In the online marketing world, things change very quickly. Yet social media has been around long enough now  it’s no longer considered an interesting novelty for many businesses. It’s valuable, effective, and here to stay.

Even as some businesses are still in the on-ramp stages of social media adoption, others are heading into the fast lane. These businesses have been using social media in earnest but they’re at the stage where simple participation is not enough. Their social media learning curves have largely been overcome and now it’s time for them to take control of the reigns and really produce some results.

In order to do this effectively for your business, you have to drill down into your activities and see where you’ve been getting the most bang for your buck. You need to determine what combination of tools, platforms and metrics are the best indicators of success when it comes to a return on your social media investment. Your efforts can pay great dividends, as long as you continue to measure and fine-tune what methods are producing the best results. If you conduct your social media marketing activities with results in mind, you’ll outdistance yourself from the competition and reap the rewards that social media has portended.

Where Should You Prioritize Your Efforts?

With so many social media platforms available, how do you decide which ones to target? How do you determine how much time you should be spending on each? The number of members on any given platform is usually a good indicator of where you should be focusing your attention. With approximately 800 million people on Facebook, and 100 million members each on LinkedIn and Twitter, it’s a safe bet that at least some of your customers and prospects are spending time on these applications.

But don’t let the total number of members be your only guide. For example, depending on which website you refer to, some people peg Google+ at 100 million members right now — but how many of those members are actively engaging on the site? According to ComScore, Google+ members spend only an average of three minutes per month on the site (as opposed to seven hours a month for the average Facebook member). Still, even though engagement on Google+ may be low, Google’s inclusion of Google+ data into organic search results means that you may not be in a position to ignore Google+, especially if your business relies heavily on search engine placement for lead generation and sales.

Pinterest is another social media platform that’s rising exponentially in popularity. In fact, some reports say that it’s driving more referral traffic to websites than even social media behemoths like Facebook and Twitter. In other words, even though one set of metrics (like membership numbers) may paint one picture, if you want to achieve a specific result (like website traffic referral), sometimes you need to look beyond the obvious social media platforms and pay attention to the up-and-coming sites as well.

What Should You Measure?

Social media, when it’s done right, is the antithesis of broadcast advertising — it’s a conversation with your customers, not a monologue. So, it makes sense that one of the most important metrics you should be measuring in your social media efforts is engagement.

This term, and its measurement, need not be ambiguous or ethereal. For example, you can use social media measurement tools to track how many clicks a link receives across all of your social media platforms. This metric gives you a strong indication whether or not your content is resonating with your target audience.

You can also measure other tangible engagement metrics like how many times your update was retweeted on Twitter or shared on Facebook. If your content is being shared, then it’s that much easier to engage with your followers who are doing the sharing (and with their followers too). Facebook has its own powerful engagement measurement tool — Facebook Insights. With a lot of its metrics also publicly available, your engagement numbers are no longer just between you and your dashboard!

Since measuring clicks, Likes, shares and comments has become so transparent and freely available, applications like Klout have taken things one step further by measuring your online influence. In this context, influence is loosely defined as your ability to drive actions from your audience. The rationale for measuring one’s influence assumes that if you can influence your audience enough to perform some action, then it’s likely you can drive the ultimate action that matters most to business — sales!

How Do You Measure Success?

If your target audience is making the effort to click your links, share and comment on your content, not only are they endorsing what you have to say, they’re also engaging with their own social media communities — using your content as the currency. In the world of social media marketing, your credibility and your reputation often grows in tandem with the number of people who are organically exposed to your brand.

Search engines like Google and Bing factor these variables into their search algorithms to serve up the best results to people searching for keywords related to your brand. If people are sharing your content and interacting with you in a measurable way on your social media outposts, it’s possible that you will appear higher in search engine results pages (SERPs) than competitors who are less engaging.

Social media advertising platforms like Facebook Ads, Twitter Promoted Tweets and so on are easily configurable to measure where and from whom an ad was clicked. Web analytics platforms such as Google Analytics can measure how many times a link or an ad referred traffic to your sales page, your homepage, your blog, or just about any online destination you’d care to track.

At the end of the day, as a business person, you are ultimately interested in results. Depending on the scope of your marketing campaign, success can be measured by an increase in the number of people you’re engaged with, an increase in the total number of people who are exposed to your brand or an increase in the number of widgets you sell in response to your social media activities.

Never before in the history of marketing have you been able to directly measure so many variables and at the same time have access to a comprehensive set of measurement tools to make sense of the data. If up to now you’ve just been participating in social media, get ahead of the curve and your competition, ramp-up your investment and start measuring the results of your social media efforts.

[Sources:, Image credits: The U.S. Army, menlopics, Sprout Social]