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Social networking sites are important tools for Internet marketers. These sites are a way for companies to connect with fans of their products and services, and this is becoming apparent as more and more people spread the word through social media. Through Facebook Likes, Tweets, Pinterest Pins, and social bookmarks, companies can get an amazing return on investment for social efforts. But how do you tap into the power of social feedback from your customers?

Not every social interaction can be directly tied to ROI, but there is no value in ignoring your customers. Many companies have Facebook fan pages and Twitter accounts, but only a small percentage of these companies are using these tools to their full potential. According to a recent post on Mashable Social Media, 85% of marketers believe customer insight is the greatest potential advantage of social media, but only 6% of businesses are actually using social media to collect social feedback.

There are several advantages to social media marketing over traditional marketing methods. Social insights are real and organic, helping marketers escape from potentially contrived feedback methods. In the social world, there is direct access to honest opinions and criticism. Individual users can be very powerful with social tools, having the ability to break a brand’s credibility with an influential negative comment. With this in mind, I suggest these ideas to help your social media efforts.

Invest Time Daily:

Because social networking allows real-time feedback, an hour’s effort here or there will not be enough. The most successful companies monitor their social tools 24/7, and will strive to respond to all comments in a timely manner. 50-75% of social chatter about a brand does not require any action, but finding the comments that require resolution is worth the time investment. Fans and followers will say what they think about your company, products, and marketing efforts without being prompted, and social media tells you what is working – quickly and directly. When it is not, you have a direct connection to help resolve concerns. These conversations can help mold your social strategy and brand perception.

Be Diverse:

Did you know there are over 200 social networking sites in use internationally? In addition to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn, there many niche-specific social networking sites. These topic-specific sites range from sports to gaming. Research the social networking sites that are related to your industry and create a comprehensive profile. There is little reason to be on a site like Twitter if less than 10% of your target market is actively using it. Use social bookmarking sites to follow industry trends by topic, and share bookmarked content.

Join the Conversation:

Engagement with customers and followers shows that you care about their feedback. Be authentic, and show that your brand has a personality. Ask questions, and respond to answers. Analyzing customer feedback and conversation can help you come up with strategy ideas that you would not create otherwise. Watch what is being said during product announcements to tweak how you do the next one. Find out what trends your followers like, and integrate those trends into your strategy. Follow and respond to your customers/followers reactions. Ask for opinions and you shall receive.

Recognize Loyal Followers:

When you have identified enthusiastic followers of your brand, tag them in Facebook posts and send @reply messages on Twitter. Publicly reward the people who promote you for free. Forge relationships with influential followers, and reach out to see if they are interested in a partnership as a brand ambassador. These brand ambassadors will represent the brand publicly in a positive way and educate consumers about a brand. Brand ambassadors appeal to the human side of the product, offering personal stories and opinions to their network of influence.

Consider a Social Media Marketing Firm:

If your company does not have the expertise or manpower to manage social efforts, consider outsourcing to a social media firm. With a social marketing partnership, experts will manage profiles, create content, assist with blog marketing, and provide the education needed to help you make the most of various social tools. When selecting a firm to help with your social efforts, be sure to choose a firm that will tailor a marketing plan to your company’s specific needs. With the right assistance, you will present the best image possible and help potential clients become an engaged part of your community.

What other ways do you have to turn social feedback into valuable data? Would love to hear all about them in the comments below.