I was recently talking to a journalist about the following question: should businesses (or schools or nonprofits) care about the quantity of followers they have, or the quality of their followers on social media platforms like Twitter, Buzz, Facebook, and elsewhere?

But the more important question that executives in all industries are struggling with is this: what is the return on investment of social media?  How much should we invest in social media?  How much will we get out of a social media plan?  This high level of uncertainty is at the core of any new social media marketing campaign, just like it’s at the core of any new business, or any new product launch. 

So what do you do? You need to begin systematically eliminating uncertainty from your social media plan.  Rather than focusing on the number of followers you have (10? 200? 4,000?) you need to define exactly what you hope to achieve with social media, and then you need to begin achieving those goals.  In other words, if you have 10 followers on Twitter, but you can point to specific positive outcomes that resulted from your Twitter marketing, like sales that are linked to Twitter discount codes, or ticket sales through that channel, or even softer goals like reduced customer service costs or an increased number of positive customer interactions, then you can begin eliminating the uncertainty that’s preventing your success with social media.  (And this will allow you to come up with a responsible budget for scaling your social media marketing.)

So the short answer is: quality is king.  There’s nothing sillier than someone on Twitter who has 50,000 followers, zero engagement and nothing to show for it.

Will Marlow co-founded AlumniFidelity to help his clients reposition their fundraising to benefit from Web 2.0 technology and marketing techniques. He’s working with clients such as UVA, the College of William & Mary, the University of Oklahoma, Bowling Green State University, Randolph Macon College, and he loves nothing better than a thorny marketing challenge.  He would love to help you market your business on the Internet, boost the fundraising numbers for your school or nonprofit, or sellout your next big event.  Email him at will@alumnifidelity.com.