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Succeeding on social media requires sustained effort. You're in this for the long haul PHOTO: Angela Franklin

You've made it this far. 

You've listened to your audience, you've planned your social media marketing strategy. Over time, you built relationships and trust with your audience. Your leadership set the tone for the rest of your company to follow and as a result, you attracted and retained the audience you wanted, deepening the relationships and trust you worked to develop.

So is the end in sight? Not quite.

Success in social media is an ongoing pursuit, one which requires continuous reflection and refinement. So while this, the final post in our four-part series, offers the final two rules of social media marketing success, it only marks the beginning of your journey.

7. Ensure Value

"What's the ROI from all that social media stuff you've been doing?" your boss asks. One of his favorite questions, right? If you're a small business owner, you've probably heard that same question from your partner or CPA.

Generating reliable performance metrics for your social media activities — gathered and reported in an efficient, easily interpreted manner — has become a priority for practitioners of social media marketing to help them demonstrate the value from participating in social media and validate their investments in it.

Your boss, partner or CPA wants to compare the investment of personnel, time, money and other resources to the return. But without supplying verifiable ROI data and analysis, any long-term relationships that marketers hope to develop and maintain with their social media communities are most likely in jeopardy.

So how do you go about ensuring that you're deriving value from your social media marketing efforts — and that you can accurately measure that value? Obviously, tracking online "chatter" can help expose the bad as well as the good. 

For example, your fans and followers may publicly laud your products or suggest improvements to them, giving you the opportunity to respond quickly and address their comments or concerns. Also, a myriad of technology tools are now available to help measure the financial impact of social media on your organization, including lead generation, ecommerce revenue, etc.

The social media monitoring and measuring process is still in its infancy. However, in today's hyper-competitive environment and relatively weak economy, generating measurable, repeatable value from social media is no longer an option for most marketers.

8. Continue Listening

All listening is not created equal. Consider how a physician uses the stethoscope in order to measure the activity of the human heart, or how a mother calibrates her ear to detect the faintest whimper of a newborn, or how a conductor trains the ear to pinpoint the one-out-of-a-hundred instruments slightly out of tune.

Compare these with the ability to tune out a barking dog, or half listen to the rant of a coworker, or subconsciously mix the rhythm of the rain to the precise sleep-inducing decibel. Now consider how we interpret tone, process innuendo, translate vernacular and compose a whole new message — all while we (theoretically) listen in the context of conversation.

All listening is not the same.

Listening is done at many levels. But as we become skilled at reactive listening — mixing everything we're taking in to a manageable level — we're inadvertently contributing to the demise of effective communication. 

What's missing? Intentional, proactive listening.

Intentional listening reveals the voice of those with whom we want to connect. And by voice, I mean the cares, aspirations and concerns of your target audience. It's the key to the most basic principle of effective communication — that connection takes place in the context of shared experience.

Put another way, intentional listening will identify, outline and define the language of the closest you will ever come to a can't-miss message. And it's the key to the instigation of a whole new brand of experiences, those uniquely shared by you (or your business) and your most coveted customer.

Translation: the shortest distance between where we are today and a relationship that results in the development of stronger brands and better business is less about constructing a long list of capabilities and more about one or two questions that instigate dialogue. It's less about what we do and more about where our clients live each day. It's less about what we know and more about what we can learn if we'll listen first — and then build experiences that center on ways to continue to listen.

Game-changing social media marketing plans and strategies, not to mention the path to lifetime customers, just might be less about beginning with a compelling marketing message and more about intentional listening.

A final thought: 

"The reason social media is so difficult for most organizations? It's a process, not an event" — Seth Godin

Editor's Note: Catch up on all of the rules of social media marketing success here.