The ROI of Twitter, Explained

roi of twitter

By Mark Schaefer

Twitter is a mystery to many. It’s understandable. You see, to really understand your return on Twitter, you might have to put away your spreadsheet … and that freaks a lot of people out.

I want to measure social media financial returns as much as any one but If you are going to win in this new digital age, you must humble yourself and accept that value will also come to you from MRS — Magnificent Random Synergy. Let me explain through an example.

Hello Kitty

I have a friend in The Netherlands who I discovered through Twitter — Kitty Kilian. Twitter simply opened the door, created an introduction if you will, that led to bigger things.

kitty kilian

Mark and Kitty Kilian

Though Twitter, Kitty discovered my blog and became a frequent commenter. I was so impressed with her amazing writing ability and original thinking that we hit it off intellectually and became friends, even though we had never met.

Through one of my posts she discovered that I was scheduled to give a speech in Amersfoort, a lovely town near Amsterdam and not far from her home city of Utrecht. (By the way, this invitation to speak had come from another Twitter connection, Volkert Deen!)

Kitty and I connected via email and made plans to meet. In fact, I got her a free ticket to the conference where I was speaking.

When I arrived in Amsterdam, Kitty and her husband Martin greeted me and we spent a wonderful morning walking through the city. Martin is a professor at the University of Amsterdam and an art historian so my tour was filled with wonderful insights and stories about the city that I could only learn from a local.

Off track

In the afternoon I ran into a problem. I had to take a train from Amsterdam to Amersfoort, where I was giving my speech but the ticket kiosks for the train would not take any of my credit cards (A problem in Holland in general!). Kitty was happy to step in to pay for my ticket and make sure I was sent off on the right train.

But I was a little worried. I still had to get BACK to Amsterdam’s Schiopol Airport after my speech the next day to catch a very early flight to London. I learned there were no human ticket booth people in Amersfoort due to budget cuts. How was I going to buy a train ticket?

The same scenario must have been running through Kitty’s mind. That evening I received an unprompted email from her: “I will see you at your speech tomorrow and I’ll bring you a train ticket back to Amsterdam!”


Let’s review. Through my Twitter connections …

  • I secured a paid speaking assignment in Holland.
  • Volkert Deen found a keynote speaker for his conference.
  • I received a historical tour of Amsterdam with new friends.
  • Kitty got a free ticket to a conference.
  • I networked with interesting people in Amersfoort who could become new business connections.
  • I was saved from a difficult travel situation.

What’s the ROI of that?

The ROI of Twitter

My point is that quite often the return from Twitter, and the social web in general, cannot be expressed quantitatively. And yet, we did receive legitimate qualitative benefits, didn’t we?

As marketers, we need to measure everything we do and there are certainly many quantitative measures available through our analytics. But to really make the most of the web, you also need to account for qualitative benefits or you will miss an important part of the economic picture.

And by the way, small companies generally have an advantage with this kind of thinking! Those in small companies are closer to these benefits, while in a large company the people determining the strategy might be several layers away from those really doing the work.

But smart managers also know that value of a story, a customer comment, a positive review, a new connection, a problem solved. Those don’t fit neatly on a spread sheet do they? And yet they are undeniable and powerful benefits.

To really succeed in this space, you have to embrace the Majestic Random Synergy! Are you seeing it now?

SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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  • Mark,
    A story to make a point, how useful is that?
    On the one hand, we marketers (at least those who are really thinking) are energised by the quantitative opportunities suddenly confronting us after decades of not being taken seriously due to the lack of a quantitative base that stood up to scrutiny.
    On the other, it is still the stories that work, that make the point, and the human connection which is what we are all about.
    We marketers need to become a schizophrenic bunch to manage both at the same time, maximise impact, and remain sane.
    Life is full of little challenges!

