I read with interest a Social Media Today post that discussed the merits of social media ROI but instead of Return on Investment the article discussed Return on Influence.  I have been working in the digital marketing industry for over nine years and can appreciate that social media managers need to evaluate what impact engagement on these channels is having on their wider marketing efforts, but I fear settling purely for influence will be to the peril of budgets, particularly as we work through a particularly difficult and elongated recession.

As we have all witnessed the explosive growth of social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and now Google+, the pressure on brands and businesses to have a social media presence has been phenomenal.  With the inclusion of social media strategies in integrated PR and marketing campaigns, brands, particularly consumer brands, have heavily invested in building up armies of fans and followers and feeding them deals, news or exclusive content.  And yes, for many brands it is working very well – social media has not only provided a platform for free content to be shared but it has also elevated news to the media and key influencers.

But again, although influence and engagement is vitally important and of course we don’t want to build up large numbers of fans and followers and then push them away with uninteresting news and irregular posts, what we really want to know is ‘will this post lead to a sale?’

Take also into account the time and effort and additional resource which goes into having a dedicated social media manager or agency and the extra costs really do mount up.  So what’s the answer?  Well there are a number of innovative social media tracking technologies currently on the market which do just that.  Not only can they track the referral tree of a social media campaign back to a sales conversion, but can give marketing managers real time reporting. This can enable close monitoring of successes or failures with campaigns in real time, allowing changes to be made at short notice if a certain angle or updates aren’t working. It also helps the opposite; if successes are being shown marketing managers are able to react quickly and optimise campaigns and leverage more ROI.

Armed with these statistics and the influential appeal of a campaign you then have a rounded view of the positive impact social media is having on your wider marketing efforts and then budgets can be increased, remain consistent or cut accordingly.