After years of defending the power of PR I now have moved on to defending the power of social media. Like any new marketing medium social has to constantly prove its worth, an odd position because I believe social can be measured far more easily than any other marketing medium. (Yes, I believe social is easier to measure than PR, I'll admit it).
TV - I can buy an ad or secure a segment on the morning news show but I have no idea how many people are truly watching it. Maybe the TV is on but they're busy making popcorn. Unless you are hocking 'buy one get one free' products and have a redemption code, it's pretty difficult to track actual viewership.
Print - Again, my ad is in there or my story is in there, but I'm not sure they read it.
Direct Mail - Did that postcard actually make it from the mailbox to the home or was it tossed along the way?
Online - I can't tell you how many times I've opened another window to avoid having to watch the pre-roll ad. I let it roll and then I'll come back to the content I actually want to see.
Social - If someone likes it, retweets or comments, I know they saw it. A like is living proof that a potential customer engaged and that engagement was most likely shared to their friends via a newsfeed. I'm not saying all 130 friends actually saw the message in their newsfeed, because that we don't know unless they in turn take an action, but I do like my chances.
Still some will argue, does social drive sales? Well does your print campaign? How about your TV commercial? If the answer is yes, then your advertising was probably pretty well produced with convincing content. Make sure your social channels also have compelling content. I'm not saying you make every status a "buy me" update, I'm saying you learn how to speak social and make the soft sell in a conversational, interesting way.
At the end of the day, social sets you up well to reach customers with an easy to track, easy to engage, easy to listen-in platform. It also allows you to reach consumers more frequently than any other channel, unless your ad budget is ginormous. But that's just half the battle. If you aren't posting interesting content, if you aren't listening and rewarding, well then no, your ROI won't be very good.
If you're ready to point the finger, my advice would be don't be so quick to blame the channel, but rather take a hard look at how you are using it.