One of the many knowledgeable and articulate people I was privileged to meet and learn from recently at BlogWorld & New Media Expo is Jason Falls, director of social media for Louisville, Kentucky based brand-building agency Doe-Anderson.

Jason’s blog Social Media Explorer is a regular fund of information and fresh perspectives, as exemplified in his post last week on determining the return on investment (ROI) for social media.

The proposition he develops in that post is that:

The problem with trying to determine ROI for social media is you are trying to put numeric quantities around human interactions and conversations, which are not quantifiable.

And says further:

To illustrate that point for all our measurement and metric geeks out there, what you are trying to do is assign multiple choice scoring to an essay question. It’s not possible.

As a former high school teacher of English and History, often envying my math teacher colleagues when it came to assessing assignments and I was ploughing through a mountain of essays while my math colleagues zipped through their multiple choice, check the box, assignment returns, that analogy summed up for me very neatly the way I had been thinking about measuring the effectiveness of social media investment in the enterprise.

But precisely because I recognize that I approach such issues with the conditioning and biases of someone with a more liberal arts than mathematical/science background, I have frankly been somewhat unsure of my ground.

Was I being too readily and unreasonably dismissive of a more quantitative approach to measuring the effectiveness/ROI of social media?

After reading Jason’s post a couple of times now and watching the excellent, embedded video interview with Katie Delahaye Paine, I think not.

In fact, I feel much more comfortable now about the way I have been explaining these issues to people, especially about continuing to frame or re-frame questions about effectiveness in terms of conversation.

I don’t mean that in any smug, self-satisfied way. There is a lot more to be discussed about the issue of assessing – as distinct (I would say) from measuring – the effectiveness/ROI of social media investment. And especially about how to communicate effectively about these issues with clients, many of whom will present as being much more comfortable with numerical assessments.

Which could be a difficult call, especially if you accept Jason’s contention that “every session on measuring ROI in social media is a waste of time”.

The stream of comments Jason’s post has attracted, still going some five days later, suggests that the issues are by no means clearcut, at least on the level of practical application of the principles espoused.

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Des Walsh is an executive coach. He helps business owners and entrepreneurs worldwide deal effectively with the feeling of being left behind or overwhelmed, or both, about social media – especially LinkedIn - and how to engage safely and effectively with social media to help grow their business. Connect with Des on LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter. And to stay in the loop, get Des’s weekly Social Business Bites (select snippets of his "best of the week" online finds).