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What is Social Networking Really Worth?

Mark Bean, the managing director of C7, and Josh Hilliker, the director of social media at Intel-GE Care Innovations, sat on a panel moderated by 3Fold’s Gordon Fowler to discuss whether or not social media’s return on investment (ROI) is measurable. Turns out, it is.

As was revealed over the course of their discussion, there’s a plethora of tools out there for everyone to track just how effective their social media presence is. There are a lot of dated measurements (i.e. number of clicks or time on site), but they don’t quite carry over into social networking very well. Some of the newer tools include Hootsuite and Tweetdeck for the smaller businesses, or Radian 6 and Crimson Hexagon for the bigger brands and enterprises, and everybody who’s anybody uses Google Analytics. Regardless of whether your business is big or small, the fact of the matter is that different people will want to track different metrics based on what their overall goals are.

For example, let’s say you wanted to see if your social media presence was getting you more sales. You would have to track the amount of money and/or time you’re investing in your online networking, and simultaneously track the amount of sales your accruing, then compare the numbers to see if there is an increase in sales or not. If the increase in sales is unsubstantial or nonexistent, then maybe social media isn’t the right marketing tool for you!

If you find yourself in a lost-cause situation, the whole panel agreed that you should own up to your mistakes. Be open, transparent, and completely honest with the people who actually did invest time and effort in your endeavors. If you do that, you have the potential to mend what damage you’ve done, and maybe even come out on top.

But how do you measure whether or not you’ve come out on top? It’s true that not all of the benefits social media offers can be directly linked to financial gain. A lot of the benefits lie in the idea that you’re building a brand while simultaneously building a strong relationship with your customers. The goal in many cases is not necessarily higher sales, but greater interaction between you and your fans. Hilliker explained the 90:9:1 rule: 90% of your followers are just lurking about, 9% will pop in and contribute every now and again, and 1% are super-evangelist-advocates for your cause. Success can be found by moving some lurkers into that top 10%, and getting real conversations going.

Conversations are fantastic for helping out your brand, but at the end of the day marketing is about whether or not a dollar changed hands, says Fowler. Let’s face it; social media is not the end-all-be-all of marketing techniques. It certainly can play an integral role in connecting with your fans and broadening your base, but it should be part of a larger strategy. Just because social media offers a lot of promise doesn’t mean you should completely abandon the pursuit of more traditional techniques; there are probably some pretty good reasons why such successful brands still use them. But as Bean points out, "Twitter is like the new dial tone" – you’re expected to be there.

Click here to watch the whole Sacramento Social Media Club panel discussion.

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