The ability to track ROI from social media activities will most certainly impact the size of investments in social channels moving forward. Today you can find several free tools for monitoring the buzz and where your brand/ products/ services are mentioned. Examples of these tools are; Google Alerts, Technocrati, readers such as iGoogle and Netvibes. These tools will give you information about where your brand appears and what is being said. You might also use these tools once you have a strategy for your social media marketing to monitor the impact of your content in selected channels. In combination with Google Analytics, you will even be able to build a reasonably good decision making tool. The only flip side of using free tools is that you will have the information scattered in different places, making it harder to get a full picture of engagement and impact.
Webtrends seems to have a good solution for this. In the Webtrends Social Measurement solution you have the ability to monitor the buzz, structure the engagement, measure the impact and analyze performance to improve your social media engagement. Webtrends have also opened up API:s for external partners such as Radian6 and Sales Force. With the latter you will be able to integrate your social media engagement with other activities to better manage your total customer engagement.
These types of integrated solutions will most certainly spur investments in social media channels. This mainly since hard ROI numbers still counts if you want to get funding for your social media ventures.
With better tracking possibilities the challenge will rather be not to put too much trust in short term numbers, and realize that social media marketing is slow marketing where you need to earn the trust of your community. Nevertheless, you will cater for the need of your management team to see real hard numbers from your investment.