Twitter's announcement in 2012 that it would partner with American Express to expand its advertising program for small businesses is just one example of the trend toward increased social media ad spend.

By providing small businesses easier access to "promoted tweets" and other advertising opportunities, Twitter has leveled the playing field in an advertising space that until now had been dominated by large, global brands.

But before small and midsize businesses (SMBs) embrace new advertising opportunities offered by Twitter or other social networking providers, they need to seriously consider how to go about measuring the ROI impact of specific social media ad investments. These days, it isn't enough to tie ROI to "brand awareness" or generic sales fluctuations.

More than ever, SMBs need the ability to attach meaningful ROI metrics to specific social media ad investments.

SMBs can achieve granular ROI insights about the effectiveness of social media ad investments. By using a combination of online and offline strategies, marketers can gather valuable information about the ways social media users are interacting with the company's online marketing content—as well as information about overall ad performance.

1. Unique local phone numbers

According to Harris Interactive, 77% of online adults want help from a person before making an online purchase. One of the easiest ways to offer such help while connecting ROI to specific social ad investments is to include a unique, local phone number directly in the social media ad.

By relying on a call-tracking solution, marketers can easily pinpoint the origin of a lead and attach ROI to each social ad campaign. When deployed in combination with robust, voice-based marketing automation tools, unique local numbers drive sales by enabling businesses to instantly respond to leads generated in the social space.

2. Landing pages

Landing pages are another way for marketers to benefit from unique local phone numbers. Rather than including the number directly in the ad, you can direct social media users to a dedicated landing page.

Clicks to landing pages can be monitored, and you can track offline conversions linked to the ad by adding unique, local numbers to page content.

In addition to ad-tracking benefits, landing pages provide an opportunity for displaying specific marketing content that can encourage conversion—offline and online.

3. Inquiry forms

The most common way to track conversion is with online inquiry forms. When users click on a social media ad, they are greeted with a request to complete a simple response form. Integration with a CRM system enables you to capture data for ROI calculations.

Moreover, the system can be integrated with voice-based marketing automation tools, triggering a rapid, voice-based response from the sales team—a critical component in ensuring timely lead response.

4. Tracking URLs

A tracking URL is essentially just a URL with a "tracking token" attached to it, enabling the brand to monitor the effectiveness of a specific page (e.g. a social media ad-based landing page). Using HubSpot's URL builder or other simple tools, you can achieve visibility into the ROI of specific social media ads. Tracking URLs can be easily integrated into any standard analytics platforms.

5. Content downloads

Tracking e-book and whitepaper downloads—and other online content typically shared across social media—can also be effective in calculating the ROI of specific social media ads. Since downloads typically require the user to register or complete a Web-based form, user information is funneled into the company's CRM, triggering sales-function mechanisms, including voice-based marketing automation tools.

* * *

Although the general absence of social media ROI metrics may be partially due to the lack of a clear social media strategy or a hesitation to identify social channel goals, many SMBs have ignored the ROI of social media ads simply because they haven't had the right tools in their toolbox.

But by combining offline and online strategies, you can achieve greater clarity in the social space, generating insights that can be used to justify social channel expenditures—and maximize the impact of your brand's marketing initiatives.

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image of Irv Shapiro

Irv Shapiro is CEO and CTO at DialogTech, a voice-based marketing automation company. He is responsible for overall business strategy and corporate leadership.