It may be hard to believe, but social media is more than 10 years old. YouTube launched in December 2005, Twitter in March 2006, and Facebook opened to the public in September 2006. Still, companies struggle with finding the right way to unlock its value.

Most companies know that you need to prove social’s ROI to justify the time spent on it. But the practical questions are tough to answer. What are the right social metrics to track? Which business outcomes is social best at solving?

Last month, we discussed how to generate leads with social media (Read that here: bit.ly/NMSocialROI). This month, we’ll take a look at measuring the return on investment of your social media marketing efforts.

Altimeter, a Prophet company, is a research and strategy consulting firm that helps its clients understand digital disruption. In October, Altimeter presented a research report in partnership with HootSuite, a social media management platform used by more than 16 million people around the world and more than 800 of the Fortune 1000 companies. The results were discussed in a webinar.

“For many years, organizations struggled to capture and articulate ROI of social media programs,” says Amber Naslund, senior director, industry leadership at HootSuite. “Social value extends beyond a promotional role in the customer lifecycle.”

Altimeter’s most recent State of Social Business report illustrates that business leaders’ top priority for their social media efforts was customer experience, outpacing brand health, revenue generation and several other categories.

“There’s a tendency to correlate likes, shares, etc. with success, but there’s no guarantee of business impact,” Naslund says.

The study recommended measuring social media’s business value in the context of the “customer’s journey.” This is defined by Altimeter as awareness, engagement, evaluation, loyalty/repeat purchase, acquisition and finally, advocacy.

However, while 71 percent of survey respondents use social data to measure and understand customer awareness of their company, only 35 percent of respondents measure whether those customers have reached acquisition stage and only 18 percent measure whether they’ve become brand advocates.

In addition to strict ROI calculations (which would divide revenue by cost), organizations are beginning to embrace the idea that social media is a driver of customer insight, and social media data is a way to extract that insight and make it actionable in multiple areas of the business. Identify top business objectives for social, and optimize around those.

For example, if you decide to focus on the “acquisition” stage, you can measure social’s impact on the sales process by tracking conversions, downloads and/or transactions attributable to social content. If you want to measure the impact your social endeavors have on the awareness stage of the customer journey, there are more metrics available: website visits, impressions, fans, followers, subscribers, shares, post reach, retweets, mentions and share of voice.

According to the Altimeter survey, 37 percent of respondents use metrics that are included in the social technologies they use. That means likes, retweets, shares – common data that is easily accessible in the social tools themselves.

Read the full report here: http://bit.ly/2jxAAxz