For the longest time business executives have been guided by their estimations and projections. This has been their number one activity when setting a course for the following quarter, or the following year. Makes good sense to anyone who is in the business of growing a business. But the rules of engagement have changed. It’s no longer about the total number of hits, impressions, or likes (sorry all you social media mavens!).

No, it’s about the degree of engagement you have achieved and that happens by hard work on the backs of connecting with friends, co-workers, prospects, and clients. They are the ones that can help you best grow your business. The greater degree of conversation the faster and more successfully you will achieve your goal.

So the question remains: What is your goal and is it the right one? Below are some guiding principles I would strongly recommend you implement throughout your entire marketing enterprise.

In the old days connections were made face-to-face and they were absolutely meaningful. For instance, a media sales representative would arrive on your doorstep with a media kit in hand to talk to you about why you should buy their particular media. There was Print, TV, Radio, and billboard. That was pretty much it. Today, there are a gazillion ways to spread the word and highly specialized digital and Internet-based platforms to initiate a conversation.

Don’t get the wrong idea. I love personal one-to-one meetings. They just don’t happen in the frequency they used to nor are they the primary way to “talk” to someone. Social media channels such as Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook, etc., etc., have taken the prominent position to begin “conversations” that have lasting value.

Many marketers in many markets are not comfortable with this sea change. And often, senior executives tend to resist this market shift because they are not big believers in the new media tools or comfortable using them – understandable on one level, but not acceptable on another. The market has moved on and it will move on with or without your company. So it really has gotten down to the question, “Do you want to stay in business or not?”

If the answer is yes, read on. Do you have the right goal in mind? If you are trying to grow your business using the new media tools you are on your way. Here are three principles that will help guide your effort:

1. Know what you want out of your social media program. The place to begin is by defining your social media objectives before you do anything else. Start with an annotated list of objectives that includes your objective and one or two sentences describing your rationale. Then define your audience. Once you have completed these two steps define the R in your ROI. This means determining the specific return you would like to achieve, but remember to measure the degree and amount of interaction you are achieving, not just the total number of clicks, etc.

2. Make it a two-way conversation. You can start this point by asking your customers what they would like to talk about with you. After all, the engagement is about have a conversation that goes both ways! What you want to avoid is being a loud speaker by creating more personalized conversation. You can accomplish this by becoming more sophisticated than simply ‘getting the word out’ by engaging customers with relevant and personal information and asking for their input and advice.

3. Forget about impressions and hits. Simply focusing on eyeballs is not an accurate way to assess the value of a social media or business development program. Sure, you may know how many people “like” your Facebook page, but how many are responding to anything you are saying or posting online by repeating what you have to say? A tracking report is fine if you take the data and improve the way you communicate and develop strong two-way communications.

By blending your social media program with your in-house data and finding ways to make your communications direct to each customer is the best way I know how to grow your business. What you should most care about is not only how many people visited your website, but rather, how many of those visitors responded in a conversation of some sort. The more engagement the more meaningful your business development program will be. And the more engagement you can promote the higher the value your social media program will obtain.

The reason the majority of social media and marketing programs are ineffectual is because their tactics are often mixed and focused on numbers rather than clients needs, interests and wants.