Clay Hebert on Social Media ROI

Clay Hebert on Social Media ROI

Recently, Spark Boutik had the chance to sit down with a leading thinker on social ROI to ask him about the industry.  He spoon fed us some awesome information we just had to share.  Below is our interview with Clay Hebert.

1. Please tell me a bit about your background. How did you get into social media and, specifically, into understanding social media ROI?
Back in 2003, I was working for Accenture, flying around the country working on large-scale consulting projects. During a layover in O’Hare, I needed a book to read for the second leg of my flight and saw this strange looking purple book in the airport bookstore. It was Purple Cow by Seth Godin. It was the first business book that really spoke to me. When I got home, I immediately subscribed to Seth’s blog, and ordered everything he’d ever written and devoured it.

Soon after that, I read The Cluetrain Manifesto and Naked Conversations. I knew that the changes these books spoke of were imminent, but I didn’t know how they would end up impacting my life.

In 2007, I dabbled with blogging and in early 2008, I discovered Twitter. Later that year, I read Tribes and then got a chance to move to New York to participate in Seth Godin’s Alt-MBA program. While the program didn’t focus on social media specifically, it was a lens through which I looked at many of the concepts and ideas.

After the program, I founded Tribes Win, a marketing and innovation agency based in New York City. We help brands lead their tribes using the social web.

Coming from Accenture, I was accustomed to building business cases to prove the ROI of a given project or strategy. The same tactics of measuring incremental impact against defined baselines apply to measuring social media ROI. My friend, Olivier Blanchard (@thebrandbuilder), articulates this better than anyone I’ve seen and recently wrote a book called Social Media ROI.

2. A big challenge for many marketers is justifying spending money on social media. Why do you think that is?

I think it’s primarily for two reasons:

1. Most marketing executives still don’t really understand social media. It’s hard to get people to spend money on something they don’t understand.

2. It’s because most social media agencies, consultants and “gurus” don’t effectively lay out a specific plan for clients to achieve real business goals by using social. This is what separates the pretenders (“You need Twitter and Faceook and Foursquare…trust me”) from the practitioners (“Here is exactly how this plan will achieve the objectives we defined”).

3.  Is proving ROI getting in the way of building a successful media strategy?

Unfortunately for some clients, yes. But, again, it’s because they don’t truly understand social media or social ROI. They know how to spend money on traditional media buys, but they don’t know how to find, engage and lead their existing tribes. They don’t know how to use social media to achieve real business objectives.

While there should be ROI associated with every social media plan, businesses can’t wait for a watertight case before deciding to integrate social into their media plan.

4. What advice can you give small businesses planning their social media?

1. It’s not optional. Don’t think about it in terms of whether or not you want to participate in social media or not. Think about whether you want to lead your tribe, whether or not you want to lead the conversation around your brand, products and industry. If you don’t, your competitors will.

2. Social media is not free. Many of the tools are cheap or free, but the investment comes in defining the strategy and allocating resources to execute. The biggest mistake I see small businesses make is trying to engage in social without allocating the resources necessary to succeed.

3. Define your goals and objectives. Goals should be high-level and supported by objectives that follow the SMART methodology (specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-bound).  An example would be, “Increase traffic to our e-commerce site by 40% in 2012.”  With SMART objectives that support specific, defined business goals, it’s easy to define and sell a social media plan.

Social media is different for every business. The Ford Fiesta program worked for Ford. Best Buy has Twelpforce. Comcast uses @comcastcares for customer support. Every social media plan I’ve ever done for a client has looked different because each client has different goals and objectives. Define your goals and objectives, and then draft a social media plan to achieve them.

4. Start by listening. Use to search for the conversations around your brand, your products and your competitors. Punch in your SEO keywords. (You do have SEO keywords, right?)

5. Engage, don’t just promote. Look at the Whole Foods Twitter account. They only have 280 stores worldwide, but they have 1.8 million Twitter followers because they listen and engage. Personalized @replies make up 80-90% of their tweets.

6. Social media is a marathon, not a sprint. Measure everything. See what works. See what doesn’t. Tweak and optimize the plan as you go.

Want to learn more about Clay Hebert?

Clay Hebert
is an idea farmer and the founder & Chief Engagement Officer of Tribes Win, a New York-based digital agency that teaches companies how to use technology and the social web to lead their tribes. He’s a speaker and business strategist and has worked with companies of all sizes to improve customer engagement and experience. Clay writes a blog about marketing, innovation and social communication at

Clay is also the founder of, a video startup focused on speed-networking and on the advisory board of a New York-based startup called, focusing on local, social search.

In July 2009, Clay graduated from the most selective and unique MBA program in the country, a six month journey working directly with Seth Godin and eight other amazing people.


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