The still-lagging economy, corporate budget-shifting, and increasingly slick technology have all contributed to a rise in hybrid events—face-to-face meetings that include components for remote participants. While it’s easy enough to live-stream educational sessions to remote attendees, creating a virtual version of the “hallway conversation” is proving harder to pull off. But it can be done, and social media can help, says Justin Ramers, director of social media for The Active Network.

One of the biggest sticking points with using social media, however, is that it can be difficult to track the results of your efforts. How do you know those tools have done what you hoped they would do? How do you prove return on investment, or ROI, on something as ephemeral as Twitter retweets? Ramers has four ideas:

1. Develop a culture of analytics. This means getting organizational buy-in on the importance of gathering, measuring, and analyzing data. It also means being open to finding new ways to think about the data you collect, and being able to use what you learn from the number crunching to make business decisions.

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2. Don’t push the envelope just to push the envelope.
Don’t set up a Twitter hashtag or Facebook page for your event just because it’s what everyone’s doing, says Ramers. If you want to see a return on your social media investment, you need to pinpoint what exactly you want to accomplish.

As he points out, you’re probably not doing anything new—be it marketing, or networking, or information sharing—you’re just looking to do it in a different way. Once you have those goals in mind, you can sift through the social tech options to figure out which will help you reach those goals. “Twitter is a tool, not a strategy. If you can’t answer the ‘why’ questions, the tools won’t be very useful to you,” says Ramers.

3. Measure everything.
“Even if you’re not sure how to use the data today, you may be able to analyze trends retrospectively,” he says. “Make sure you tag everything to your analytics package, because the data will inform both your return on investment and your future decisions on strategy.” This means tracking every social media posting, collecting the number of impressions you get on Facebook, and tracking click-throughs using analytics software such as Site Catalyst and Google Analytics.

4. Assign real-money value to every interaction.
Say, for example, you sell cars. How can you measure your social media ROI? Ramers suggests starting at the end and working backward to define values for each step along the way: A potential buyer may click on a Tweet, which leads to form he can fill out to get more information, which leads you to send him that information in an e-mail, which spurs him to come to the lot, which ends up in the purchase of a car.

If your goal is to drive more attendance to your event, he says, all your ROI metrics should be assigning value to indicators of more attendance at your event, such as registrations and check-ins. If you want to promote sharing among a community, you want to assign value to how many pieces of information were shared via Facebook and Twitter and e-mail. (Ramers maintains that e-mail <i>is</i>a form of social media). “You have to identify what you value and what it’s worth to you before you can really talk about ROI,” he says.

“You need to make a case for spending resources on social media,” Ramers says. “If you can put dollar values on the actions being taken in social media, and show how they are contributing to the success of your event, you’ll be a hero.”

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