The Personal ROI of Social Media

We do a lot of talking about the business ROI of social media, and rightly so. However, I’d like to toss out a few thoughts about how, in my case, social media brings personal benefits. Personal ROI.

I’ve been actively networking via social media for almost 3 years – have used LinkedIn longer than that, but I’ll pin the “real” social media involvement with blogging beginning in mid-2006.

In that time, I’ve had the opportunity to meet (virtually, and increasingly in real life) many fine people. I’ve sought to build opportunity networks. But I think the biggest benefit of all is that this community networking is helping me become a better person.

Has it helped my writing skills? Yes. Has it helped my business? Yes. But what I really appreciate is that I am learning to associate, value, learn from, and serve a broad variety of people with whom I probably otherwise would not have associated.

Through bloggging and Twittering, I have “pre-met” a vast array of people who have shared interests in marketing, branding, social media, pharma, and other aspects of life. By having initial contact in the safe zone of social media, a shared sympathy has been built up, irrespective of any borders of geography, race, background, and political leanings. Then, when I finally meet these fine folks, I view them, not through the grid of my standard templates of “like me”, but simply as individuals – many of whom aren’t like me at all. Fact is, a number of the acquaintances and friends I’ve gained through this type of networking are folks I would not have gravitated toward at all in a room full of folks. And that’s a good thing.

Which means I’m growing in tolerance. And by that, I mean looking beyond the superficial or the similarities and learning to value people for who they are. Tolerance actually is a pretty narrow term, and filled with the idea of compulsion. So what I’m growing in is acceptance. How do you put an ROI value on that?

Recently, I made a business visit to Richmond, VA. There, I hung out with a friend (Doug Meacham) who came to be an associate through social media. On a recent visit to my wife’s family in Connecticut, I enjoyed a lively coffee visit and discussion with Joe Cascio, whom I had “pre-met” through Twitter. Joe and I are very different in political outlook – but it didn’t matter. Our friendship grew significantly in that hour together. And, at a pharma conference last week, I got to meet some fellow social media types, some for the first time, others for a second or third – but all because of Twitter and blogging. It was awesome, and I’m the richer for it.

Yes, marketers do have to get around to the ROI question in time. But there’s another ROI at work. Our investment in getting to know one another has the potential to make us better human beings. It allows us to make new friends. It opens up opportunities. And frankly, that’s worth a lot of time and effort. Which I fully intend to continue investing.

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About Steve Woodruff
Steve Woodruff is a blogger, a Connection Agent, and a consultant in the pharma/healthcare industry. He specializes in helping people and companies make mutually beneficial connections.

16 Responses to The Personal ROI of Social Media

  1. Adrian Eden says:

    Mutual understanding and respect is a great thing we can all share. Twitter, amongst other great tools, has allowed us to collaborate globally on any number of projects. I really liked this post my friend, well said and well done!

  2. This is the promise of the Internet being realized; bringing people together via the opening the flow in information. Great article!

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  4. Well social media enable people to meet regarding their interests, o all the previous barriers (location, classes, prejudices??) are falling down, up to a point.

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  7. Karen Swim says:

    Steve, well said and it is a huge benefit that we often do not discuss. If I graphed the business ROI of social media it may not be impressive to many. However the often intangible value is how my social media relationships have expanded my knowledge base, broadened my perspective and enlarged my humanity. Increasingly, when I have a problem, I’ll tweet for help and get it. Have I graphed the value of 24 hour support? No, but it would be huge. From massive group hugs in time of sorrow to shared laughs, social media has been think tank, water cooler and community coffee shop.

  8. Steve, I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks for sharing some great insights. I’ve been recently pondering how social media has helped me personally, and I was kind of surprised by what I realized.

    I’ve experienced a number of very difficult losses in my life over the past year, compounded one on top of another. It was a pretty rough time.

