Social Media ROI and Obliquity


image via FlickR courtesy of LucyFrench123

image via FlickR courtesy of LucyFrench123

“The problem with brands in social media is that they act like 19 year old dudes”.
Yelled Gary Veynerchuck at SXSW, excited as ever.

His point was that there is a tendency to approach every interaction with a single goal - sex for the dudes, sales for companies. And to rush towards that goal without pausing for breath.

I have been reminded of Gary’s comment a few times this week. Mostly by the economist, John Kay.

John has a new book out: Obliquity – why our goals are best pursued indirectly. And as a result he’s cropping up everywhere at the moment.

The premise of his book is that the greatest, most profitable companies achieve success as a result of focussing on higher ideals than cash generation. This is not an especially groundbreaking theory - I’ve rarely met a successful entrepreneur who was primarily money-motivated. However I do think he has coined a super phrase and one with a distinct social media relevance.

Obliquity - why social media goals are best pursued indirectly
Success in social media rarely comes from being the 19yr old dude. Sustained social media ROI relies on building realtionships, not converting one-night-stands. The tools of social media provide a new form of communication. As a result they can help you improve products, processes and customer relationships. An indirect, or oblique benefit, might be more sales.

However, obliquity is a tough message when you’re a nervous marketing manger who only likes to spend money on safe bets where ROI has been proven upfront or in advance.

The tragedy of social media is that “digital can be measured”. This drives a desire is to spend £1 and get £1 and 10 pence back before investing more. Whilst such an approach is fine for Google Adwords or other search marketing, social media plays by different rules.

Please don’t act like the 19yr old dude. Customers can spot it a mile off. You’re far more likely to achieve social media ROI if you focus on a different (oblique) business goal first. Use social media to engage customers. Use social media for deeper customer insight or to improve your customer service. The cash will follow.


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  1. rmc:

    Great read…i like the comparison between the 19 yo dudes!! Definetely agree…btw, there is a typo on “manger”…guess you mean manager!

  2. Charlie Osmond:

    Thanks rmc,
    for the comment and the proof reading.

  3. Claire Wagner:

    Thanks for the great summary. This philosophy fits well with so many things I’ve read from social media “mavens” like Chris Brogan. Good caution to slow down even in this hurry-it-up business world.

  4. neha:

    Not here to disagree with anything! But a NSFW jump in the post would really help. The workplace can be a strange animal. Especially if you have kitschy lusty brightly coloured drawing on your screen. :)

  5. Adrian Swinscoe:

    Hi Charlie,
    Thanks for the post and the heads up on John Kay’s new book…..a great writer and thinker.

    I read you post with interest and wanted to ask… you think Obliquity works in a similar way to The Law of Precession?

    On Social Media RoI, seems to me that Customer retention and/or customer loyalty and areas that social media can seriously affect and can be measured.

    Best wishes,


  6. Charlie Osmond:

    Sorry about that neha.
    My wife crept up on me as I was writing the post. She was very keen to find out why I was looking at lusty photos on my computer. I proudly told her it was necessary to make a point in a dangerously academic post. (she was not convinced)

    In future I will ensure all images pass the NSFW Test and the Wife Test.

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