This post was originally published in Marketing. You can view the original article here.

Social media can be a powerful, integral pillar for marketing. Marketers have more routes to deliver a greater volume of information to a larger audience than ever before. As the possibilities continue to change, however, tracking marketing activities against business value is also becoming more complex.

Measurement isn’t a new conversation for marketers, yet many still struggle to quantify the value of social programs for their business stakeholders. While many are focused on the softer metrics when tracking social programs, tying hard calculations, such as purchase conversion and impact to the bottom line, is entirely possible. Social and hard metrics do not have to be opposing forces—you can address consumers interactively through the social channels they frequent and demonstrate real business ROI from doing so. The trick is in the fundamentals.

By following five straightforward steps, you can open up profitable social conversations around your products and calculate real ROI in the process:

1. Be social where shoppers are buying

…Rather than relying on one social site to drive consumer engagement and to promote purchase decisions. The average shopper checks 10.4 different information sources before making a purchase. With that in mind, it makes sense to encourage online conversations at every point along the buyer’s journey, including product brand sites, retail sites, social channels and search engines. When shopper conversations are enabled, research shows that consumers are 105% more likely to buy and spend 11% more per transaction after interacting with other consumers online.

2. Enable conversations that help consumers make a purchase decision

…By applying the right social enablers at key milestones along the buyer’s journey. Consumers trust the opinions of others nearly 12 times more than the messaging from brands. That means that the content shared between those who have purchased a product and those who want to learn from those experiences can directly influence the sale. To encourage such engagements about your products and services, facilitate the creation of natural triggers that consumers would find useful such as product reviews, questions and answers, or just the opportunity to share product/brand experience stories.

3. Get found with fresh user-generated content

…That can activate search engines to attract a higher volume of shoppers. Nearly two-thirds (61%) of consumers use search engines to help with product research leading up to a purchase. The social enablers embedded on your site provide a consistent volume of new user generated content that not only creates favorable SEO gains, but also helps you identify the keywords and phrases to optimize the rest of your site—all of which helps increase visits.

4. Use multiple paths to show ROI

…By comparing revenue lift from those pages that offer social interactions with consumers vs. those that do not. With the embedded social enablers, a solid volume of social discussion, and a disciplined approach to track the difference between a socially enabled audience and one that is not, you can effectively measure the return on your social investment with the following ROI equation: (increased transactions) + (increased revenue per transaction) + (decrease in product returns).

5. Measure your social mix to optimize results

…So you can tailor and test different social content types, formats and messages to see how they perform. This process will provide the data you need to maximize your social investment and allocate your budget to your highest performing tactics and social channels.

Sounds simple, right? It is, but few marketers are applying these fundamentals to their marketing. Executing this 5-steps process enables social conversations about specific products and services right at the point where the buying process is taking place—one of the main goals of any social initiative—and aligns your social strategy with fundamental KPIs your business is already measuring. That’s proof of real social ROI.