What’s the ROI of your mother?

by Jeff Hilimire on March 8, 2011

I thought that title would grab your attention.  However, I need to start by saying I’m pretty sure Gary Vaynerchuk is going to be putting a trademark on that if he already hasn’t, because its gold Jerry, gold!

Let me back up.  Yesterday I was at the Art of Marketing conference in Toronto.  It’s a one-day conference and the best way to describe it is, if you go to AdTech or DMA or another mega-conference and you take the opening keynote each day and you take them and line them up one after another to present in one day, that’s what this conference was.  One day, every speaker great, in and out.  Loved it.

I’d love to go back and spend more time in Toronto, particularly when its not so cold (it was in the teens while we were there).  Beautiful city.

Gary was one of the presenters and as usual he was fantastic.  If you haven’t seen him speak, you should.  I’m not usually into “rah rah” guys but for some reason I dig his presentations.  I also loved his book, Crush It!, and will read his new book which came out today, The Thank You Economy.

Back to the point.  Gary says that when people ask him, “What’s the ROI of social media?”, he replies, “What’s the ROI of your mother?“.  Of course everyone laughed and it became a hot phrase to tweet during the conference.  And of course, when I searched the phrase on Google it turns out he says this a lot.  Not surprisingly, because its humorous but it also hits an important point about social.  It was a great contrast to the previous speaker (who by the way was also fantastic), Avinash Kaushik, who talked about the importance of analytics.

I’ve been making this point for quite a long time.  In fact, one of my most viewed and commented blog posts from the past is, “Analytics is killing social media“.  My point then and still is that social is so much more than just what you can immediately measure.

So Gary asks a tongue in cheek question, but let’s make it a little simpler.

  • What’s the ROI on your friend showing you the book she’s reading and saying you outta check it out?
  • What’s the ROI from you getting a ride with a friend in their new Acura and during the ride they talk about how great it is?
  • What’s the ROI on your friend posting Facebook photos from the concert they just attended?
  • What’s the negative ROI on your friend telling you that you shouldn’t go to the new restaurant in town because the service is terrible?

These are things that are incredibly difficult to measure.  Yet we’d all agree these types of recommendations are extremely powerful.

I once was speaking at a conference last year and I asked the audience what they’d rather have, ten people receive an email from their company OR one person telling their friend how awesome their company is.  99% of the audience said the one referral.  I then increased the email side of the equation to 100 people.  Easily 90% still said the one referral was more important.  It wasn’t until I put 1,000 people on the email side of the equation that the audience was split.  At this conference, one personal referral = 1,000 emails received.

Just because we can’t directly measure something doesn’t mean its not worth doing.  Sometimes you have to let common sense guide you.

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  • Anonymous

    I guess the first step to answering this question is figuring our how to quantify the investment in my mother?

    (It’s a great response, though not very popular with some of the advisor types I talk to.)

  • http://mindgrapes.ryantuttle.com Ryan P. Tuttle

    Challenge Accepted!

    Using this calculator ( http://www.babycenter.com/cost-of-raising-child-calculator ) and adjusting for inflation (sorry mom) I come in around my mom giving me somewhere in the neighborhood of $150,000 + “incidentals”… so we’ll call it $200,000.

    If I started getting my mom crappy birthday and Christmas presents (lotion, slippers) around age 10 then I’m estimating my total “investment” is around $1,000 (the presents got a little more expensive, but still crappy).

    The ROI of my mom = 19,900.0%

    I’m, of course, leaving out things she has bought my kids and a lot of other factors so the number is probably higher, but I think I have at least made a case that I’ve made a solid investment in my mom.

  • http://twitter.com/edhillphoto Ed Hill

    The intriguing part is “one personal referral = 1,000 emails received”. I make the case that measuring social media ROI is like changing the baby diaper while wearing oven mitts at http://tabletquest.com/2011/03/is-analytics-killing-social-media/. The oven mitts don’t work so you have to try something else.

  • http://twitter.com/angela_ann Angie Terrell

    Ha! I think Gary has it backwards. Just like it was my mother that invested in me by giving birth to me & housing me for 18 years of my life, she should be measuring the return on the investment of ME! Similarly, the CFOs & CMOs of our client accounts give birth to our projects by giving us money. What can we give them in return? May not be strictly financial return, but it must at least be some kind of love and adoration.

  • http://www.jeffhilimire.com Jeff Hilimire

    Brilliant analysis by @ryanptuttle on the ROI of his mother. I thought it wasn’t possible but he solved it.

  • http://twitter.com/delross Del Ross

    Great article. I am a big ROI-oriented guy, but you have to know when to use ROI as a decision factor and when it is not yet relevant. If a company requires you to project ROI of a wholly new effort in order to permit the effort, the company is pretty much asking you to make up a number. Why bother? My answer – keep the investment level reasonable for unknown, new-media experiments in order to begin to establish a predictable rate of return, then scale the heck out of anything that seems to work. The pitfall – trying to compare “unknown ROI” opportunities to “proven ROI” opportunities. I’d argue that like the Mother ROI topic, the question is about as valid as the classic “what’s the difference between an orange? query.

  • http://www.jeffhilimire.com Jeff Hilimire

    Great point on the ROI of your mom discussion Del. It’s the difference between unknown ROI and proven ROI. Completely agree. You’re still ducking the question but since your mom is a huge reader of my blog, I can see why you might want to refrain from answering ;)

  • http://twitter.com/delross Del Ross

    I think you just calculated the ROI of yourself to your founding investor, your Mom. In reverse. Admit it, you lost her some serious $$.

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  • http://twitter.com/GumboShowJoe Joe Koufman

    Here is Chris Brogan’s take on Gary V’s statement: http://www.chrisbrogan.com/the-passion-of-gary-vaynerchuk/

  • http://twitter.com/GumboShowJoe Joe Koufman


  • http://treypennington.com treypennington

     Right on. I think most executives mean well when they ask, “What’s the ROI of that?” After all, they heard us MBA types say stuff like that and it sounds quite executive-y. Once you get them past the question their culture tells them they’re supposed to ask in order to sound as important as their titles, you can get down to what they really want to know but just didn’t know to ask it: “What’s the value of this relative to our goals?” 

    On second thought, the real question takes too long and doesn’t sound as sophisticated. 

  • http://twitter.com/GumboShowJoe Joe Koufman
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