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As more and more marketers jump on the social media marketing bandwagon, the inevitable questions about return on investment are cropping up. While there are no hard costs to joining and using social media networks like Twitter or Facebook, or even some blogging platforms, some folks are beginning to wonder if it is really worth the time and effort one must put in to get any sort of return from social media.

Of course social media marketing is worth it, even if that ROI cannot directly be measured in dollars. Need convincing?

Let's compare a business to an automobile. The engine that makes the car go is the great customer experience served up by the business. No matter what you do, whether you're a restaurateur, retailer, or consultant, you have to deliver a great customer experience or you probably won't be in business very long. By providing great customer service, you'll have passionate fans that will help spread the good word about your business.

The fuel to keep those passionate fans connected is your email marketing efforts. You're keeping in touch with your most loyal fans on a regular basis, providing value in what you send to them, and keeping top of mind with them when it comes time to make another purchase or when someone asks for a referral. Email marketing's ROI is well known, and leveraging email to communicate with your best customers can help draw in prospects to the top of the sales funnel. That much we've known for a while.

So where does social media marketing fit into this car metaphor? It's the turbo charger that can help make finding prospects and turning them into customers even faster. By adding social media marketing to your customer acquisition mix, you can make the car run more quickly and efficiently.

Help prime the social media sharing pump by giving your passionate customers something to share. They can share content from your email newsletter, a blog post plucked from your RSS feed, or posts to your own social media accounts. If they need a little additional prodding, ask your customers to share. With Facebook and its many social plugins, this form of "sharing" can be as simple as a customer hitting the "Like" button on your newsletter.

You could run a contest (announced in your newsletter) that any customer who posts their experience with your company on your Facebook Page will be entered to win a prize, which could be a gift certificate to your business or the latest high-tech bauble. If you have a physical location with frequent visitors, tell your customers to check in on Foursquare or Gowalla when visiting. Offer those who use those services a discount, or something free to the "mayor" of your venue.

The one thing to remember: the turbo charger (social media) is useless without an engine (passionate customers). Businesses must offer a great customer experience to draw in those passionate customers, who will in turn spread the word about your products and services.