As chief marketing officers, we find ourselves in quite the conundrum when it comes to social media.

I’m going to be honest here.  While I’m allocating budget for social media marketing initiatives, I, like many, have yet to find an airtight return on investment for doing so. But trust me, it’s not from a lack of trying.

Today, there are ways to pay for ads on sites such as Twitter and Facebook, but that isn’t what I’m talking about. This advertising has a clear ROI and looks more like search engine marketing (SEM).

What doesn’t have an ROI is good ol’ fashioned social media.

When hunting for an ROI social media strategy, I turned to my good friend Ted Rubin, who is arguably the most well-known advocate for social media investment. He claims that one should be thinking about return on relationship (ROR), rather than ROI.

“In the world of coordinated creation of social media stories, there are typically two kinds of success, or ROI, on social campaigns: cost mitigation and sales increase,” Rubin told me. “And I believe there is an ROR fostered by all brand-relevant content and communication—simply put, the value that is accrued by a person or brand due to nurturing a relationship.”

Basically, Rubin’s secret sauce is to measure relationships through social media experiences. He combines content from consumers and influencers and uses it to engage with consumers, amplifying its effects by syndicating it across media and platforms around the Internet. The strategy yields results.

“This includes search engine optimization (SEO) results that last, an increase in online share of voice (SOV) compared to competitors, and engaged impressions and reach that drive brand awareness, loyalty and ultimately sales conversion,” he said.

Rubin shares a simple formula to explain why ROR works:

Being Social drives Engagement, Engagement drives Loyalty and Advocacy, and both correlate directly to Increased Sales. ROR equals ROI.

It sounds good, but there are a lot of firms out there saying they can measure social impact or the social media experience. As the constant skeptic, I truly wonder if they really can, and if they can … do they do it accurately? It feels like the days of old when we said we could measure implicit brand awareness.

In my experience, there are two types of social media customers: those few who love you (and are probably already loyal customers who will rave about your company any chance they get) and those few who hate you (and probably hate everything just to hate everything, and have no problem saying so).

The challenge with social media is engaging those who fall in between, the silent majority, which just so happens to be the vast majority. Those are the leads you want and need.

This may be worthy of a larger discussion at a different time (particularly, on how to reach this silent majority through social media … or other platforms). Let me know what you think below.