Trying to find customers over Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn can be something of a Catch-22: you can't make any progress without pouring in a fairly big effort, but it's tough to see exactly how much progress you are making when it can take a long time to turn friends and fans into buyers.
Since you don't want to spend a lot of time or money on something that isn't working out, and don't want to undermine your social media marketing efforts by not giving them enough attention, where does that leave you? What can small business owners and managers do to make sure they're getting the right results from social networking sites?
The solution is to not focus on sales results in the short term, and instead devote your attention to the things you can easily track from week to week and month to month. Here are a couple of handy indicators to keep an eye on:
The number of Facebook fans your business has. While there's a big difference between a fan and a good customer, having someone who's interested enough to publicly share that they like your company and will hear about your news and specials is always a good thing.
How many LinkedIn connections you're making. If you have the kind of business or industry that relies on personal connections, then a strong LinkedIn network can be a wonderful asset. Not only can those relationships introduce you to potential buyers, but can also open the door for referrals from all your contacts later.
The number of followers and re-tweets you're getting. In the same way that it's great to have Facebook fans for your business, gathering a crowd of Twitter followers gives you a big platform to work with. Plus, if you can write short, compelling messages, they can be shared with thousands of other users after they are re-tweeted.
Notice that none of these necessarily translate into dollars-and-cents figures, but they can all be watched closely in the short term. Get social media marketing right, and it won't be long before you'll have plenty of fans, followers, and connections. After that, it's only a matter of time before your sales will follow.