ROI is a big prob­lem in social marketing—every mar­keter knows it’s dif­fi­cult to deter­mine tan­gi­ble mar­ket­ing ROI from a social action.

This cre­ates a real bind. Mar­keters know the social sphere mat­ters, but they can’t explain why they need to invest in social using real num­bers and rel­e­vant metrics.

Thank­fully, all that is changing.

Will Social Actions Ever Pro­duce Mea­sur­able Impact?

Now, I know most social mar­keters con­sider their actions to be mar­ket­ing. So let me clar­ify a quick point here: When I talk about mar­ket­ing and social actions as two dif­fer­ent things, I’m talk­ing about the dif­fer­ence between using social net­works to gen­er­ate defined, imme­di­ate, mea­sur­able results and using social net­works to build less tan­gi­ble mar­ket­ing val­ues like social engage­ment, brand loy­alty, and cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion. If it’s eas­ier for you, think of it as the dif­fer­ence between using social for direct response mar­ket­ing or for brand awareness.

This divide lies at the heart of why it’s hard to mea­sure the real impact of social actions. Social net­works build them­selves around brand-building met­rics, mar­keters rely on hard ROI, and these two sets of met­rics aren’t inter­change­able. In many cases there’s no 1:1 cor­re­la­tion between a retweet and a desired mar­ket­ing out­come, and try­ing to mea­sure one with the other is a lot like try­ing to mea­sure your height in grams.

Thank­fully, we’re mov­ing in the right direc­tion when it comes to con­nect­ing soft social actions with hard ROI mar­ket­ing out­comes. The social net­works them­selves are devel­op­ing in marketing-friendly direc­tions, and mar­ket­ing solu­tions are becom­ing more sophis­ti­cated at deter­min­ing how to mea­sure and pre­dict the mar­ket­ing impact of gen­eral social actions.

Mar­keters need to get on board with these changes and con­cern them­selves with the real ROI of their actions on social net­work­ing sites. There’s a cer­tain level of uncer­tainty in the social sphere because the social mar­ket is devel­op­ing and evolv­ing rapidly, but mar­keters need to jet­ti­son the notion that all social mar­ket­ing is inher­ently hazy and impos­si­ble to mea­sure. Like­wise, mar­keters need to stop jus­ti­fy­ing their social actions with notions of long-term com­mu­nity build­ing whose real impact is even harder to mea­sure than the short-term impact of exist­ing social actions.

Long-term com­mu­nity build­ing is impor­tant on social net­works, but if it isn’t paired with a focus on actions that pro­duce mea­sur­able impact, then even the largest and most care­fully curated social net­work is valueless.

Social is Already Measurable

Rather than exclu­sively think­ing of social net­works as plat­forms for tak­ing soft social actions devoted to brand build­ing, and rather than just wait­ing until social net­works and ana­lyt­ics pro­grams join hands tightly enough to pro­duce 1:1 cor­re­la­tions between social and mar­ket­ing met­rics, remem­ber that social actions can already drive mean­ing­fully mea­sur­able results. Using Adobe Social and the Adobe Mar­ket­ing Cloud, you can mea­sure click-throughs and con­ver­sions, and you can eas­ily track the impact of direct social actions with clear calls to action (CTAs) for off­site ini­tia­tives. And that’s to say noth­ing of the fact that social net­works also offer their own onsite cost-effective adver­tis­ing options to fur­ther drive success.

Yes, the impact of social actions is grad­u­ally becom­ing more clear, but the impact of mar­ket­ing on social net­works is mea­sur­able in the here and now. Recent devel­op­ments on the top plat­forms make it clear these net­works’ efforts to court mar­keters are increas­ingly mov­ing away from social actions and toward enabling func­tional advertisements.

My next arti­cle will explore some of the spe­cific, excit­ing devel­op­ments in this area that will give you the tools to mea­sure and pre­dict the mar­ket­ing impact of social.