  • This is a terrific example of the power of Social Media activity (professional and personal). Although I totally agree that there were significant qualitative benefits attached to this, there were also quantitative (although not necessarily initially obvious) benefits. Based on being “discovered” through your exceptional Social Media skills, did you get paid to do the keynote (fees, expenses etc)? Did you meet new people who actually might (will) spend money for your services (consulting, future speaking events etc) or purchase your books? Arguably, isn’t your entire business and livelihood founded on (and funded by) social media activity?

  • MaureenMonte

    I tweeted my comment! 😉

  • Claudia Licher

    Lovely story Mark. Being ‘connected’ helps a ton in awkward circumstances.
    I just keep wondering which Amersfoort station you could be talking about… definitely not Amersfoort Centrum. Although I must admit it’s been a long time since I’ve done anything there except run to get my train to Amsterdam 🙂

  • I think smart leaders will recognise the power of qualitative benefits. And yes, sometimes it takes a story!

  • Oh yes, absolutely. I was just trying to show the other side of the equation here. Thanks for pointing that out Steve.

  • Thank you!

  • Yes, Centrum. Could not get the darn machines to work. Ran into the ame problem in Utrecht a few months ago when I was traveling with CC Chapman.

  • Todd Lyden

    Mark, you make it about Twitter, but ain’t it true of literally ANY mechanism that instigates a connect and allows for building of trust? It could have been almost anything else in your story and not just twitter… just sayin’

  • Claudia Licher

    Seriously? Where were the people hiding? Unless they were on strike…

  • I was told they are cutting back on personal services to save costs. The kiosks run on their own rail credit card system which is a very smart move unless you don’t have one. I asked, “what will visitors do?” Answer: “That’s a problem!”

  • The point I was trying to make is that amny companies get all tied up in the ROI morass without looking up and seeing the other stuff that is gooing on that is delivering real value. For whatever reason I thin this debate is particularly keen when it comes to social media. Hope that clears up my point : ) Thanks for commenting Todd.

  • Operative word is “leader” rather than smart. There are a lot of smart people around in leadership positions who are not leaders,just very good functionaries.

  • Frederic Gonzalo

    Great story, but I’ll agree with previous comments: this is about social media ROI in general, not just Twitter. I have also lived a similar experience, where I wrote a post a year ago that got republished on various sites, got picked up by an event organizer that flew me to speak in Barcelona for an event in October 2013.
    Totally agree with your overarching point, though: it’s not just about spreadsheets when calculating social media ROI, but also and as importantly about qualitative returns such as what your story expressed.

  • To me, Twitter is the most direct and immediate social channel. and it’s not just the classical business ROI, as you say. It’s the personal and business connections that come of it. I’ve been a huge fan since 2007.

  • I love this story Mark! You know how much I love Twitter – it’s my most productive platform – it’s brought me the most clients & connections. The relationships I’ve built on there are similar to yours – you cannot put a quantitative ROI on it. Now if one will just fly me to London, I’d be happy 🙂

  • Awesome story, thanks!

  • So many opportunities for business but many miss it.

  • Give it time! 🙂

  • Pauline Baird Jones

    This is such a great story. Most of my support network is online and probably 80% of them, I’ve never met in real time. I just passed 5K in followers (probably small potatoes to most of you, but big for me) and I totally credit to your posts on funny twitter bios. Mine is by no means as great as the ones you highlighted, but it got me to think past uptight bios to one that connects with people. Have to say, when you start with bacon and chocolate… LOL

  • So very true.

  • Kitty Kilian

    Ha, I found I got a few new followers from far away countries this morning.. and I could not for the life of me work out where they came from. Until one gentleman from Pakiastan (who goes by the twitter handle of ‘InvincibleSaad’ 😉 kept going on and on about you. It dawned on me that there must be something I forgot to read on your blog. And sure enough –

    You forgot to mention that because of the Amersfoort speech I gained new insight into how probloggers and -speakers like you really live. I got some juicy gossip as well. And I got to see a very entertaining talk, the highlight of which I have been trying to repeat to my friend who is a Presentation trainer – that magical moment in the speech where you talk about how everything came together under a bridge in Paris even though you weren’t young and hip. I won’t give it away, but you do something with your posture there which is enormously funny.

