The CEO of a San Diego company recently told the marketing staff to minimize the time and resources invested in Facebook and other social media to concentrate on improving the Google search ranking of the organization’s website. Because most customers had learned about the company through Google searches, the CEO regarded moving up the website’s ranking in the search results as the marketing staff members’ number one priority.

However, because the company did not Twitter or post updates on its Facebook page, its Google search ranking not only didn’t improve, it dropped below its chief competitor’s ranking.

The San Diego company’s decision to minimize its investment in social media backfired because, “Google has completely reworked its algorithms to determine a website’s ranking and placement,” said Steve Shulman, founder and CEO of High Clarity LLC, a software consulting company in Carmel Valley. “Historically, this was determined by content with meaningful keywords and phrases, as well as back-links from other websites. With Google’s recent changes, a website’s ranking is now based heavily on the amount of social engagement and interaction taking place on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google Plus.”

Content continues to play a role, but social media have become an essential part of search engine optimization, forcing most companies to implement a social media strategy just to maintain their website ranking, Shulman said.

As a result, a company’s Google search rankings have become a factor in evaluating the return on investment of a social media program.

Not That Black and White

“The ROI measurements should be defined upfront during program planning, said Bill Trumpfheller, president of San Diego-based Nuffer Smith Tucker public relations. “That’s when you determine what you’re trying to accomplish and what you are going to measure.”

He added that if the company markets a product or service, the plan should describe how the digital strategy will support the selling effort.

“A lot of business owners expect that a dollar spent on social media will immediately result in a certain dollar amount in sales, but it’s not that black and white,” said Rebecca Coates Nee, assistant professor in journalism and media studies at San Diego State University. “By engaging actual and potential customers, Facebook and other social media help build the brand awareness and loyalty that pay off in the long term.”

While social media may not directly deliver sales, they will help a company make sales, she said.