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Initial Steps

Here are three initial steps to take that’ll ensure your social media strategy is set up to measure ROI.

1. Have a clear motive

Before you kick off any kind of social media strategy, you need a clear idea of what you’re trying to achieve. Diving in without a set of objectives (e.g., improving customer service, increasing online sales) means you won’t be able to identify social success.

2. Establish what success looks like

Unless you assign some hard numbers to your objectives, you’ll never be able to establish how successful your social media efforts are. If you are unsure what the social sphere looks like in your industry, look into market research companies or conduct analysis independently to better understand what the social landscape in your niche can provide. (Because this step is so crucial to attaining social media ROI, I’ve included more guidance on it below.)

3. Learn how to measure

From goal conversions to inbound links, pairing measurements with your social media objectives is how you’ll begin to understand your ROI. At Salesforce, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to social media analytics, but the remainder of this article also offers a robust summary of how to get measuring.

What Success Looks Like

With a few business objectives for your social media strategy in place, working out what your success looks like will be much easier.

Here are three quick tips to get you thinking along the right lines:

Traffic vs. conversions. A lot of traffic looks great in your analytics, but it doesn’t always deliver value. You shouldn’t forget the fringe benefits of having lots of eyes on your site, but 500 visitors with a high conversion rate are more valuable to your business than 20,000 visitors who never bring you a cent.

What is a “conversion”? In social media marketing terms, a conversion can be anything from a sale to a newsletter sign-up. Look at the various steps in your sales funnel, and consider what your earliest possible conversion could be.

Followers vs. fans. Don’t set your sights on gaining thousands of followers on social networks. They can be bought very cheaply, and they bring little value. Instead, identify what a fan looks like for your business, and set incentive targets for acquiring those types of fans.

Determine How to Measure Results

Once you know what social media success looks like for your business, figure out which direction you’ll take and how you’ll determine that you’ve arrived at success.

You will measure the effectiveness of your social media efforts by collecting data from various sources, including the social sites you’re marketing on and external analytical tools.

Here are a few ways to measure the data output from the most popular social media platforms.

1. Twitter

What to measure: Follower counts, traffic, reach, and conversations

How to measure: Counting followers is easy, and you can measure conversations by looking at the number of replies and direct messages you receive.

Twitter will record the most recent activity, and a tool such as Topsy will help you find older content. Several tools are available to help you measure your “reach.” TweetReach is the most straightforward.

Measuring Twitter traffic for a while was tricky (because so much came via third-party software), but Twitter’s introduction of its URL shortener (t.co) removed that problem. Simply add a “+” (plus sign) after the t.co URL, and it will bring you to the information page that tells you how many clicks that URL received.

2. Blogs and Forums

What to measure: Traffic, citations, and links

How to measure: Use Google Analytics for traffic, Google Alerts for citations, and an inbound-link checker such as Google Webmaster Tools or SEOmoz’s Open Site Explorer for links.

3. Facebook

What to measure: Engagement, fan counts, traffic, and reach

How to measure: Facebook Insights is the network’s own analytics center, and you can use it to track and measure most key metrics for the site. Bear in mind that you will often want to differentiate between traffic visiting your Facebook page (use Insights) and traffic visiting your main site (use Google Analytics).

4. Google +

What to measure: Follower counts, +1s, and traffic

How to measure: As the social network from Google, Google + obviously has some nice tools to help you measure its key metrics. For example, Google’s Webmaster Tools will help you measure the effect of +1s on click-through rates, site-wide +1s, or just the +1s of an individual page.

Once you get a handle on what your business is trying to achieve via social media, you can start tracking variables to measure the ROI of your social media efforts.

Remember, social success is possible; you just need to know what it looks like when you get there.