    Thanks for mentioning it – it was a fun day. I learned a lot.

  • My posture? Really? Now you have me wondering! Thanks for being the star of the blog today!

  • Kitty Kilian

    Well, may be I chose a wrong phrase. But you do some sort of shake.. at the rhytm of some repeaterd words.. which to me was the culmination of that speech – when you say: Yes! I wanted to be hip, and young, etc. It was so daring it took my breath away.

    But I guess you never knew you did it, then 😉

  • Similar relationships have developed for me through “comment communities” (not Twitter in particular). As a kid, I longed for a pen pal, something popular in the (cough)70s(cough), and I can’t help but see the similarities in these types of long distance relationships that truly evolve into friendships. They haven’t necessarily added to my business but my life is richer.

  • When people speak of ROI, I’m with you…not everything can be quantitatively measured. My favourite quote: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” Attributed to Albert Einstein, but others say is was Wiilliam Bruce Cameron. Whoever said it, I concur. Cheers! Kaarina

  • Anders Orsander

    Thank you for sharing this Mark. I always love posts reminding of the human to human foundation of social media. Tech savviness surely is important, but human to human interaction is the absolute foundation.

    I would say that your example of Twitter is true for social media in general. Through my social media connections I have met my wife (7 time zones away at the time), I have got a second home in the Philippines, I got my current job, I’ve been on paid assignments in several European countries and USA. I’ve made friends, some who I visited on my holidays. The opportunities that opens up through social media are amazing.

    I think it’s important to remind ourselves about this. Look back and see what out ROI actually is.

  • Anders Orsander

    You never know Mandy. I actually ended up in London by mistake on one of my social media related trips. My flight to London was late, so I got stranded for the day. I headed into London and met up with one of my social media friends 🙂

  • I like that analogy Amanda. The New Pen Pals! : ) Thanks for commenting.

  • I think the other thing is, you just never know where these relationships will lead. What starts as a weak, innocuous link on Twitter may end in a significant collaboration. There have certainly been some quirky starts to some of my best business relationships!

  • Beautifully said Anders. Thanks for adding your wisdom to the conversation.

  • And isn’t that the beauty of it all…when a casual or innocuous initial ‘meeting’ on twitter blossoms into something unexpected and wonderful.

  • I always wonder why people don’t see these opportunities on Twitter. If you’re really ‘social’ on Twitter it’s pretty easy to find great relationships, business ideas, collaborations.

    In this case we shouldn’t worry so much about the ROI, but rather focus more on the Cost Of Inaction (COI). What would be the cost of inaction for Mark, or Kitty?!

  • Mark, your clear thinking has come through yet again! The operative word is “equation”.

    IMO, this is not an “either/or” discussion. Each side supports the other. ROI is not necessarily a financial consideration. With businesses, it may be (because money drives everything they do) but with personal activity it may not. But, in ALL cases there is a reason for doing something and some determinable value created for those doing whatever that “it” is. Those reasons (and results thereof) will justify individual activity. The “equation” is that the cumulative value created by all of these “reasons” is why the Social Domain exists and continues to flourish; personally and commercially.

    Stated another way, neither side of this “equation” can or will continue to exist without the other.

  • That’s a perfect example of the human aspect of SOCIAL media. Businesses need to calculate Twitter’s ROI to share with stakeholders but there are benefits beyond any analytic, metric or KPI. Thanks, Mark.

  • The best part of my job!

  • Hmmm. Interesting idea. I’ll have to think about that one.

  • Thanks for taking time out of your busy day to comment Gabe!

  • Ditto that:)

  • “Embrace the Majestic Random Synergy.” That should be Twitter’s tagline.

  • That’s awesome Anders! I’m working towards the day I get to go back to Europe.

  • Yup. Of course nobody would understand it except me and you Rosemary : )

  • You have me frightened. I need to video myself next time!

  • I am more on the introverted side (think I am getting moreso as I get older!) but I really love connecting to people on social media and then looking for the chance to meet them to make the bond stronger. I try to meet people in every city I go to!

