In my role at Actinic I talk to a lot of small business owners. Apart from discussing the latest and greatest ideas in ecommerce a lot of them want to talk to me about social media and how it can work with their business.Much has already been written about the various tips, techniques and strategies businesses can adopt, so I won’t go over this old ground again. However, one of the questions I have always struggled to answer is “How many extra sales will this make me?”Social media ROI is a difficult statistic to measure. There are methods and technologies that can help you to quantify things, but it’s hard to feel confident that they are accurate.Recently social media guru @DarenBBC suggested that we should consider an alternate meaning to ROI, Return on Influence. The explanation is simple, if your strategy is just aimed at selling a few more products you are missing the point entirely. The most successful strategies have a complete focus on connecting with your customers. This enables you to discuss, influence and ultimately own your brand online.To prove the point do a quick search using Collecta for your brand or product. Collecta is a search engine that scours blog posts, Twitter, Facebook and many others. This content is real time, it’s happening as you search as opposed to looking through a huge archive of out-of-date data. The results can be very illuminating and often humbling.To properly understand social media, the first step is to get involved, answer questions and show yourself to be human. It won’t turn into immediate sales figures, but influence will lead to involvement, and involvement is an easy thing to measure. Just ask yourself this: how many questions did you answer today? Eventually, there will be a big impact on sales, but it’s not immediate cause and effect.I speak to many companies that pour huge vats of time and effort into brand protection. Many of them don’t understand that if you’re not the core influencer for your company in these dynamic online communities, someone else will seize that position, and it may cost a fortune to put things right if they go wrong. Sure it’s just about next quarter’s sales figures?