Jeff Hazylett, former CMO of Kodak, spoke at a recent Search Engine Marketing (SEM) monthly SEMpdx seminar we attended. In sharing from his vast experience and expertise with social media marketing he addressed another ROI for businesses to consider – Return-On-Ignoring, which is the opposite of the traditional ROI (Return-On-Investment) businesses are concerned with.  With the Return-On-Ignoring scenario, there is no return if you ignore something, and ignoring may actually hurt you. There is no Return-On-Investment because there was no investment made.

Although Return-On-Ignoring is not a new concept, Jeff gave it a new name and face. He addressed the negative impact (loss of business) that a company incurs by not adopting the new web marketing venues – social media. Reluctance to embrace these methods can lead to lost revenue. I want to further explore such head-in-the-sand policies.

Let’s consider and compare the history and evolution of the telephone. The telephone was initially a social networking tool connecting households in communities. The battery powered devices were leased in pairs to subscribers and linked by a single wire. Users who wanted the ability to speak to several different locations would need to obtain and set up three or four pairs of telephones. Then the invention of switchboards allowed multiple lines to be centrally and conveniently connected and routed to others.

The switchboard broadened the reach of the phone and encouraged and promoted the use of this social media tool in a business application. It is a lead generation and conversion tool for both existing and potential customers. We now know that the phone is one of the most common devices in the world and has long been considered indispensable to businesses, households and governments.

I can just hear some the comments of some business owners who initially ignored putting a phone their shop or store. They might have said, “I don’t use a phone and I don’t think my customers do either” or “I don’t use one at home; why would I put one in my store”.

The telephone was just another tool to communicate with customers. You could still walk next door and talk or mail a letter, or send a telegraph. The Internet (web sites) and social media tools (email newsletters, blogs, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) are just new business communication tools which augment the existing various other methods, just as the telephone did in its day.

Some business owners make assumptions regarding which social networking tools they believe their customers are or are not using, based on their own comfort level. For example, there are those who don’t understand or personally use Twitter; if they decide not to use Twitter as one of their business networking tools then they are ignoring an audience of 175 million Twitter users. Connecting with consumers is not about you or the tools you prefer or use; it’s all about which tools your existing and potential customers are using – and then engaging with your customers in a way they want to be engaged.

Until recently, Internet search traditionally guided consumers through the online buying process, but now social media is increasingly a valuable resource for buyers looking to compare businesses, products and brands. In fact, buyers who purchase or convert online are almost as likely to use a combination of search and social resources (48%) as they are to use just search (51%) in deciding to purchase*.

Studies show that buyers researching brands on their product shortlist depend largely on their peers’ opinions – 30% of consumers rely on user reviews to aid in their purchase decision*. And social media is where they turn for those peer business/product/service reviews, endorsements and recommendations.

Mobile phone users are accessing all online media and in March comScore findings identified the top three mobile shopping activities for US smartphone users: finding nearby stores (49%), comparing prices prior to shopping (46%) and researching product details (44%).

Social media has evolved from experimentation into serious web marketing campaigns. To succeed in the new marketplace, it’s best not to have your head-in-the-sand. It is important to adapt and change the way you view your marketing and customer communications – this may mean changing the way you do business to connect with new customers.

Ignoring new media won’t get you the real ROI (Return On Investment) that you are after.