Tony Amrich, manager of social media guest service at Virgin America, wanted insight into the current buzz his company was getting online.He quickly pulled up a stat: 706 social posts about the airline in the prior 24 hours. He could see where those messages were posted--Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram and Google+--and track when someone from Virgin America responded.Amrich and two colleagues, who together are the 6-year-old airline's social media team, use social media management software from Sprinklr to tally activity, schedule posts and engage with customers posting messages.He sets up searches for keywords, such as "@VirginAmerica" and "Virgin Airlines," whether they're separate words or run together. Sometimes the team is responding to everyday issues, such as someone tweeting about an item left on a plane or a tag on Facebook praising the company.Other times, the team must deal with situations with larger implications for the airline, which is part of Richard Branson's Virgin empire. For example, when filmmaker Kevin Smith tweeted and blogged a complaint about missing his flight due to the poor timing of the airline's concierge service, the team leapt into action.Using Sprinklr's real-time monitoring, dashboard and email alert capabilities, Virgin was able to send an email to Smith's assistant to resolve the problem--a customer service coup that Smith praised in a follow-up tweet.Beyond Likes and FollowersWhile Virgin America monitors social media traffic overall, the company also identifies certain customers as influencers. They're generally people with at least 50,000 Twitter followers or the highest-level members of the airline's frequent flyer program. The Sprinklr software sends email alerts when those folks post anything about Virgin America, so he and his team can respond quickly if needed.Calculating the dollar value of social media activity is difficult for Virgin America and many other companies. Of 3,000 marketers surveyed recently by Social Media Examiner, only 26 percent said they were able to measure the monetary returns of their social media efforts.To determine ROI, companies need numerous departments to integrate social media data with other internal and external information sources, says Susan Etlinger, an analyst at Altimeter Group. That requires heavy involvement from the IT department, she says.The key is to go beyond tracking simple numbers of likes and followers to look at outcomes. The more useful goal, she says, is to derive metrics that matter to people in the C-suite: revenue and profit, but also measures of innovation and speed to market.Companies can start by looking at examples where social media activity was known to influence sales, she suggests, or by comparing the behavior of one group exposed to social media content to another group exposed to no or different material. Eventually, Amrich wants to take Virgin America into deeper social media analysis. But for now, he says, quickly reacting to the real-time buzz makes a positive difference.Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.