If you follow these tips, you can see a return on your social media investment.

A debate rages throughout business-to-business companies across all industries. Can social media actually deliver true marketing value? In fact, one of the top reasons CEOs give for not wanting to invest or participate in social media programs is that they have no proof it returns value.

Certainly, plenty of companies have burned money on social media, investing scads of resources without having anything to show for it. But does that mean social media doesn’t work or does it mean those companies have not approached it correctly? In today’s market, social media is repeatedly returning value that can easily be measured and tied to business metrics. It’s all in how you handle it.

If you’ve been struggling to convince yourself or executive management that social media efforts do, in fact, contribute directly to business results, read on.

5 Ways to See and Measure Social Media Marketing Value

Social media as a business tool can help you meet organizational objectives in any number of ways, but this article is focused on marketing value. From this perspective, social media can deliver solid value in areas such as brand awareness, prospecting, lead generation and lead nurturing.

To test the effectiveness of a social media program with our clients, we generally track the following:

1. Size of Relevant Networks

On social media, the size of your network is an indication of how many people will potentially see your messages. On LinkedIn — still the primary social network for B2B marketers — network size is indicated by the number of connections and followers. By tracking the size of these networks, you can see if your efforts are resulting in increased exposure, which leads to expanded brand awareness. This same measurement can be used with Twitter and other social networks.

2. Additions to your prospect database

This metric refers primarily to LinkedIn, which incorporates a huge database that can be used to identify prospective buyers and to learn an amazing amount about them. Its search engine is surprisingly robust and allows the use of complex Boolean search methods to filter and sort in a combination of ways.

Because LinkedIn members own their profiles and because many use this network to seek new job opportunities, the database tends to be very up-to-date and offers insight into what is most important to the profile owner. This data becomes especially useful in the now-hot area of account-based marketing.

3. Traffic to a website or landing page

In many ways, social media is just another communication channel and as such it is often used to drive qualified prospects to a website or landing page. You can measure this traffic just like you measure visitors from an email or pay-per-click advertising campaign — by keeping an eye on your website analytics.

4. Conversion rates on social media traffic

But traffic alone isn’t enough. If you’re going to get to the value of the traffic, you must also track conversion rates. Without considering conversion percentages when evaluating your program, you could easily draw an inaccurate conclusion.

You can begin to measure the quality of the traffic you’re sending from social media by looking at how many (or what percentage) take action. The action may be subscribing to your blog or newsletter, downloading your white paper or ebook, registering for your webinar, watching a demo or whatever action you want them to take. Again, track this with your website analytics application.

5. Sales contact opportunities

No complex B2B sale is going to be closed on social media; and the ultimate goal is to move the conversation into the offline world of phone calls and in-person meetings. To determine what value is being delivered in this area, you can track the contact and meeting requests your efforts generate. When tele-prospecting is involved, compare appointment-setting success rates with social media-engaged prospects versus those who are not engaged on LinkedIn. You’ll likely find inside sales and telemarketing success rates are substantially higher when a social media connection is made first.

4 Best Practices to Ensure Social Media Repeatedly Produces Value

One of the reasons the earliest social media programs didn’t return a slew of results is that these trail blazers were essentially dabbling. They didn’t know what to expect and had no best practices to fall back on. Today that’s no longer the case. Here are four recommendations for giving your social media program its best chance for success.

1. Get specific

Like any other successful B2B marketing program your social media efforts need to be highly focused. Begin by setting measurable objectives. These might include:

  • Drive X visitors to your blog or landing page
  • Engage Y qualified prospects
  • Establish a connection with Z influencers

If you aren’t sure what the exact target numbers should be, just make an educated guess. You can always change it later.

Next, be specific about who you want to reach on social media. Take LinkedIn for example. There are 450-plus million people on LinkedIn today. You don’t care about most of them. What you do care about are the people you need to engage to meet your objectives. What are their titles? What kinds of companies do they work for? Where do they hang out on LinkedIn?

2. Go for two-way interaction

This is especially important on LinkedIn. One of the most common mistakes B2B marketers make is to treat LinkedIn like a platform for blasting out messaging. You’re guilty of this if your idea of LinkedIn participation is to regularly — and automatically — post your blog articles in groups, on your company page and in status updates. You’re treating LinkedIn like a news release distribution service, and that’s not what it’s for.

To drive value from your LinkedIn efforts, you must engage and interact with people as people, one-on-one. This starts by reaching out individually to connect with people who are relevant to your objectives. You can also do this by joining groups, participating in ongoing discussions and starting discussions of your own.

3. Follow up

Most people on social media (75 to 80 percent or more) won’t be ready to do business the moment they meet you. And, just like in the offline world, they’ll forget you if you don’t stay in touch. This holds true for prospects as well as customers and partners.

In some industries, active participation in groups can help keep you top of mind with other active group members. Respond to questions and comments quickly and add value where you can.

You can follow up individually via LinkedIn message with your most promising prospects and nurture them until they’re ready for an off-LinkedIn conversation. Sometimes this happens quickly; sometimes it never pans out. It depends on your prospect’s stage in the buying process. One thing’s for sure: if you connect and disappear they won’t be thinking of you when it’s time to buy.

4. Pay attention

Social media is not a set-and-forget marketing program, and to achieve high value objectives you need to actively monitor the scene. Take discussions on LinkedIn for example. All too often marketers post a discussion — or company or status update — and call it done. This is not engaging. It’s important to monitor the discussion (or update) and respond to any legitimate comments that are made.

Plan and Execute

Social media networks can and do provide marketing value to business-to-business firms in most industries — if you approach it correctly. Like any other marketing program, social media requires planning in the form of setting objectives, determining target audiences, devising your approach and implementing with consistency. Do it right and you’ll find your resource investment is a good one.

Article courtesy of Business.com.