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A guest post by Nichole Kelly of Full Frontal ROI.

Measuring social media isn't all that different from measuring your other marketing activities, but many of us are still looking for a silver bullet metric that will finally prove it is working.

This post will show you why it doesn't have to be that complicated, how you can leverage the information you can get today, and how you can compare it to numbers that already have established baselines for success.

According to the 2011 Social Media Marketing Industry Report from Social Media Examiner, 90% of marketers indicate that social media is important for their business. However, the No. 1 question marketers have is:  How do I measure the effect of social media marketing on my business?

Measuring social media has become a debated topic because an industry standard hasn’t been widely accepted. It is challenging to get beyond these new social media metrics like the volume of “@replies” or “likes” and translate it to the value those actions have for business. But here’s the big secret: The industry standard for measuring social media DOES exist; you’ve just been looking in the wrong place.

Tip 1: Align Social Media Metrics with Standard Marketing Metrics

Social media isn’t a shiny new thing that needs to be measured in a “special” way. Trying to create special metrics for social media makes it far too complicated for “non-social media folks” to understand. If you want to get to the core of where social media is delivering value, translate its impact on sales (units), revenue, and costs to the organization. If you can’t measure social media’s impact on sales and revenue yet, you definitely can measure its impact on cost. Start there and build your way into the revenue model. This is a sure-fire way to get even the most skeptical executive on the social media bandwagon.

Tip 2: Leverage “Known” Metrics from Other Marketing Channels

Don’t waste your time trying to explain what the value of a Facebook fan is to your management team. Instead consolidate social media metrics into “buckets” of known metrics from other marketing channels like public relations, online advertising and search engine optimization (SEO). Try grouping social media metrics to show cost per impression, cost per click, cost per visitor, cost per lead, cost per call, and cost per inbound link across all social media channels or from an individual channel. These metrics have a history in your company and a baseline of “acceptable” returns that have been established. Once you calculate the numbers, you will quickly know if social media is outperforming another channel or providing a much needed assist to another platform.

Tip 3: Don’t Isolate Social Media Metrics

Social media is still new for many organizations and if you try to show social media metrics by themselves sometimes they don’t look all that impressive alone. However, if you show them side by side with your public relations, online advertising and SEO results you can quickly show where they are helping these other channels.

In a case study I did with Whistler Blackcomb, we were able to show that social media provided a 128% lift in total impressions generated from public relations with less than 1% of the total marketing budget. Total cost per impression decreased by 28%, cost per engagement decreased by 82%, and cost per site visit decreased by 86%. This cross-functional analysis showed that social media was providing the largest impact on the success of the team’s public relations efforts with a miniscule investment when compared to other marketing activities.

Tip 4: Don’t Be Scared to Show Negative Results

The first time you measure social media ROI, it will be negative. Unfortunately, it is the nature of the beast. You can’t improve what you don’t measure, so if you haven’t been watching ROI, you probably haven’t been taking steps to improve it. However, once you start measuring, you will be able to test different strategies to see which ones deliver the best impact. Showing negative results is the first step to showing dramatic positive increases, so don’t shy away from measuring because you are scared of what the results will show.

Tip 5: Cut Bait When You Need To

You are super smart, but unfortunately every strategy you have implemented will not work. Don’t continue with social media tactics that aren’t showing the ability to deliver on the intended goal. Many times we get into this trap of needing to prove that “my” idea will work, and we invest time and resources into underperforming strategies in an effort to satisfy our ego. You need to give strategies enough time to show success, but when they aren’t delivering be quick to move on to something else. As with any marketing initiative, social media is a game of trial and error. You won’t know what works if you don’t keep trying new ideas.

The key to showing where social media is delivering value is to use tried and true metrics that have historical relevance in the company. Unfortunately, it takes too much time to bring management teams up to speed on the new lingo of social media, and your efforts are better spent finding strategies that work. Cut to the chase and provide metrics that matter to the bottom-line. Your career will thank you for it.

Nichole Kelly is the CEO of Full Frontal ROI Consulting, the social media firm that understands your bottom line. She also publishes the measurement blog,

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