets outside of Europe and have more brands in the U.S.,” says Facchini, adding that Buzzdetector helped the Miami-based Cruise Line Association following the Carnival Triumph crisis. “The ROI of social is such a big debate, and we are confident we can deliver a unique, quantifiable upside.”

Social Startups is a weekly Social Media Today column written by Shay Moser about the newest and most innovative social companies. Look for the next installment next Wednesday morning. Logos by Jesse Wells