What's the ROI of Your Mom?

It was never my intention to stumble into the land of entrepreneurs with their buzzwords and business-speak and general parroting, but here I am, composing tweets for the likes of Cisco and local networking events. While hanging out with these business-minded people, I often get a glimpse into what they think about various marketing efforts, what they're good for, and how to do them. The thing that pops up again and again is "ROI," usually pronounced "Roy," which stands for Return On Investment. It makes sense to be mindful of the numbers that report on ROI. You don't want your efforts to be wasted. You put a dollar in, you should get at least a dollar and a penny out, or else you'll go bankrupt. But these people talk about it like it's an obsession. Like it's all a numbers game that they can win if they just put the right digits in the right order. It's the kind of single-minded dedication I've only seen in one other place: World of Warcraft.

C'mon, don't act like you don't know. If you've spent any great amount of time in the land of Azeroth, you've met those players (or maybe you are one of those players) who are all about getting the right armor for their spec and taking advantage of plugins to automate their spell casting and squeeze out every last bit of DPS so the big baddies go down quicker than they can finish their dialog. It's not about the experience (well, it's sometimes about the XP, but that's different), it's about the math. These players might as well not even have a chat box. They don't need other players in their ears telling them what to do. They're not being social, they're winning the game. Just like an entrepreneur looking at Twitter analytics.

I never really cared for playing with those guys. Yeah, it was nice to get through an instance in record time without a party wipe, but they had no patience for me wanting to read all the books in Karazahn. In the same way, people on Twitter don't care about your numbers game. Worry too much about ROI and users start to get the idea that you're treating them like a number instead of a person. In World of Warcraft that meant people leaving the guild, subtracting precious numbers from the power-players' DPS calculations. In business, it means people stop paying attention, subtracting precious numbers from your ROI calculations. Social media is social above all else. You can sell on it, but it's not a sales platform. You can advertise on it, but it's not a marketing platform. You can totally run customer support on it, but it's not a customer support platform. If in any of these ventures you're not being social, then you've missed the point, and however high you end up getting your ROI, it's going to plummet eventually. Because people will lose interest.

Whenever someone says "what's the ROI of that?" I want to say "what's the ROI of your mom?" It sounds like a pithy, puerile thing to say, but it actually means more than just another "yo mama" joke. What's the return on investment of your mother? You ought to have just as much trouble answering that as you have answering the question about social ROI. If things are going good in your life and you have a good relationship with your mother, then, good, it's smooth sailing. If you have a terrible relationship with your mother, then maybe you should consider making amends, or maybe she's just a Bad Person and you should make peace with that. Either way, you have a mother. And if all you can think about is what you get out of her, that makes you the Bad Person.

In social media we're not dealing with NPCs in a video game, we're dealing with real people with real lives and their own agendas. You can't push your agenda on them, or else they'll push back. All you can do is talk with them. Make friends with them. Care about them like a mother.