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It is our very nature to be seduced by numbers, by things that are big and shiny.

Return on Investment – ROI – is the constant question of social media. Nothing gets social media people hemming and hawing and mumbling into their shoes like the ROI question.

And given the newness of social media it is no wonder there has been no definitive answer. For many though it seems quite straightforward: Followers, fans and Klout score. However, to an ever growing number there is the realisation that building a loyal, communicating community is a much greater prize.

This realisation comes with a changing mindset.  Business has owned the media for so long and consequently been in charge of the cycle of communication that accepting the reversal of this cycle is difficult to comprehend. But as social media users continue to shape social platforms to their own likes, tastes and lifestyles so acceptance of this change is coming.

Large numbers are important, but large quality numbers are even more important.  Sure, traditional media can reach vast numbers, a majority of whom may not be interested in your communication.  Imagine talking to a much smaller crowd who are intensely interested in what you have to say.  It takes less investment, but more creativity, to do that.

Coming back to the numbers.   These are excellent metrics to measure how your programmes are doing but are not success in themselves.  If you provide excellent content and conversation and your numbers grow steadily, it tells you that your are being successful in your efforts.  To artificially grow your numbers by purchasing fans (I heard of one case of this being done.  How I don’t know) or following 10,000 people on Twitter to get follow backs, tells you nothing.

By being real, genuine and properly engaged you will build influence.  And that is the key, certainly in 2012.  The return on your investment will be influence.  Built through open and honest engagement, and of course the ‘old school’ virtue of excellent service.

The combination is irresistible.