There is an ongoing conversation within the Social Media industry that is recently becoming a global consensus; the number of fans/likes on Facebook or the number of followers on Twitter do not provide enough metric data for brands to prove that their information is doing it justice. Instead, it's the number of connections and engagements that are truly needed. 

The beautiful thing about Social Media is that it has the ability to engage customers and stakeholders, facilitate stream-lined interactions and potentially lead to increased sales. The only problem is that with the platforms that exist right now there is a major gap between consumption and creation.

Brands seem to think that if a user ‘likes" their page or ‘follows them, they are able to get sufficient user information that will help them meet customer interest. But the fact is that this information is incredibly limited. Users are not sharing what part of the brand they like and, or do not like. Even when a user is part of a group on a site like Facebook, they are limited to writing a comment on the brands' wall. Maybe they'll take part in a sweepstake, but that seems to be the extent of the interaction. Nothing more, nothing less.

Consider the media landscape in social media. CNN has nearly 4.5mm followers on Twitter, which is only about 1.8% of their regular viewers. On Facebook, people share nearly 30 billion pieces of content per month. This includes third party links from media outlets and blogs, company research, and photos and videos, etc. Now consider the corporate industry; Nike has 105,605 followers on Twitter, Research in Motion has 461,481 followers.

These numbers seem staggering at first glance, until you consider that RIM makes over 100,000 phones everyday. Their Twitter followers are only around 2% of total customers. Nike's Twitter followers also represent less than has 1% of their customer.

Social media is incredibly valuable and the current mainstream sites have done an amazing job moving the Internet in the right direction. But now it's time to look at the big picture. And that is true brand engagement. It is not a bad thing to only have about 1% of your consumers in direct contact with you. In fact those people may be the top 1% you are looking to engage. The issue lies in what marketers are looking for the "ROI".

The problem is that we are not currently able to quantify ROI of social media. Social media builds relationships through engagement that can lead to sales and advocates. eMarketer has found that more than 85% of consumers make brand decisions based upon social media influences. It is difficult to quantify these relationships and they monetize more slowly than normal transactions, but they are still very valuable, perhaps even more valuable than anything we have had in marketing to date. So, if someone does not want to fund social media because they cannot get a hard fix on ROI or user demographics, well, they had better catch up with modern consumer engagement or fall hopelessly behind. Brands can continue to create campaigns and network on Facebook to build an audience which, overtime will create useful content (hopefully). And after that content is created, companies can then find appropriate ways to provide insight to their stakeholders. It is a lengthy process, but one that saves money in the long run.

Engagement is key in today's market. It's not necessarily based around a strict demographic that older models once were. It's about finding channels and connections with those passionate enough to debate a topic or product. The sooner marketers drop the old-school mentality the better off they will be. It's a rich field of passionate people out there. Stop treating them as if you're better than they are and start engaging with them on their level and on their terms.