Whether you are just getting into social media or you are already up and running, it’s important to remember this: You need to keep tabs on the your social media ROI.

Sure, social media has become a vehicle of influence. But that doesn’t mean it’s an automatic win. Yes, most small businesses need to invest some time, and maybe even a little money, into social media. But you shouldn’t just waste your days away putting up posts that aren’t working, either. You need to determine how your social media activities are impacting our bottom line.

AMI-Partners just launched a study looking at how social media influences small business purchase decisions, but you can easily flip that around.  The key message from the study is this: driving positive outcomes from social media demands clear objectives and discipline. You need clearly defined goals related to your marketing funnel.

What do I mean by marketing funnel? I mean your social media efforts should drive awareness, consideration, and hopefully a purchase. AMI-Partners says there are also softer goals, like community development and engagement, which can drive revenue.

AMI-Partners offers some tips for optimizing social media channels. I’ve adapted them to fit the needs of small business owners trying to escort customers through the purchase funnel:

1. Awareness: Many of your customers will become aware of your brand through self-discovery. That includes word-of-mouth through peer and associate networks on social media. Your messaging or promotions should be relevant and non-intrusive.

2. Consideration: The consideration phase is highly dependent on your customers being able to gather enough information to become familiar with what you offer and determine if they are interested. During consideration, decision makers may even reach out to your small business or seek out opinions on forums or community sites. This is why your online reputation is so important.

3. Purchase: The actual purchase decision is mainly driven by conclusions made during the consideration phase. At this point, other user experiences and even recommendations for alternative solutions impact the final decision. A user’s evaluation becomes more critical in this phase, as decision makers establish trust through others’ experiences.

So how do you woo customers through this marketing funnel? The tactics are simple: increase the number of positive postings, registrations, and participation. But don’t do it in the dark. Draft clear revenue goals associated with your social media to guide how much you are willing to invest. And remember, it’s not all about the immediate dollars. ROI can also be found in customer retention, channel sales assistance, nurturing customers into advocate roles and so on. Those things may be less tangible at the end of the day—and harder to link back to revenue. But you should still notice top-level growth in the big picture.

Check out this video on the marketing funnel and how it works online: