If 2009 was about this shiny, sexy new toy called social networking, 2010 and beyond has to be about ROI from your online efforts. Social media in many ways is reinventing ROI to return on influence, impact and integration.

Whether you use social media to strengthen your brand, drive marketing efficiency, or increase sales, here are six (6) best practices to enhance your online return on influence – see the sidebar section for tactical suggestions.

1. Build a Relevant Relationship Bank™. If you have ever heard me speak, or have had a chance to read Relationship Economics, I describe your portfolio of relationships as your Relationship Bank. How relevant is your relationship bank to your social media strategy? The three fundamental attributes in your relationship bank are its’ quality, diversity, and the investment efforts you choose to make. It is seldom about the number of people you are connected to, but rather the number of interested people in your niche that you develop a relationship with.

2. Toot Your Own Horn. A mentor often reminds me that “if you don’t toot your own horn, there is no music.” You must publicize your social media presence, consistently. Create social links on your website. Add social links to your email signature, or include them on your business card. Include social networking profile links along with your forum signature. Don’t forget to add a professional headshot where appropriate.

3. Become an Object of Interest. Most people will make up their mind to connect with you – or not – in seven to ten seconds, based on your picture (face it, we are all shallow), robust profile, and the most recent one to three status updates. Keep in mind that people online are browsers, not readers. It is critical that you keep your status updates poignant, pithy, and of particular interest or value to your target audience. Ideal if you stick to what you know and can intelligently articulate. Post updates for the benefit of the consumers of that information, not yourself as the producer of it.

4. Know Your Social Media “Why”. Your off-line and on-line presence must be in-line. You must understand succinctly why you have a social media presence and how to most effectively utilize it as a platform. To enhance your online return on influence, it is critical that you develop an online purpose – with both a defensive strategy (to protect your brand), as well as an offensive roadmap (to take your message to the market).

5. Invest With Unique Insights. Some say ROI from social media is a myth. Let me remind you of the three types of relationship builders; on – or off-line; givers who freely give, takers, who use social media as a personal billboard or a solicitation engine, and investors. Digital relationship investors understand that the fundamental value in any social forum is the exchange of unique insights. Although we may never completely agree on a particular topic or process, a healthy dose of dissent fuels the participants’ intellectual horsepower.

6. Who Are You Listening To? Candidly, my first two weeks on Twitter were a complete waste of time. I saw little value in the mundane exchange of useless information. Then I quickly learned that Twitter ROI – for me – is heavily derived from following respected colleagues, industry thought leaders, and generally appealing personalities; those who shared insights I otherwise wouldn’t have regular access to. Particularly if you rely on social media to source industry influencers, it is critical to ask yourself, who are you really listening to? After all, we are the product of the advice we take.

What other best practices have you found of particular value?

Side bar

  • Use Twitter directories (Twellow) and search for members based on their profile description.
  • Look at followers of another person in your industry and follow others most relevant to your niche.
  • Join industry groups in LinkedIn and Facebook; proactively engage other members in relevant discussions and connect with them.
  • Find blogs on pertinent topics; post replies where appropriate and include your social media handles.
  • Join forums on topical discussions; look for threads by insightful members – proactively engage and connect with them.
  • Whenever posting a headshot picture, remember the limited size of real estate – show more face and less background.
  • Use FourSquare for location based insights relevant to your expertise.
  • Engage other Twitter members in answering questions where you have particularly unique insights or independent perspective.
  • Update periodically with humor relevant to your field, i.e. Friday lawyer jokes buy an attorney.
  • Use Twitpic to share images of process visuals – making the complex simple to understand and apply to one’s own challenges.
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