Remember those road trips with family or friends when you were growing up? There was always someone (maybe you) in the car that kept asking that annoying question: “Are we there yet?”

That’s what it feels like sometimes when we’re talking to B2B marketers about their social media efforts. Of course, these marketers aren’t asking about going to Disneyland or the beach, but about achieving positive ROI from social media.

Unfortunately, the truth is that when it comes to Social ROI, most B2B companies aren’t there yet – they’re still in the “investment” not the “return” part of the equation.

So how can you know whether or not you’re on track with social media, so that you can be confident that ROI is just around the corner?

4 Stages of Social Marketing

It starts with realizing there are different stages of social media marketing. And where you are on the journey to positive ROI depends on what stage you’re at.

4 Stages of Social Marketing

With that in mind, we’ve created the framework above to help you understand the four stages of social marketing. In a nutshell, it shows what you should be most focused on, and what to measure, in each stage. You’ll notice that each stage “maxes out” at different levels of value, too. And that most B2B companies we come across are still in the Activity and Audience stages.

Let’s dig into each stage in a little more detail.

Stage 1: Activity

Do you remember the last time you joined a gym? Your initial goal was just to show up every week, right? Then you focused on losing weight, getting stronger, etc. The first stage of social marketing is like that. What’s important at this stage is your activity: the number of blog posts per month, tweets per day and status updates per week that you and your team can do. Measure your progress in this stage by how consistently you’re able to maintain (and increase) your target activity levels.

Stage 2: Audience Building

At this stage, you’re getting pretty consistent with blogging and social sharing but have no meaningful audience yet. Now is the time to focus on building high-quality social channels filled to the brim with prospects, customers, influencers and —yes — employees. To gauge progress, you want to track the number of new blog subscribers, followers, and fans, but also keep an eye on the quality of your new audience members. You should see that new followers and subscribers are more relevant to your business and the content you share. And just remember, a higher quality social audience means more results in the next stage…

 Stage 3: Engagement

Since you have consistent social activity and a growing, quality social audience, you now get to reap some rewards! People are starting to share your blog posts, retweet and mention your company handle, and “like” your LinkedIn company page updates. So that’s what you want to measure when it comes to this stage: which kinds of content and interactions are best for mobilizing your audience. The key is to share compelling and relevant content (branded and curated), and engage in social conversations with prospects, customers, and industry influencers.

Stage 4: ROI

At this stage you’re starting to generate ROI from your social media efforts. Why? Because your ongoing social media activity and engaged audience are driving meaningful action, including conversions: website traffic, landing page clicks, and … yes, leads! For this stage, those are the metrics you want to track and measure. It’s also now easier to get more resources to help turn the social media wheel faster because everyone on the team is seeing the progress!

So which companies — both large and small — are at the ROI stage with social media? Most likely, some of the marketing technology brands including: @Salesforce, @Hubspot, @Marketo, @Moz, @KISSmetrics, @Buffer and @Unbounce.

Keep in Mind

How long should you expect to be focused on a particular stage? It depends on the resources you commit and how quickly you can ramp up your social media activity. With that said, we’ve found that a good benchmark is one to two quarters per stage. In addition, you’ll always be working on each stage but your goals will increasingly start to reflect the next stage you’re moving towards.

Just be careful to align your specific goals to the social media stage you’re in — otherwise you may overturn your progress by trying to answer the ROI question too early.

Now it’s your turn!  Which stage is your company at… on the journey to positive Social ROI? And what tips do you have for getting to positive social ROI faster?