If you spend a lot of time on social networking sites, are you wasting your time or getting results? Last week in Brazen Careerist’s Social Media Bootcamp course, the focus was on how to answer this question. So far we learned:

Week 1’s lesson was to listen to your audience and figure out what they care about.

Week 2’s lesson was on how to create a social media strategy that connects your audience to your efforts on sites such as Twitter, Goodreads, blogs, and YouTube. In other words, how to pick your goals and make a plan that gets you there.

Week 3’s lesson was on how to calculate your return on investment (ROI) and use numbers to decide whether your efforts are paying off. The lessons required a lot of translation to make sense in the author’s world, because–well, most likely, you’re working solo. You don’t have to justify your time to a boss. You’re probably not famous, so you have to milk a lot of meaning from relatively smaller numbers. How? Forget the dollars-and-cents ROI calculations and just look at the numbers in relation to one another. To get your numbers, use these measuring tools:

  • Access Twitter through Hootsuite so that you can easily share links through ow.ly. Hootsuite allows you to create free reports that show not only your number of followers, but how many people click on your links. Note that Twitter is a great place to meet people and participate in conversations; in my case, though, the numbers revealed that I spend too much time here for the small level of engagement in return. I also learned that my followers are more likely to click on either how-to articles like this one, or on my book reviews.
  • Check your Klout score to watch for changes in the effectiveness of your tweets. Don’t get addicted to the score. Instead, look for trends (is the graph going up or staying flat?), compare them to the efforts you’ve been making, and also learn from its matrix of participation styles. Hover your mouse over each square to read about it, and decide whether to change your sharing/tweeting style to suit your goals.

    Participation style matrix

  • Connect your blog to Google Analytics.It provides information on your number of new and repeat visitors, where they come from, what pages they’re interested in, and how long they hang around your site. It also gives you valuable SEO insights, such as the keyword searches that led people to your blog. This was my wakeup call: Most of my site visitors find me through Google searches; also, though I have only 40 friends on Goodreads but almost 1,000 Twitter followers, I get more visitors from Goodreads than from Twitter. Therefore, I should focus even more time on SEO optimization and on my interactions on Goodreads.

    Screenshot of my Analytics page

  • Use the Author Dashboard in Goodreads to find out how many people added your book to their “to read” list, how many people clicked on your blog posts, how many “liked” your posts, and how many new friends and fans you have. Remember, though, that Goodreads is not a place to actively promote yourself. Pay the most attention to what people are reading, sharing your own reviews, and of course, reading books offline. You’re a writer. Read. A lot.
Bottom line, THESE ARE ALL NUMBERS. You measure them over time to find out what ideas, tone of voice, and participation style works in your social media world. Don’t get addicted to them for their own sake. Your social media world is a tiny bubble of your life at large, in which the true focus is still on staying healthy, exposing your mind to a 360-degree horizon of ideas, and writing well. When you do step out into the world to sell books, find a publisher, or establish a credible presence as a writer, the numbers will tell you how you’re doing and how to make the best use of your time.