  • Well … actually ROI is strictly a financial term. I actually regret my headline choice on this post becuase I should not be mixing up “ROI” with qualitative measures. Too much confusion already. We need to stick to the right terms.

  • Perfect tagline!

  • I’ve been exploring the power of Twitter lately. It’s amazing how much there is beyond the initial experience that Twitter provides. It took several articles like this to help me realize that it is more than just quirky status updates and news sites spam.

  • Gabrielle

    Yes, this post is a lot like how you explained Twitter in your book, The Tao of Twitter, that really helped me “get it.” As someone who likes spreadsheets and analyzing data, THIS value (you demonstrated in this post)is worth soooo much more than dollars and cents. In fact, I LOVE how you listed off all the benefits that resulted… and Kitty added a few more. Maybe we should start “measuring” the “ROI” of Twitter specifically (but could be done somewhat with other social media channels too), but simply keeping a log or journal of some sort where we recall all the good things that came from our interactions each week. Thanks for a great post, Mark.

  • painting the invisible. attribution is the ground roi is figure on

  • Yes, this is very true Gabrielle. I once was working on a customer experience program that the customers adored and felt loyal to but management was going to cut it because they “could not measure the ROI.”

    One day I was talking with some customers who were praising the intiative. I said, “would you mind if I record you on my smartphone?”

    I edited it down to a few minutes and showed it to management. They doubled the funding. That is a way to capture qualitative benefits!

  • You lost me. But thanks for taking the time to comment!

  • Gabrielle

    That was sheer brilliance!

  • Why thank you.

  • MihailD

    Couldn’t agree more. It’s quite clear to people, whose business benefits from networking, that the ROI of Twitter is exactly this: social capital, meeting interesting new people, who open doors and want to collaborate and etc. We are trying to convince clients that real relationships bring great value to their business, but their sometimes they lack the patience to establish a meaningful Twitter presence and seek out opportunities. The Travel industry is a good example, as companies realise how can they pro-actively solve people’s problems or seize opportunities, thus they are willing to invest time in listening and being ready to act, rather than just spread their messages.

  • Vijay Sharma

    I perfectly loved this post as it resonates with what I think and believe. But with great regret I have to take this story with a grain of salt because of native marketing, nevertheless you are good storyteller and bring the best in others. Thanks.

  • I’m not sure what you mean by native marketing. If you mean the IBM mention at the end, this is a program that sponsors my content without any editorial involvement whatsoever. It’s a wonderful opportunity to realize a small financial return for blog content I have been creating for free for nearly six years.

    I believe in IBM, their products and vision. If they ever wanted to step in editorially, or if my view of the company changed, the relationship would end.

    I hope that addresses your comment.

  • phillycodehound

    This is a great story that really shows the ROI of Social Media. Often times people ignore the ROI and when asked just shrug when it’s right in front of them. Thanks for sharing this great story.

  • Anh Nguyen

    This is a great post! I have a similar story – one of my business collaborators who is now a dear friend and I were introduced via Twitter by a mutual connection. I’ve been put in contact with influential marketing and social media professionals because of her and most importantly, gained a good friend!

  • Is this post limited to the mystical benefits of Twitter? Because I found my magic through LinkedIn! Most of my paid training, consulting and speaking assignments now come in through LinkedIn. I have to admit, though, I still haven’t quite figured out how Twitter really works. Is there a post, or a website, where I could learn how to really utilise it effectively and to maximise its ROI?

  • I would recommend the book The Tao of Twitter. It has helped thousands of people. Thanks for commenting!

  • Awesome. Thanks for sharing!

  • Karina Tarin

    I love the humanity of this! For quite some time I was suspicious of the random openness of Twitter, but reading some of your posts, listening to your podcasts and reading your latest book have all helped me to see the intimate, human side of it. Thanks Mark 🙂

  • Muhammad Saad Khan

    WOW…I just found that I have been mentioned here. I am indeed a great fan of Mark Schaefer. 🙂

  • Awesome, thanks!

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