Gimme a break.

Whenever you’re talking about social media from a business perspective, eventually the question comes up — How do you measure Return on Investment (ROI)?

We’ve addressed this before… and today we were happy to see the folks at Mashable offer a piece on the subject:

What’s the ROI of social media? That’s the million-dollar question that every marketer and brand manager would like to answer — and yet, we still can’t do it.

Hey… that’s what we said! 

There is no formula to accurately measure the ROI of social media. Period.

And yes… we’re aware of the self-proclaimed “Social Media Scientists (!)” who claim they have discovered the secret formula we just told you doesn’t exist.

(Of course, if you have a look, you’ll see they seem most interested in hawking their books… we don’t have a book to sell ya. We’re just trying to share information. You’re welcome!)

But back on point, why can’t we measure social media ROI?

Because just being on social media and collecting followers isn’t a marketing effort. From Mashable:

Marketers often want to “be on Twitter,” but don’t consider that it’s actually a communications tool and that consistent action must be taken to engage a following.

Thomas compared measuring social media ROI to the task of calculating the ROI of a business card. Conference attendees rack up hundreds of business cards, but how do you calculate the ROI of all of the business cards that you hand out at a conference?

We like that comparison. It’s like we mentioned before — you can’t measure the ROI of sponsoring a youth sports team… or charitable work… or many of the ways businesses have traditionally given back to their communities.

Social media is another way to engage members of your (extended) community. You can’t measure the value of sponsoring that baseball team… or organizing donations to a food bank… or passing out your business cards. The value of those activities may be intangible, but it’s real.

And the ROI of social media may be elusive… but it’s just as real.