When any given business attempts to determine their social media strategy, they must first consider their goals. One would assume that they have already done their research and determined that investing in social is worthwhile -- but maybe that's a can of worms. Let's just assume it is.

Once your goals are set, you'll need a set of guidelines to determine the success or failure of your plan. Your ultimate goal is always higher revenue. Your immediate goal may be more fans, retweets, interactions, comments, tumbles, winks, pokes or whatever. That's what we call beautiful, gilded, shiny structured data. It's clean and easy.  But what about the data that isn't?  Impressions, reach, influence... how the hell do you turn those into numbers? While we're at it, how much is a fan or like actually worth to you? You're investing solid money to get them. Might be a good idea to find out if it's worth it!

Unlike Numbers, Words Mean Different Things

It's all open to interpretation. It's a big old crapshoot with a bunch of buckshot cowboys trying scare up some grub. Business big and small is based around making money, and monitoring the numbers is essential.

Jeff Feldman Sparks, Director of Strategy at Adobe, led off Day 2 of the Social Media Analytics Summit with a keynote addressing the real impact of social media. Jeff made the point that some people will argue that SEM and SEO are still more effective and important tools than social media.The funny thing is, there are others that won't, and that's a very recent development. Such folks are struggling to defend that position because it's so much more difficult to declare the value of something that doesn't have a "$" in front of it.

That's understandable, but we're talking about long-term investment here. We're talking about big data and loyal followers accumulated over the course of years. Anyone who needs direct potential proven to them immediately in order to put their feet in the water will have to suck it up and dive in. Unfortunately, that's just the way it is. Experts are trying to arbitrarily rate things like influence, reach and awareness into actual hard numbers. It's a way to pretend we're not as lost as we are.

So What The Hell Does That Add Up To?

I'm glad you asked. The basic idea is to take a larger approach which incorporates many factors. There are ways to speculate the influence, reach and emotion of your online interactions. There are folks that can help you with that (to a point) if you're having trouble -- Attensity and Gnip among others. And there are some things that actually come through as numbers - like followers, retweets, and likes.

The generally agreed upon strategy is to analyze this data separately, then funnel your results into a central source, where strategies and actions are formed and fed back out through the pipeline. This hub-and-spoke strategy described here at the summit by Keith Paul of EMC seems to look and act like a living, breathing organism.

Data must be used in the right place at the right time. It is not, and will never be, the be-all end-all. You cannot simply collect information once and use it effectively unless he is using it immediately, like in the case of a focus group.  You must listen, react, and keep a finger on the pulse of your audience.