ROI social mediaThere's no doubt that social media is a valuable tool for marketing your business. By using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other sites to disseminate your message to the outside world, you can create more awareness of your brand and ultimately draw in more customers.

That last part can be a little tricky, though. It's difficult for small business owners to determine how much bang they're truly getting for their social media buck. Putting content out there that generates likes, retweets and other referrals is one thing, but generating actual revenue is another thing altogether. How much of your social media traffic is bringing about real return on investment (ROI)? And if the answer is "not much," then what can be done about this problem?

Social media strategist Jay Palter recently wrote about the social media ROI quandary for The Globe and Mail. Palter says that most people who overemphasize small gestures like Facebook likes are ultimately likely to be underwhelmed by their meager effect on their bottom lines.

"Before you conclude that you may be wasting your time for the measly return, let me ask you an important question: What did you invest in social media?" he writes. "If you're investing time and resources in social media mostly to promote yourself, drive traffic to your website and convert leads to new business, you're likely going to be disappointed."

Getting more results from social media can be difficult. Here are a few tips that may help.

Focus less on getting, more on giving.
Palter recommends putting a greater emphasis on giving social media feedback to others. Rather than sitting at your desk obsessively counting the likes on your posts, try focusing more on the praise that you give to others. Make a point of liking and retweeting people's posts, plus endorsing your colleagues on LinkedIn. This will help you earn the respect of others in your field, positioning you as a thought leader. Perhaps when it comes time for consumers to spend their money, your contacts will begin recommending you.

Be a human, not a corporation.
Obviously, your ultimate goal is to win more customers and make more money. But you're unlikely to make personal connections with consumers by speaking to them in an impersonal, corporate tone. Instead, you should remind people that you're human, with an authentic voice that's separate from your corporation.

This may require a dramatic shift in your tone from company-speak to genuine interpersonal dialogue. Mashable refers to this shift as "code-switching" - the act of changing languages mid-conversation. Writer David Demby says this happens all the time in our business interactions.

"Many of us subtly, reflexively change the way we express ourselves, hopscotching between different cultural and linguistic spaces and different parts of our own identities, sometimes within a single interaction," Demby writes.

Changing your tone might help you forge better friendships using social media, which may ultimately win more business.

Consistently pay attention.
Those who get the best results out of social media use are the ones who make a real effort to pay constant attention. Whether it's Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or anywhere else, check your pages as often as possible, and invest serious time and mental energy into connecting with important colleagues. If you want your social media presence to generate more attention and respect from your peers, you shouldn't take weeks off. To build a reputation as a true thought leader, you should be someone who's always there to offer valuable insights.

Use lists and share content.
Every social media site has ways of classifying users into more specific groups. Facebook and LinkedIn have groups, Twitter has lists and Google has circles. All of the above are essential tools for reaching the right people with the right message. You want to share media content that's relevant to your field, but by over-sharing it with people who aren't interested, you risk losing their interest by making them think you're spamming them. You can earn respect by tailoring content - be it articles, videos, podcasts, whatever else - to the people who need it most.

Be thoughtful and engaging.
Anyone can put a high volume of posts out there, but no one is impressed by sheer quantity. It's quality that's more important. Simply clicking "like" or "retweet" or posting "Great work!" is one thing, but having something insightful to say is more important. Take a minute to devise a thoughtful comment that proves you care and sparks a healthy back-and-forth dialogue. If you can initiate conversation with others in your field through social media, it may ultimately lead to you closing a deal.

By putting more effort into social media, anyone can leverage social media use into better ROI. How have you benefited from networking online?

(image: ROI from social media / shutterstock)