If there were a way to know how many Facebook fans or Twitter followers were needed to convert a sale, social media wouldn’t be such a hard sell to companies. Yet, as we know, social media is much more than Twitter and Facebook, and your return on investment is much more than dollars earned.

To leverage the power of social media, companies must engage customers and build brand loyalty. Such activities require more than just hiring an intern to monitor your feeds. But measuring engagement and loyalty isn’t always simple or intuitive. If measuring any marketing promotion’s return on investment is essential, how can you effectively justify future investments and efforts within social media?

1. Ditch Conventional Metrics

About a year ago, it was popular to figure out how much the average Facebook fan was worth ($136.38, according to Syncapse). While Facebook has made it easier to track fan engagement, metrics such as number of fans or followers don’t necessarily mean that you're courting would-be customers or keeping them engaged. Good work -- you got them to like you. Now what?

Back in our Social Media Marketing 101 series, we reminded you that determining your company’s ROI depends on what you want users to do. Only you know the metrics that actually translate into business context for your organization. Be strict and define your success metrics based on these metrics.

2. Think Quantitatively, Qualitatively

Similarly, the word metrics should not just conjure mathematical equations, but sentiments and behaviors. Just as there are hard sciences and social sciences, social media must also successfully capture a customer’s motive and intent, while measuring their output.

In addition to defining how much of something you want a user to do, think about how you want a user to feel about the experience. What words would help convey those emotions?

3. Implement Proper Social Media Tracking

Chances are, you’ve been tracking your users’ behaviors for a while, thanks to Google Analytics. If you’re only now measuring your customers’ behavior, take a look back at what they’ve been doing on your site. Establish a baseline, so that when you define your metrics you know what’s reasonable to expect.

Going forward, make sure that you’ve set up your website and your campaigns to accurately track social media engagement. That means making sure you’re always using campaign tracking on any links you put out on social media sites that point back to one of your sites.

It also means tracking off-site social media influence on transactions. You may not always know how customers got to your site based on analytics, but you can always ask them. Include a few questions in the checkout process so customers can share the factors that played into their purchase decision.

4. Knowledge Gained, Shared

Social media has an amazing brain trust. The information gathered about your brand needs to be shared within the organization. Another way you can gauge social media’s impact is to monitor how it influences the way your company develops new products, delivers new fixes or designs better experiences. By implementing a process by which information gleaned from customer service channels is shared with departments that can benefit, companies can leverage customer insights so they translate into better research and development. Better information often leads to a better bottom line.

The best and worst thing about social media is that there is no one way to measure its impact. However, though it is malleable, it shouldn’t be mistaken as witchcraft. If studied closely, its method can be determined. The best outcomes are reserved for those who invest the most effort and engagement, not in pursuit of the bottom line, but rather in pursuit of better relationships.