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On Facebook, Twitter, influence can become profit

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Wade Payne/AP/File

(Read caption) Taylor Swift performs during the CMA Fan Fest in Nashville, Tenn., this summer. The country-pop superstar uses her Facebook page to naturally integrate Cover Girl with a personal testimonial and professional how-to video. It's a social-media example of personal influence to push a company.

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Musicians Taylor Swift and Kanye West have millions of Facebook fans and Twitter followers. But there's a difference between their abilities to get people to buy something or believe in something, just as there's a difference between JetBlue's social media strategy versus that of US Airways.

I call it the new ROI – return on influence. And the new ROI can affect the old ROI – return on investment – so directly that, increasingly, companies are starting to pay attention.

I've worked with companies from DoubleTree by Hilton to Nike to enhance their brands via social media. This same approach works for people, too. Three years ago, I developed "Random Acts of Shaqness." These were social media stunts designed to help basketball great Shaquille O'Neal bridge the virtual and physical worlds to connect with his fans. Shaq used social media to share his exact physical location with fans. The first fan who could find and tag him was rewarded with tickets to a game or an autographed jersey.

Ultimately, this kind of influence is power. And in the world of marketing, it can be amazingly profitable. Two brands may have competing products that offer the same value and whose ads reach the same size audience, yet one is "cool," with soaring sales, while the other is bland and sales stay flat.

In the old days of marketing, circa 2003, it was difficult to measure this influence. Now, with social media, we can measure it more accurately than ever before. What that means for consumers is that, increasingly, companies are going to try to engage you not just on the "cold" metrics of ad impressions but also on the "warm" metrics of engagement and sentiment.

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