I received a panic email from a graphic designer at a local city magazine yesterday who desperately needed some photos of a soccer tournament. “Anything you have showing local kids playing soccer!” she said. Since she was referred by someone who had faith that I would come through for her, it was hard to say no, even though I really didn’t have the extra time.
Fortunately, we had commissioned a photo shoot for TourneyCentral a few months back and the photos were still on my MacBook Pro. So, I opened the folder, pulled out a few dozen photos, threw them in a gallery using Photoshop, put them up on some Web space and sent her the link.
“Email me the file names of the ones you want, give the photographer credit,” I wrote back.
Within an hour, she had her local photos, I made another contact in the local publishing community who sent me back a huge “sigh of relief and gratitude” email (on a holiday week), reaffirmed my value with the local chamber contact who referred me, gave some more exposure to a local photographer, subtly plugged the Mead CUSA Cup Soccer Tournament and maybe created some business opportunity for myself later on down the line.
What I did not do was calculate an ROI for this act of networking.
Why didn’t I? I’m in business and the responsible thing to do — I’ve been told — is to have an ROI for everything I do. What was the return on my spending an hour of time and effort I did not really have to spare? How did your actions affect the bottom line of your business? You paid to have those photos taken; why did you just give them away to a publication? What is the ROI on spending another hour writing the blog post you are reading now? All of these things I heard in the back of my head as I was doing this act of kindness for this very desperate graphic designer who probably was behind schedule through no fault of her own.
Again, knowing all this, I did not calculate an ROI.
Is what I did considered social networking? Yeah, I think it is. It is no different than sending folks tweets on Twitter and helping out with requests for code or software recommendations or sharing a MacBook Pro power adapter when someone sends out a “help me” tweet. Nor is it any different than spending time commenting on a blog post that may not have examined all the facts entirely.
I propose a new standard for ROI on social networking: If you ask what the ROI is for social networking, you are already convinced emotionally that you need to do it. Go with that, jump in and tweet, blog and link in and the “financial ROI” will fall into place.