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One of the recurring issues that pops up most every time you talk about businesses and social media is ROI. This is somewhat surprising to me because I see endless parallels between growing your business online and off, and because too many business people want undeniable proof that their tweeting and Facebook updates are tied directly to profits yet they are much more comfortable with spending money on traditional forms of marketing and advertising, even though the ROI measurement gauge is the same.

With traditional advertising, the concept of continually building brand awareness so the next time someone needs a new sofa they think of your business, is “worth” the cost. And the concept of buying ad space based on estimated drive-bys and circulation rates is also acceptable.

But when it comes to social media, these same concepts don’t seem to apply.

As social media marketers, there’s a lot we CAN do to connect our online marketing efforts with leads and sales. But even then, all the hard data and deep analytics still only paint part of the picture. Especially if a business does not have an online store.

So then if you move on to fan and follower growth, and social media engagement levels, that should be a good gauge as to your effectiveness to drive leads and sales, right? Because if people are liking or retweeting and commenting like crazy, they must love your latest sale or promotion?

Surprisingly, we’ve found little correlation between social media engagement levels on product- or service-based updates and a spike in interest or sales (*special social media contests excluded). In fact, most of our brand-focused updates receive little to no online engagement.

So then how do we know that social media is working?

Because store managers and employees report back that after reading our social media updates about their amazing deal on a kids’ art easel or an in-store holiday event, they experienced a surge of shoppers or attendees specifically asking about those promoted things.

You need to have a staff that is in-tune with your social media efforts for this type of direct correlation to be noticed. But the best way to approach social media is to integrate it with the rest of your marketing efforts as it is.

Ultimately, the best way to have a full view on what and how effective your social media efforts are towards your bottom line is three-fold: your website analytics, your growth and activity levels of your social media accounts and your register receipts.

Who have thought a good ol’ fashioned cash drawer could be the missing link to measuring your online marketing efforts?