How does your law firm measure return on investment on social media? Likes, comments, followers, traffic or analytics? Big mistake.

Good lawyers get their work from relationships and word of mouth. When measuring return on social media, measure with reputation and relationships in mind.

Kristin Andree (@andreemedia), a marketing strategist and former director in the financial services industry, writes in Investment News this week that relationships are the real social media ROI.

Andree is like most people when buying services.

I like talking to people and really getting to know them a bit. The same goes for companies and brands. Before I choose with whom I will do business, I want to get to know them. Some people are not as outgoing, but most individuals want to know a little about the person or company they’re going to hire. An even greater number of people prefer to do business with a person or company with whom they have established a relationship.

Ted Rubin (@tedrubin), a social media strategist and chief marketing officer of Brand Innovators, told Andree rather than ROI, start looking at ROR — return on relationships — when evaluating time and dollars spent.

Everyone is trying to assign a dollar value to a Facebook fan or Twitter follower, instead of addressing the fact that engagement and interaction that takes place in these mediums are incredibly important to a brand. Building a relationship with existing and future customers is the true value and strength of social media marketing.

Dave Kerpen (@davekerpen), founder of Likeable Media, explains in an interview at Forbes with Dorie Clark (@dorieclark), that companies fail on social because they want to measure ROI on the short term.

You start by listening and understanding the audience, and then you can drive sales. I could notice a company on Facebook, get content from them every single day, then I might go to Google and order something and social media wouldn’t get any credit. Just because it’s not the final click doesn’t mean the ROI of social wasn’t there.

Brian Solis (@briansolis) of the Altimeter Group, may as well have been talking to law firms when saying, ROI doesn’t stand for return for ignorance: “Everything starts with an end in mind.”

In reality, social media return is the value that you derive from your social media campaign. For instance, if the goal of your social media campaign is to drive sales, then your social media return is the number of sales that you can attribute to your social media campaign.

Social media return is the value that your law firm derives from social media based on your goals. When relationships drive your business, look at the relationships you’ve nurtured and built from social over the long haul.

In addition to sharing information and insight on the law, let people get to know you as a person. What are you passionate about? What do you love doing? What is unique about you?

As Heather Morse (@heather_morse), Director of Marketing at Hinshaw Culbertson, told me when we both started using Twitter years ago, Twitter allows others to see us as people — and who lawyers are and what they love is often more interesting than what lawyers do in the law.

Measuring ROI in relationships requires lawyers to get out and network online in a real and authentic fashion. Follow and share on Twitter. Share, like, and comment on Facebook. Share, cite, and provide insight when blogging.

Legal and personal matters can be woven into engagement on all three mediums — blogs, Twitter, and Facebook. Your audience will get to know you, they’ll grow to trust you, and they’ll be more likely to hire you.

When someone tells you that you ought to measure the ROI on social media by looking at analytics, call them on it. That’s bunk. It’s relationships you’re after.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Scott Ableman