For all the attention it has received from marketers in recent years, social media still presents something of a challenge to those who are actively working in these channels. Part of this is likely due to the disconnect between how companies use social media and the expectations they have of it - a key point delivered by content strategist Tony Saucier during a recent workshop at The Lynhall in Minneapolis on discerning social media return on investment (ROI). Presented by social enablement platform Spredfast, the workshop focused on clear-cut ideas for connecting social media content to business goals.

In the simplest terms, good social content makes users smarter, faster, or happier, Saucier explained, and in order to determine whether content could contribute to ROI, he suggested this three-step approach:

  • Get Out of Your Lane. Look outside of social media for places that customer or prospects interact with the brand. Does your company have a particularly effective email newsletter or is there a conversation the sales team attributes to driving conversions? Once you have that customer insight, bring it back to social and see what you can make.
  • Build Your Own Sandbox. Multi-channel campaigns can make it tough to discern what’s working, so where possible, create your own “sandbox” to capture user activity. For instance, if your Facebook post has a link, create a dedicated landing page that you know isn’t being used by other marketing channels.
  • Watch the Doers. After your content has been served to users, take note of those who engage with it and complete your desired interaction – who clicks through? Who signs up? Who requests more information? Ideally, the goal would be to connect social media profiles to customer activity, so these individuals can be studied over time for more insights.

Saucier emphasized the idea that all professionals, regardless of specialization, title or business division, should think like business owners. With skin in the game, business owners focus on strategic use of time and resources to pursue the projects and campaigns that have direct or indirect ROI—and waste little time on initiatives that cannot be measured for impact.

With this approach in mind, collaboration within the business will give social teams and agencies line of sight into customer problems and solutions and the types of content that effectively address their needs. Social marketers can divine story lines from product and marketing managers, customer service and sales teams, events and executive teams—and leverage available metrics, such as sales data, to improve social engagement.