How accurate are those frankly astonishing social media adoption numbers being thrown around? And how much value should your clients place on a “like” or re-tweet?

Social media metrics are still emerging, but it doesn’t help that the social media numbers you see are probably inflated (from ZDNet):

The numbers of users reported by Facebook, Twitter, Google, and many other sites, are closely watched. They reveal trends in adoption and they are one of the few public metrics available to analysts trying to assign value to companies preparing an initial public offering.

But how accurate are these numbers?

In some anecdotal cases, the number of users, active and actual, could be as small as one-third. And nearly one-half of user accounts could be fake or contain no user profiles.

Tom Foremski’s article raises a lot of questions about inflated social media graphs (including who might be responsible), and while this news doesn’t come as a surprise to most, it’s interesting to see it codified.

ZDNet screenshot of Tom Foremski article

Not getting the results you deserve? Maybe you're not working with the numbers you think...

What’s key for my clients, of course, is the Return On Investment (ROI) of social media, not the fluffy numbers embraced by gurus.

And I’d suggest the ROI of my business and nonprofit customers has been marginal compared media channels like email and in-person sales efforts, especially once you consider your time investment.

Which is why I’m suggesting my clients try to convert social media contacts to more meaningful assets (like email addresses). And that they automate social media channels whenever possible so they can focus on content — and their more profitable channels.

It’s not exactly what you’ll hear from today’s new breed of social media fans, but in terms of revenue, it’s still the better formula — especially for businesses without a sizable marketing staff.

Keep marketing, Tom Chandler.