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3 Ways to Boost Your Social ROI These free tools and tested techniques can help you increase your return on your social investment.

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Social media can connect you with customers, but only if it's used effectively. A survey from Manta, an online business community, found that while more companies used social media in 2012 than the year before, only around 40 percent saw a return on their investment. Luckily, simple steps can help ensure you get the most for your time and money. We talked with three social media experts for easy-to-implement approaches that can help increase both engagement and efficiency.

1. Get your social profiles in shape. Mana Ionescu, president of Lightspan Digital in Chicago estimates that many small businesses could waste around an hour a day brainstorming the perfect tweet or post. To overcome this roadblock, her agency developed the Daily Social Media Workout, a list of very specific tasks, such as retweeting two interesting tweets and sharing two photos, so businesses have an action plan and can learn best practices along the way. One client, Gateway for Cancer Research in Schaumburg, Ill., grew its Facebook fans by 166 percent in 8 months with the tool and consistent social media work, and quadrupled its Twitter followers. Ashlee Landis, marketing specialist for Gateway for Cancer Research, says she uses the list each day to help her search for content more efficiently and post information that fans and post content that engaged followers, saving the group 3-4 hours a week. She says, "It encourages working smarter instead of harder."

Coyote Logistics, another client, found similar results after using the tool for organization and topic coverage. After eighteen months, the company previously had no social presence grew to 2,300 Twitter followers and more 2,400 Facebook fans.

2. Set it and (nearly) forget it. By using free scheduling tools, businesses can set up tweets, posts and pins in advance, maximizing time online and ensuring that accounts aren't get neglected on busy days, says John DeLuca, social media manager at Fusion92 in Arlington Heights, Ill. Tools such as HootSuite allow users to see streams from multiple networks simultaneously, saving users from switching between accounts and helping them better track posts across platforms. DeLuca also recommends Netvibes and Feedly as RSS reader tools for quickly finding and organizing content to share online, saving precious minutes that can be used for social strategizing or running some other aspect of your business.

3. Offer a freebie -- strategically. Rather than spend $3,000 on a direct mail piece (with a 1 percent conversion rate), Joe Chura suggested its client Fisher Auto in Boulder, Colo. trade oil changes for Facebook "Likes" and opt-ins to the company email. Chura, the chief executive officer of Launch Digital Marketing says investing money into giveaways online can increase both revenue and exposure. The dealership received 300 Facebook likes, a 30 percent boost, resulting in $2,700 in free oil changes and $6,000 in additional sales during those visits. The promotion was ready in four hours instead of the several weeks needed to produce, print and mail a direct mail piece.

Giveaways can be tricky, of course, and should be planned carefully, with clear starts and ends, following Facebook contest guidelines. During the Fisher Auto promotion, giveaway recipients were required to make appointments for the oil change so the dealership could effectively manage traffic. But planning still requires content your readers want. "I always tell people to give away their most popular product or even a free consultation, since that will most likely drive the most interest in your brand and your promotion," Chura says.

Jennifer Goforth Gregory has over 18 years professional writing experience and specializes in writing about small businesses. Her work has been published MSN Money, FOX Business and the Intuit Small Business Blog and American Express OPEN Forum.

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