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.