Going Social Social Media 201: How to maximize ROI from fans, followers, likes and pins By Carrie Finley-Bajak / December 13, 2012 Share 1 -- Although social media sites are free, companies face increased costs for talent to develop, manage and cultivate social media accounts and the communities they engender. And where there are expenses, the logical question is always: What is my return on investment (ROI)? Agents must know how to calculate their social media ROI and be familiar with metrics that track how well their social media efforts are performing. When I was a travel agent, I was asked, "How much commission have you made as a result of social media? Are you getting leads? And do your social media leads convert to sales?" Although I could cite specific examples of instances where I did have success, that kind of evidence was anecdotal. What the skeptics really wanted to know was how much social media was costing me, and whether I saw a significant return on my investment. Metrics: Are your efforts working?And yes, that is the fundamental measure of ROI: How many people are you reaching at what cost, and how successful are you at converting prospects to customers, thus producing what revenue? But closed deals are really only a part -- albeit a huge part -- of measuring your total return. Agents also need to track audience share, engagement and impressions, all of which are variables that measure your actual influence in your competitive sphere. Mistake No. 1: Do not assume social media marketing will generate direct sales with every blast or event. Instead, think about the sales process and measure social media ROI in terms of how well you are filling up your pipeline. The sales funnel begins wide and narrows as a lead inches closer to a sale. People who have the best success at social media marketing conversions know how to create promotions that are unique, with distinct calls to action. To maximize return, a good social media strategy will incorporate a strategy for capturing leads and a system for nurturing prospects. How well have you been keeping track of social media leads or nurturing brand advocates (people who are talking about and to you online)? Do you respond to and engage with others who are mentioning you online? Is your strategy simply to tweet out a weekly deal with the expectation that it will result in immediate sales? Social media measurement toolsBenchmark your sites' number of fans and followers to track stats. Print screen shots of your social media accounts and chart your number of fans and followers. You want to see a week-by-week increase; this will let you know if your networks are growing. The real measure of ROI is tracking prospects and customers through your customer relationship management (CRM) or sales tracking system. If you are not capturing leads and entering them into your customer tracking system, it will be hard to ever know for sure if your efforts are succeeding. Here are a few essential tools: Reports and metrics Google Analytics has been a mainstay for tracking website traffic and how users are spending time on your site. Now Google has added more tools, such as the "social analytics report," to keep you informed. Facebook Insights provides Facebook developers and Facebook Page owners sufficient data to analyze trends in user growth and demographics, consumption of content and creation of content. HootSuite (www.hootsuite.com) enables users to monitor and manage multiple social media accounts. Plus, travel agents can receive detailed analysis reports about their social media status. Social Mention (www.socialmention.com) is a search and analysis platform that aggregates user-generated content from across the universe into a single stream of information. Klout (www.klout.com) is a good place to get a numerical value indicating your social influence ranking. There are some pros and cons to this controversial topic, but overall it's a good way to see where you rank and to find other influencers online. Kred (www.kred.com) is a measurement of community influence and outreach. It is similar to Klout but offers a little more depth. BackTweets (www.backtweets.com) is a system for searching your website, usernames on Twitter, a hashtag or query to find out how many people are talking about you, which indicates social reach: Are you making an impact? FYI, I used BackTweets to do searches for leads to clients who are looking for vacation deals. Try typing in variations of things people might tweet about when they are buying or looking for a vacation. You might be surprised how many leads will show up. Will you put skin in the social media game?I don't think travel agents should spend money on social media until they have a digital imprint. Otherwise, your social media accounts will look like you just opened for business and are asking people for money. Instead, I recommend that you stick with marketing techniques that are working while you build your online brand and audience. You might be ready to invest money in social media marketing if: You know the differences between and unique features of each social media platform. You practice good tweeting etiquette, which means you are not just posting links to promotions, you know how to @reply someone, you can and have retweeted others, and you have followers. You know the difference between a Facebook Page and an individual Facebook account. You know about Facebook Insight reports and might even be a page administrator. You know how to create promo codes and how to track your prospects and leads through your sales funnel. All sales promotions should have codes that are easy to track through your sales pipeline; your graphics, websites and links should be easily traced to a phone number so people can call you. You are ready to spend money on social media to promote your products and unique calls to action. FacebookOnce you have met these criteria and feel you are ready to invest money in social media, here are a few places to spend money online for social media marketing: Let's begin with Facebook. Based on recent stats published in a report from Marketo, more than 800 million people use Facebook every day. Travel agents can use the service for free or create ad campaigns using Facebook Sponsored Stories, Promoted Posts or ads. Whatever approach you use, keep in mind that your updates on your fans' news feeds are crucial to getting the most out of your Facebook Page and to build your brand. To increase your Edge Rank (a Facebook algorithm that personalizes users' news feeds and inserts posts it thinks will interest them) you need to create compelling, likable and sharable content. Facebook Sponsored Stories: Sponsored Stories are posts from Facebook Pages that users pay to have highlighted to show up on your fans' news feeds. This feature was added by Facebook to deal with mobile phones and browsing trends. Facebook Promoted Posts: This new Facebook feature enables travel agents to reach more of the people who like your page as well as their friends. Facebook ads: These are paid messages coming from your travel agency. Keep in mind that, according to Facebook stats, people who like your page can spend an average of two times more than people who aren't connected to you on Facebook. So, how many people "like" you already on Facebook? Facebook apps: These are custom tabs that are placed on your Facebook Page. With Facebook's recently introduced Timeline feature, custom tabs offer a great way to promote a contest or special offer. Your page has space for up to 12 apps. The photo app is the only one that Facebook requires, so travel agents should optimize the other available spaces by changing the tabs to new offers. There are several sites that help you create new Facebook tabs. For example, Heyo (https://heyo.com) enables you to build a fan page, mobile app and website all from one very powerful tool. FaceItPages (www.faceitpages.com) enables you to create lead-capture fan pages. FaceItPages' easy-to-use templates make it easy to create multiple tabs, embedded pictures, videos and more and add them to your Facebook page. TwitterAds in Twitter come in two varieties: Promoted Tweets in timelines and Promoted Tweets in search (see https://ads.twitter.com). When you see the arrow icon and the words "Promoted by ...," it means that the business doing the tweeting has paid for placement that shows up on your timeline. Promoted tweets should contain timely and engaging content such as announcements about contests, giveaways or other relevant information your prospects will be inclined to want more information about. Promoted tweets should have unique landing pages associated with the promo codes so you can track performance. Make sure you give followers a chance to sign up for your database for more information or direct them to call you for more details. Does your 2013 marketing plan allocate resources for social media marketing? Why or why not? Leave me a comment or tweet a reply to @CruiseBuzz on Twitter. Carrie Finley-Bajak is a social media consultant who specializes in building travel industry branding online. Contact her at email@example.com.