For most business professionals using social media, a complete understanding of how these networks operate and how they create results is confusing. Because of common misconceptions about social media, many people labor under the impression that “going viral” is the only way to create measurable results that will creative enough buzz to matter. The truth that big data tells us is that using a variety of analytics about who is visiting a company Facebook page, Twitter account, or YouTube channel offers up enough detail to make thoughtful decisions that can be every bit as impactful.

The good news is that the same kinds of big data analysis can also reveal a lot about websites too—a company’s website traffic broken down by various reporting mechanisms reveals who is coming to the site, where they are coming from, and how long they stay on the site. In addition, analytics tools with user-friendly dashboards offer up real time traffic, bounce rates, and perhaps most importantly, how many of those visits result in a conversion.

But what does it all mean? Looking at a dashboard like Google Analytics or Topsy for the first time can be intimidating. It’s hard to imagine that all the raw data given here can amount to any real change in online strategy. But once a business owner makes a decision to learn how to use these powerful tools or hire someone who does, it’s a benchmark moment for marketing strategy, brand identity, and much more.

Take the Facebook administrator panel for example. This free tool provides information about the age and gender of those who have “liked” the page, shows how many fans you’ve gained over a given period, and much more. All the raw data about visitors in this panel (and others like it) can even be downloaded as PDFs, making it easy to pass the information along to those who are not administrators of the page. This means that the big data from a company’s social platform dashboard can be disseminated to staff and board members and used to make decisions in marketing meetings—these analytics tell the story of who is listening to your message. But maybe more importantly, the data revealed by these tools also reveal who isn’t interested and who’s not responding to what you’re doing online.

To turn the premise that viral is the only proven method for results on its head, consider that nearly 80 percent of those who have liked or followed your online presence are there because you already reached them some other way. If that sounds disheartening, consider this: when you post something on Facebook or Twitter, it’s not just seen by the people who have liked your page—it will also be seen by their friends and family when they like and comment on your posts. With this tremendous leverage you begin to dip into an exponential audience that will very likely fall into the demographic you’re trying so hard to woo with banner ads, pay per clicks, or promoted posts. As these new fans come into the fold, you’ll be able to see exactly who they are and everything about how their online identity can help to shape future marketing tactics and ways of doing business.

Going viral isn’t a bad thing, but it’s also not a common thing. Understanding the raw data given to us by analytics tools for social platforms and websites can mean the difference between crafting a well thought out sales strategy and essentially guessing. Any business that has an online identity in 2013 and beyond will have to consider the role these statistics will play rather than wait around for the highly improbable chance that something they do on YouTube or Facebook will go viral.

Now that Facebook is rapidly encroaching on the traffic of Google, chances are, those looking for what you sell will see you before you see them. But as Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics tells us, social media means information about your brand finds an audience. Unlike years past, it’s no longer as necessary to hunt down consumers who want what you have. Appealing to them with a signature social media voice using what big data and analytics tell you about them creates long lasting results and loyal customers.