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This is a guest post by Jon Siegal, founder and CEO of Fan Appz.

As the Great Facebook Debate over the past few months has made clear, in 2013, reaching your fans and followers at scale will require paid promotion.

Meanwhile, the thrill of counting likes, comments, and retweets has faded, and businesses want to see a real return on their investment. Marketers everywhere are asking how much they should continue to invest in building out and engaging with their social audiences.

Here’s the deal: You can’t invest to maintain your social reach unless you are netting a positive return that delivers meaningful business value to your company.

Social media is rapidly evolving into a data-centric and performance-driven marketing discipline. While it will always revolve around compelling content, when you are paying for impressions, you will be called to defend your budget.

As a marketer, your challenge now is to:

Figure out what you are getting in return for your investment in social today. Define your social KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) so that you can benchmark your performance and measure it over time.
Ask how many people in your social audience “convert” — however you just defined that for your particular business — and then determine the value of those conversions now and over time.
For everyone else in your social audience, find ways to extract meaningful and lasting business value from their connection to your social profiles.

The key to success on all three of these fronts is to collect relevant, actionable data about your fans and then use it to inform your ad buys, optimize your social profiles, and, ultimately improve the targeting, personalization, and performance of all of your marketing efforts.

So stop panicking about this or that reach algorithm, and start taking control of your brand’s social destiny. Here are the three essential steps.

Step 1: Get a data ROI

Wherever you go to connect with prospects and customers, and whatever you do there, collect the data. If you are engaging in social and failing to either convert or capture data, you are wasting time and money.

Gather actionable, relevant data about each fan, along with permission to use it, according to the terms of service of each social network.

Ask for contact information (such as email addresses), along with permission to use it through your own channels wherever possible.
Gather behavioral data based on the actions people take, and ask for direct data inputs, such as fans’ ranked favorites across relevant product or service categories.
Use social authentications to get permission to access fans’ interests, demographics, follows, and likes.

Step 2: Analyze with intent to personalize

Organize your social data such that it is easy to analyze for insights and filter into targeted segments. Integrate it with your customer and transactional data when possible, for greater context on how to personalize your approach to each fan, be they a new prospect or existing customer.

Why? Because people like to be treated as individuals. Personalization works:

According to Econsultancy, 6 percent of marketers are already using social graph data for website personalization, and 88 percent of those say it has a high impact on both ROI and engagement.
McKinsey partner Josh Leibowitz says research shows that personalization in retail can deliver five to eight times the ROI on marketing spend and lift sales 10 percent or more.
Meanwhile, nearly two-thirds of online shoppers say they would trade increased privacy for more personalized offers from retailers, according to Accenture.

Step 3: Put the data to work

Use your social data insights to improve the targeting, personalization, and performance of all of your marketing and communications efforts. Specifically, use this robust, personal, and relevant data set to:

Target your social ad campaigns to individuals for greater click-through and conversion.
Personalize your emails with relevant content and offers that drive open rates and sales.
Tailor your website with personalized offers and promotions that increase average order value.
Use aggregate data, such as favorite features, colors, etc., to inform offline and in-store creative.
Mine likes and follows (brand preferences) to identify new partners, sponsors, and advertisers.

For example, one of our retail clients used our platform to ask mothers on Facebook and Twitter to rank which items they most wanted for Mother’s Day. Our client then used that data to create a multi-channel marketing campaign across its social, email, and print catalog efforts, as well as online advertising, website, and in-store promotions.

The campaign drove a significant increase in sales of the items the moms picked for that season.

You can get great results and build lasting value for your business if you start asking the right kinds of questions and then really listening to — and remembering — what your fans are sharing on social channels.

Jon SiegalA veteran of the CRM Software industry, Jon Siegal launched Fan Appz as a second-generation social media marketing solution to help brands leverage engagement for social data capture. You can follow him on Twitter: @jonsiegal.

Social media concept vector via venimo/Shutterstock

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