measuring_successThe question of return on investment (ROI) naturally comes up anytime someone is suggesting you invest time and resources into a new marketing strategy or tactic.

So why should it be any different for social networking?

Well, there are a few reasons.

For one, social networking is not a mere marketing strategy and to see it as such is to misunderstand it – and it’s ultimate value as an investment.

Social networking is a means for communicating with people and extending relationships, the returns of which are rich and varied, including enhancement of reputation and trust, growth in audience and referrals, retention and engagement with existing clients, and of course, increased sales and new business.

Thus, when setting out to invest time and resources in social networking, it makes sense to have a set of relevant criteria that you intend to use to measure your “return” – not just how much new business did I generate.

Here are some suggestions for defining and measuring ROI from your investment of time and energy in social networking:

1. Focus on people that matter to your business

Make a list of clients and prospects you want to be on the radar with. Be specific and name names. Focus on valuable clients that are in your A group or friends of those A clients that you want to bring into your sphere of influence. If you’re not connected with them already, make sure you connect on LinkedIn or follow them on Twitter.

Don’t make excuses by telling yourself most of your top clients aren’t active online. Even if 20% of your top clients are active online and you’re not paying attention to them – someone else probably is.

There’s lots of ROI associated with taking actions to add value and keep you top of mind with your clients that are spending time online. Look for ways to measure retention of existing clients and introductions to prospective new clients as part of your ROI.

2. Develop new COIs

Centres of influence (COIs) are a key part of any successful advisor’s networking mix because they act as catalysts, introducing you to relationships and opportunities of great value to your business.

Nurture online relationships with your COIs the same way you focus on clients and prospects. Make sure you are connected to your COIs on LinkedIn and other social networks and pay attention to them. Each of your COIs has a valuable network within which there may be other valuable COIs.

When measuring your return, ask yourself how many new COIs you connected with and began nurturing as a result of social networking.

3. Track engagement and reach

Social networking is a long-term play. You’re building an audience, not merely a lead funnel. It’s a different way of thinking.

A lead funnel approach has you focusing on the most qualified leads and ignoring the rest. With an audience approach, you want to grow the size and reach of your audience because within that group are some highly qualified leads, some poorly qualified leads and some people who might never be leads – but they may be a referral source to a valuable lead.

Think like a media company when measuring ROI. Look for growth in your audience (more followers), your reach (more influential followers) and the engagement level with your content (more clicks, shares, replies, comments, etc.).