This article was originally published at The Social Penguin Blog, one of our partners. It discusses Sprout Social, our social media management software.

Businesses, marketing professionals, and even individuals with personal Twitter accounts often obsess over getting more Twitter followers. They might believe that the number of followers a Twitter account has determines its ultimate value, but that’s only one part of the story. All those followers are of little value if you can’t influence them or meaningfully engage with them.

So yes, your reach is important, but ultimately engagement is the main metric you should track. How often your followers respond or reach out to you — and how often you do to them — determines the success of your social media marketing strategy.

Fortunately, there are tools that help you do this, such as Sprout Social, a web application that lets you manage all of your social media accounts, publish updates to them, and receive reports on how you’re doing.

What Is Engagement?

When people talk about social media engagement, they’re usually talking about how much you interact directly with customers or other contacts through messages, and how much they interact directly with you.

For example, you’re doing a good job engaging on Facebook if you are receiving comments from people who’ve Liked your Page, and you’re responding promptly and helpfully to those comments.

Building relationships with people, answering their questions, and challenging them with great content holds up your end of the engagement bargain. You’ll want to track how effectively and frequently you’re doing all of these things, but you’ll also want to track how and when people are responding to your updates and attempts at engagement.

If you can identify what works and what doesn’t, you can improve your methods and get better results.

Using Social Media Management Tools to Track Engagement

Since Twitter doesn’t give you any raw data to track that represents your engagement level, it can be difficult to track your progress and success. Fortunately, there are tools that do that — and much more — for you.

Ours is called Sprout Social, and it’s essentially a social media identity manager and publishing platform. You can use it to log in to your Twitter account or your Facebook page to publish updates, respond to followers, and generate reports that track your engagement and other important metrics and trends.

Though you can use it to publish updates and see updates from people you’re following on Twitter like many other web applications, Sprout Social has a dashboard that shows you two figures — your engagement and your influence. The first is everything we’ve been discussing, while the latter represents the number of people you can influence through the social media channels you’ve connected to the application.

The more detailed reports include more detailed data like what percentage of your posts are promotional and what percentage are conversational (you want a good balance), publication rates, and follower demographics. Facebook reports allow you to see which content is performing well in terms of comments and impressions, and Google Analytics is supported as well.

The Secret: Nothing’s Changed With Social Media

Many of the same principles that customer service representatives and salespeople learn when interacting with customers or clients on the phone or in person also apply to online media — most notably, that it’s all about building and maintaining relationships. Just converse with people on Twitter and Facebook and you’ll have the basics of engagement down.

As with all things, the technology has changed, but people have essentially stayed the same. Build those relationships and track those metrics just like you would any others in the offline world, and you’ll succeed in your attempts to build an audience. More engagement leads to more followers, not the other way around.

[Original publication: The Social Penguin Blog, Image credit: Sreejith K]