This is a guest post from David Murton, a professional writer and blogger.

The old days of marketing were pretty simple: the business put up a billboard and tracked the increase in foot traffic and the upswing in sales. Modern day entrepreneurs have to be a lot more finicky. Billboards are no longer the end-all-be-all in advertising. Instead, the savvy business owner knows that clients and customers are reachable inside their homes, when in front of the computer – or when out and about.

Thanks to wireless internet access that is found virtually anywhere, social media participants have a chance to play around on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn as well as on other platforms. It is there that the business and the consumer must connect time and again. Fail to get your social media marketing strategy right, and it might mean curtains for the business – or at least a lot of missed revenue opportunities.

Of course, before you can rest well at night – knowing that your business is doing all it can to woo and wow the social network participant – you must have defined workable metrics.

Define Success

You built a brand profile Facebook page for your widget three weeks ago. Last week, you sold 10 more widgets than you did the week before. Is this due to your Facebook presence? Had you tweaked the product page to be more interactive, could you have sold 20 widgets instead? In fact, have you charted a course of success that measures real-time performance against hoped-for success?

It is easy to focus on the number of fans your Facebook page has managed to garner, but Forrester’s marketing analyst Nate Elliott begs to differ. In fact, he asserts that if your main focus is on the quantity of fans, you are taking the absolutely wrong approach. There is some truth to his statement; after all, how many Facebook pages have you “liked,” which you haven’t visited in six months or longer? What good does your vote of “like” do the business, when it does not succeed in bringing its inventory before your eyes on a consistent basis?

Social media marketing insiders agree that there is not one metric that defines success; instead, it is an evaluation of several metrics that makes it possible to chart the effectiveness of an ad campaign on a variety of social networks.

Building Blocks of Achievement or Failure

Analysts agree that the number of fans, the amount of unique daily visitors to a page and also the number and nature of visitor comments yield a wealth of information for the social media marketer. Above and beyond this information, the savvy business owner recognizes that email sign-ups, product sample requests and also forwarded messages — from signed-up users to their circle of friends — really measure the impact a social media marketing campaign.

Likening it to the success or failure of a blog, seasoned marketing expert Hendry Lee advises that there is more to making money than merely producing a brand page, promoting the widget and raking in cash. Instead, he cautions bloggers – and, by extension, social media marketers – to give a thought to content promotion. Contrast content promotion from product advertising! The metric that allows the media marketer to gauge content promotion is the number of times that a post is blogged, shared on other platforms or re-posted on other users’ Facebook walls.

The expert refers to this as “value per visitor,” and the demarcation is right on the money. After all, there is some value to a casual visitor who jumps onto the Facebook product site and likes it; in contrast, there is a much larger value to one who engages with the posts and comments there. The most value that the marketer receives, of course, comes from the visitor who likes, interacts with and then shares a post on her or his personal wall.

This interaction has the power to net the business owner new eyes in the form of the visitor’s circle of Facebook friends. On LinkedIn, this connection automatically places the business in front of several eyes that may check out the page just because a connection has suggested it.

Metric Measurement Tools

Alright, so you now know that in addition to tracking the amount of fans, friends, visitors and views, it is just as crucial to measure the quality of these contacts. Are they brief? Do they result in action on the part of the consumer? Are they one-sided? Or – worse case scenario – do visitors come and go without any type of connection at all? Measurement tools come in handy to help the entrepreneur assess the success or failure of a social media marketing campaign in the short and long term.

The Social Media Examiner points out that Facebook’s “Daily Story” is a powerful tool that goes beyond the friend count. Twitter Klout Scores measure re-tweets and link clicks. PostRank Analytics provide measurements that let the entrepreneur make smart decisions on the types of social media interactions. For example, are blog-style posts more effective than brief Twitter shout-outs with embedded links? Do photos and polls generate more buzz than calls to action?

Certainly, one of the most important kinds of measurement is the inbound link counter. Learn who considers your content to be so valuable that it goes up – with back link – on a blog, within a professional article or even just in passing mention. The business owner who has an eye on the Google rankings of the business’ main website cannot do without this type of tracking tool.

Evaluating the Data

You have used the metric tools, collected the information and seen the data. Now what? Making good use of these print-outs is more involved than just tracking week to week progress. In fact, there are some social media marketing metrics you should pay attention to daily, while others are more of a once-a-month sign post.

For example, the number of fans is a monthly metric that should be going steadily up, but it does not warrant daily fretting. On the flip-side, the metric that evaluates the daily inter-connectivity of fans and friends is a very important measurement that should not show an array of dips. If it does, you are missing opportunities. Remember also – as explained by Robin Good of Master New Media – that social media is not static but constantly evolving; what worked last week may not be yielding similar results tomorrow.

Radian 6 urges the entrepreneur to look at the content of interactions to find out whether visitors believe you possess or fill “knowledge gaps.” If the former is the case, the content needs a serious adjustment; if the latter is more often the consensus, you are doing well in your social media endeavors.

This is a guest post by David Murton. David Murton has been helping companies build and maintain their online relationships with customers since 2006. He is also a professional writer and blogger, with a particular interest in the open source Drupal platform. On a more personal note, David is an avid piano and accordion player, drawn especially to music of the classical and romantic periods.

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