Strap on your goggles and slap on your fins, folks. It’s time to wrap up our series on diving safely into social media with a look at examining the not-so-final results; the fruits of your efforts.

I say “not-so-final” because I truly believe that the main objective of any first effort at introducing your brand or organization to social media is simply… to itroduce your brand or organization to social media. The first attempt at anything is going to be 90% experimentation and education.

Can social media as a toolset deliver sustainable ROI for a wide variety of goals? Abso-freaking-lutely. But on your first formal attempt to enter the space, if your ROI consists of “we learned an awful lot” then I say “Well done, Skippy.”

Of course, you’re probably not shooting for “Kat says ‘Well done,’” are you? You’re shooting for results that will encourage the PTBs at your organization to let you continue and build on the presence you’ve established.

Well take heart, kiddos, because we’re not going to leave you high and dry.

Define realistic, attainable goals at the outset.

Realistic, attainable goals are going to depend largely on the strength of your strategy and the resources you are able to commit to the program. A realistic goal for plowing a field with a horse, a plow and an inexperienced kid is going to be way different than the goal for plowing one with a seasoned farmer riding a state-of-the-art tractor.

Determining what constitutes a realistic, attainable goal is one of the areas where enlisting some experienced outside help can prove particularly valuable.

Know where you are now.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it never fails to amaze me how many large companies have a web presence and no idea whatsoever what their typical monthly unique visitors averages. Or how many links they have, or if they’ve been bookmarked in del.icio.us at all. Or how their often their brand is mentioned monthly in blogs compared to their top competitors. There are a lot of elaborate tracking and monitoring tools out there, and there is a lot of value to be gained from doing an initial competitive analysis before you get started. But at a basic level, much of this is not tough stuff to figure out.

Yes, your goals for social media may be to improve public perception of your brand, or to improve customer satisfaction, or some other goal that doesn’t seem tied to web traffic. But as trackable and measurable as web activity related to your brand is, why wouldn’t you start by benchmarking some important web-based KPIs to use as a scorecard?

And depending on the nature of your activity, there are some natural, obvious things to track—if you’re deploying a widget, then you need to set a goal for downloads (a lot of platforms display the number of downloads for their widgets, so you can sometimes find a comparable one to get an idea of a realistic number.)

Make note of the stuff that you didn’t think to include.

Let’s just say that it never occurred to you that you might get actual, viable business leads through social media participation. But lo and behold, some guy direct messages you via Twitter that he’s impressed with you and your organization, is in the market for your product or service, and would like to set up a meeting.

Probably worth noting, isn’t it? Even if it wasn’t one of your original goals.

Or say you didn’t realize that there were so many prominent, notable bloggers who adore your product. If you come out of your “test campaign” in social media with some connections to a list of influential brand evangelists and word-of-mouth advocates, isn’t that probably worth reporting?

In short, don’t limit your documentation and reporting to your original goals if you achieve more success, or a different kind of success, than you were originally shooting for.

When it comes to reporting, start with the story and follow up with the numbers.

Which isn’t to say, of course, that the numbers aren’t part of the story. I’ve just found that when it comes to communicating ROI to the CEO, it’s often less effective to lead off with a massive spreadsheet full of numbers and nothing to help them interpret those numbers.

One format that’s worked well for me personally in the past is a one-page narrative summary of the month’s activities, any notable changes in the KPIs, and a high-level description of the planned activity for the upcoming month (particularly any tweaks or changes to the original plan that were based on the data). All the heavy-duty stats are available behind the narrative if anyone cares to do a deep-dive, but I try to always offer that narrative, snapshot view up front. I’m often surprised by how, if you offer the snapshot as an “appetizer,” clients often want to know more.

Of course, YMMV. Some C-levels are numbers people, and they want to see the numbers first, and draw their own conclusions before hearing your interpretation. It would probably be a worthwhile thing to ask the person to whom you’ll be providing reporting how they best digest information.

Well, that about wraps things up. Diving into social media, like scuba diving or snorkeling, can be like entering a strange and alien world. But with adequate preparation, experienced guides, and realistic expectations, it can be the beginning of some really exciting adventures.

Great Barrier Reef img courtesy Leonard Low on Flickr , Shipwreck img courtesy Sam UL on Flickr, Treasure Map img courtesy scol22 on SXC

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About Kat French

Kat French

Kat French is the Digital Operations Manager at CafePress. An exceptional writer both on the web and in other genres, Kat combines creativity with an agile, get-it-done attitude across a broad range of experience in community management, SEO/PPC, social media strategy and program management. She has worked with national brands like Maker's Mark, Daytona Beach Tourism, Optima Batteries and more.

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