    But connecting with such a broad array of different people online – especially old friends and those I have trouble keeping in touch with – has added a richness I never expected. I just plain enjoy reading what others are up to, gobbling up their links, good ideas and pearls of wisdom, and letting those little gifts permeate my psyche. Like you, I think it makes me a better person with more to offer and share with others.

    My original goals of business networking have mostly given way to just being in the flow and letting social media find its own place of value in my life. That’s ok with me – I am increasingly confident it will continue to pay off, even if it’s in ways I never expected.

  9. Evan says:

    I agree. You don’t always know the ROI on something and not everything is measurable…

  10. Cheryl Smith says:

    Well said Steve and I couldn’t agree more. In my case, Twitter has been the place where I’ve grown the most in the last year plus, because of the people I’m following and the interactions we have. In business ROI and ROE are important, and they should be. The benefits of social media, however, extend far beyond that!

    PS Love the pre-meeting term. I’m borrowing that one. :-)

  11. liajen says:

    Great post! I am currently struggling with the concept of ROI in social media, and the way to sell social to executive decision-makers without a common language of ROI. However I think you make such a great point about the human element, and how it increases our capacity to be better human beings. There certainly is no parallel to the types of connections you can make through social media, and how it can enrich us on many levels.

  12. Connie Reece says:

    Well said, Steve. The personal ROI is tremendous, and it usually does have business impact in the long-term. But when you enjoy making friends via social networking, and participate just on that basis, it’s a reward in itself.

  13. Bill Senger says:

    One of your best blogs ever, Steve, and that’s saying a lot. I recently spoke with a colleague who is in AA, and she explained that two of the fundamental rules are that nobody talks about religion or politics. These are considered volatile issues that could close the listeners’ minds to the core message of the speaker. The immediate effect on her—an admittedly hard-core Liberal—was that she could be open to learn from the local Chairman of the Republican Party, a man she would never have approached socially or been open to under other circumstances. Yet they shared a common issue and she was able to grow from his experience.
    Your message about SN sparked the same resonance in me. How often do we dismiss the intelligence, experience, and messages of people we would not otherwise invite over for dinner? Social Networking seems to have a mitigating effect on our differences and drill down to the topic at hand. There is much for all of us to gain through this—professionally, socially, and personally—regardless of however similar or different we may be in our other lives.
    And I dare say that Steve has been a leader in this movement, bringing Social Networking to the level of Professional Networking, and I think we have or will all benefit from his pioneering efforts.

  14. Bill Senger says:

    Ok, Steve’s post got me on a rant here, and I need to add more.

    How can we measure ROI of Social Networking? It’s not the kind of activity that can easily be converted to metrics, in a quarter or in a year or even after several years. It’s about building relationships, and that’s a difficult quality to measure by empirical means.

    Social networking through sites such as these are becoming the computer equivalent—or extension—of professional networking organizations such as the National Society of Professional Sales Representatives (NSPST), which was founded in 1971 with the (then) radical idea that professionals within competing organizations could meet together and learn from one another without divulging corporate strategies and tactics. Now reincarnated as the Society of Biological and Pharmaceutical Trainers (SPBT), the Society serves some 1,200 trainers employed by over 300 pharmaceutical, biotech, medical device, and diagnostic companies around the globe.

    Somehow the 300-some sponsoring companies have found a way to justify the ROI for supporting their trainers to become members and attend annual conferences. How, I don’t know, but somehow the costs are being justified by some metrics, probably several. Social networking will eventually reach this tipping point, where upper management will recognize that we are in competitive but often symbiotic industries, and often facing similar challenges in which we can learn from others who have faced similar situations without compromising our respective employers’ business plans.

    So how do we measure tolerance, acceptance, friendships, and being better human beings? I don’t have an answer, but any of the above qualities should have some place of value in our professional performance and annual reviews.

    (Disclosure: I published the “NSPST Newspost,” “SPBT Focus” magazines and conference programs from 1993 through 2007.)

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