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As someone invested in social media, I try to find as much evidence as possible to show the actual impact of social media engagement. The infamous ROI question fascinates me, and I try to read about experts’ take on it at least a couple of times a week. There seem to be a 1000 experts on the subject and each with their own take on it!

The more I read, the more it’s apparent that this is – for now – an inexact science. Businesses that have taken to social media seriously are trying to track the co-relation between social media activity and sales – however, the process of tracking either depends on pre-formatted questionnaires or on brief feedback conversations where there is limited commitment to the cause! I haven’t found a study or data that offers conclusive proof that FB engagement leads to 12% increase in sales or that Twitter brought 4 extra customers a day. And I am not sure we will ever be able to have those kinds of results.

Social media is equated to word-of-mouth advertising for a reason. It is about building a good impression and letting it seep and spread. You are not going to see an overnight change in customer base or sales numbers. This is true for businesses of all size but particularly directed as small businesses. Social media takes dedicated time and effort. If big businesses, with dedicated social media staff, are still scratching their head about ROI, it is to be expected that a small staff that is trying to squeeze in some social media time may find it an uphill struggle.

We hear about the over-night success stories such as those music stars who launched their career with one or two YouTube videos – these are almost the urban myths of our times! While these stars did happen and there may be a couple more every year, the truth is that there are many music videos with 12 viewers, mainly friends and family. Social media may deliver the occasional dramatic success, but it is ultimately a long-term strategy. Whether you choose to promote your company through a blog or you have decided to upload videos of your hand-crafted greeting cards, do not expect people to break the gates to place the orders. You should  use social media to augment your reach and it has to be part of your whole marketing effort. So, while you may wake up each morning and check the number of Facebook likes and Twitter followers, remember that your bottom line will take a little longer to show changes!

In the meanwhile, keep in mind what Einstein said: “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”