When it comes to measuring and tracking online and trying to determine what your return on investment is with social media, you first need to ask yourself why you want to participate in social media in the first place. If the answer is to build your brand and develop a loyal following, then you are in it for the right reasons. Currency in social media is found in both relationships and content.

Still, you can't improve what you don't measure. So if your goal is to measure traffic, sales, or SEO ranking, here are some free tools that can help:

  • Google Analytics and Feedburner.com are essential, free tools to help analyze your company's website or blog traffic, subscriber count, and keyword optimization, as well as additional trends.
  • Gr.aiderss.com allows you to enter a feed URL and returns statistics about its posts. The most popular statistic is based on how many times they are shared on a variety of social networking sites.
  • GetClicky.com shows you every action a visitor makes and offers a dedicated iPhone version.
  • Socialmeter.com checks your website's social popularity.
  • Statsaholic.com compares rankings and other information on up to three websites at a time.
  • Webslug.info compares your site's performance to any other site.
  • Xinureturns.com is great for adding a URL and for receiving a load of useful statistics ranging from search engine optimization (SEO) to social bookmarking and more.
  • Sometrics.com is an analytics site that measures your social advertising efforts.
  • Pagealizer.com is a web analytics that actually suggest changes and optimizations for your pages.
  • StatsAdvisor.com is another great web analytics that helps you track both online and offline advertising efforts.

If your goal is brand reputation or customer relationships, you require a more qualitative measurement approach. Without some sort of benchmark, it's impossible to determine your ROI. First start by asking yourself a key question: Am I being talked about online within my industry or target market?

You can find out who is talking about you online and what the conversation is about by simply setting up a few monitoring systems such as Google alerts and monitoring Twitter Search. You can also monitor how your competitors are being talked about online compared to your company with these same tools. You would know this if you are tracking your retweets through a system like Tweetdeck, receiving notifications when your name hits the web through Google alerts, and doing blog searches on sites such as Technorati.

The next step is to measure your success by asking whether you were able to build more relationships with your target market through your efforts online. You can reach out to your target market by typing in keyword searches in the connection section on social sites. For example, on LinkedIn you can use the "search people" tool. If you are in the hospitality industry you can enter keywords such as food, chef, wine, and restaurant. You can also search groups by keyword to connect you to target market communities.

Then, form stronger relationships with these contacts to convert them into fans. One of the best ways to build stronger relationships is to engage with contacts through conversation.

Facebook allows you to set up a company page and share valuable content, videos, company insider posts and more. This is an excellent way and place to build a fan club online.

No matter how your social media efforts and results are measured, businesses still need to be able to determine whether or not a social media program is raising the bar, moving product, or otherwise making an impact. This largely depends on the company's social media objectives. Because these objectives dramatically differ based on the organization, it's impossible to agree upon standards. That doesn't mean, however, you can't measure ROI at the company level by implementing a few key measurement systems. -- Starr Hall

Excerpted from the compilation Success Secrets of The Social Media Marketing Superstars by Mitch Meyerson, available from Entrepreneurpress.com.