fish Likes, follows, or being added to circles are passive expressions of a low-level of interest that businesses pursue simply because they are numbers that can be measured, pure and simple. "How many" do we have this month compared to last month? It's a natural instinct to count numbers to measure perceived growth in a space that is always misunderstood by pretty much everyone in the beginning.

But when we play with social media for a little while we eventually come back to remembering that we are in business to sell something to people who need it. And as we know from politics, just because someone says they like you doesn't mean you'll get their vote when it counts.

Followers Can Filter

One of the greatest and most necessary features of social media is the ability to filter out noise. When we can listen to such a massive number of people and businesses in this wide open online world we run into limits almost immediately as humans. We need to filter to get any value out of these channels.

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On Facebook, as quickly as you can call someone your friend or Like a business' page you can "Hide" them from your feed and never hear from them again. This should stop any business in their tracks who believes these superficial numbers count for anything close to long term value for their business. They don't.

On Twitter, the only thing gained by someone following you is that you can then send them a private direct message, which is basically an email. And we have a well-known word for a business who would abuse this channel: spam. Twitter is the truly wide open channel in which using a filtering tool so you can

pay attention to hashtags or lists of people with special interests is necessary to get any value. So if you have 1000 followers on Twitter you can't have confidence that any percent of those followers are paying attention to anything you post. What's even worse is that 85% of all tweets are never seen by anyone, ever.

LinkedIn may be the only social channel where the number of connections matters because there is little social activity. It is powerful and personal but brands struggle to get their numbers up for their Company pages on this professional, etiquette-driven channel.Google+ is the most recent major social platform to emerge and is actually built for when things get noisy. By allowing users to curate circles of their own design, it is an essential feature of this channel to choose who you want to listen to every time you visit.

Social Media Presents An Opportunity

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Social media presents your business with the opportunity to connect with customers in a two-way relationship. It is not a new broadcast channel and those who treat it as such are severely punished with isolation and a damaged brand. It's why so many businesses have "tried social media" and let their efforts die in frustration.

What you can do is measure activity on your channels and find out who is influencing your brand. Who is talking about you and with you and getting your content to new people who might be interested in it? Your influencers are having an impact on your brand in a way that growing follower numbers just is not. Social is about people, not audiences. [tweet this]

When you know who your influencers are you can get to know those people better. Smart businesses will look for ways to reward influencers for their interest in an effort to convert them to advocates that love what your company does and talk positively about your brand to others.

Advocates generate leads. Leads can be converted to sales. And sales are what grow businesses. Measuring this progression of the online relationship is how you measure the ROI of social.

Is your business counting followers or are you earning the deeper interest of your brand influencers? Please tell me what you've learned in the comments.

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