If you're spending money on anything these days, you need to know what you're getting out of it. That includes your company's involvement in social media. If you can't see it, you can't track it, so you might as well turn it off.
Unfortunately, many marketers will leave the quest for cash and true ROI to faith by saying things like "we just need it," or "it's a branding effort" or "I can't show ROI because of XYZ." Although some of these may be true, smarter marketers will use correlations between web analytics metrics as signals indicating inevitable downstream revenue.
Scientific or not, a one time fact-finding mission to correlate metrics with revenue is a decent approach. Genius marketers and true social media ninjas will actively seek out and destroy any roadblocks between their online efforts and measurable business success. It doesn't happen overnight, but it's possible to effectively track everything you're doing in social media.
You just need to use a "SMART" approach.
Do what you do best; engage audiences through social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and hundreds of thousands of other niche community sites.
Because many conversations are several times removed from your immediate social media presence, there is a significant need to monitor the reach, influence, and sentiment of your online influence. Fortunately, several companies do this quite well, including Sysomos (disclosure: I work for Marketwire, which now owns Sysomos), Radian6, and Trackur.
If you target your social media and vary your message across campaigns, it's easy to monitor influence. For example, check out some of the information we pulled from Sysomos about the newly infamous "Old Spice Guy":
Analyze your website's visitors using free tools like Google Analytics, Yahoo Web Analytics, or paid tools such as Omniture, Webtrends, etc. At the bare minimum, these tools will allow you to segment website visitors by referring site, and many will allow you to track visitors originating from social media efforts over longer periods of time (caveat: unless visitors clear their cookies). If you want to get really fancy, consider implementing multi-source attribution models and categorize popular social media sites under a "social media" classification.
Sorry to be the wet blanket, social media gurus, but at some point all that success you're having engaging audiences and kicking ass online will mean that eventually, reporting will fall on your plate as well. That means corporate reporting using social media metrics correlated to real-deal KPIs like revenue, orders, leads, referrals, phone calls, and including some kind of calculation for overall ROI.
For the most part, tagging success events or goals in web analytics packages is relatively easy and results are near real-time. However, if you aren't able to rely on point of sale tracking to get components of ROI into your analytics package, there are a number of ways to reconcile that data after the fact (VLOOKUP, Pivot Tables, etc.).
Based on the information you gather from the monitoring, analyzing, and reporting phases, you should have a good handle on which messages, platforms, and influencers have the biggest impact on net income. Use this information to set up your next plan of attack, prioritizing campaigns with the biggest anticipated bang for your buck, and scaling back on efforts that didn't pan out.
The SMART approach can easily be repurposed and applied to pretty much any lead generation campaign, not just social media. Obviously, the goals and tools may change, but the process remains the same. The key is to ensure the continual churning in an endless feedback cycle of ROI goodness.
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