It seems social media ends up in the witness stand more than any other form of marketing — constantly having to give evidence of its worth to business owners and bottom-line-focused CEOs. And while most of us know that social media has the potential to provide huge benefits to a brand, proving it with traditional metrics is often an impossible task. This is because you can’t evaluate such a new and unique strategy with old-school methods; it just doesn’t translate.
While we may know deep down that social media works, the only way to confirm its value is to, first, recognize what it truly is, and second, establish new metrics.
What’s Social Media Good For?
The reason it’s nearly impossible to show a direct correlation between social media efforts and sales is because social media isn’t about making sales (at least not directly). Social media is about growing brand recognition, building customer loyalty, and listening to consumers, but it has never and will never be about making direct sales; people go to social media sites to socialize, not shop.
Here are a few other things you should know about social media:
Not an all-inclusive marketing strategy
Social media should only be one aspect in a much larger marketing campaign. And when you successfully integrate it into your other strategies (website, email, print, etc.) it becomes even harder to analyze it in isolation because there is so much overlap. Thus, instead of trying to measure how social media is pushing sales on its own, judge how it is contributing to the overall marketing campaign.
Requires a long-term commitment
While some aspects of your campaign may only last weeks or a few months, it can take six months or more to start seeing results from social media. It takes that amount of time to acquire real, organic followers (not “paid” fans or random users) who actually care about your brand. Also, it takes a fair amount of time to get to know your audience and fine-tune your content and interactions.
Must provide value
Your social pages aren’t the place for making a sales pitch or constantly talking about yourself, and it seems the companies who question the merits social media the most are the ones making this mistake. Most users go to social sites to communicate with their friends and families, so if you expect them to pay attention to you — a mere business– then you have to give them something in return.
Make your social page a place for genuine back-and-forth communication and add value through entertainment, information, coupons, exclusive deals, and more.
So, How Should We Measure Social Media?
All that’s not to say social media gets a free pass; it still needs to prove itself. But, let’s analyze it with metrics designed specifically for it. For instance, you can judge the value of your social campaign by:
- Tracking engagement – High levels of engagement show that you have connected with real fans who are interested in your brand. You can measure engagement by manually tracking likes, shares, comments, retention, etc. Or, you can use one of the many free or paid social media tracking tools.
- Gauging its ability to meet goals – Instead of tackling multiple social media initiatives simultaneously, pick one tactic, and measure it against a baseline to determine whether it helps you reach a particular goal. If it does, (great!) keep doing it and try adding another social strategy. If not, revamp it or ditch it and move on to the next idea.
- Determine its ability to boost traffic – To find out how many visitors you are attracting through social efforts, you have to distinguish regular traffic from social traffic. One way to do this is by tagging all your social links with Google URL builder’s ‘social’ tag. Then, through Google Analytics, you can clearly see who is coming from where.
- Track social mentions – Remember, social media is partly about brand awareness, so not everything can be measured quantitatively. You can get an idea of how you’re faring qualitatively by tracking your social mentions through a free tool like Social Mention. However, by using Social Mention’s “share of voice” metric, you actually can get a number — a percentage that shows your number of conversations as compared to your competitor’s.
Success in the above categories is a strong indication your social media campaign is working. And when it is working you’ll see a steady increase in customer retention, word of mouth advertising, new customers, and, ultimately, sales. However, it’s fruitless to measure social media directly against sales because there’s so much in between and (hopefully) a myriad of other marketing endeavors at work.
This can be frustrating if you are used to seeing a strict cost-benefit analysis, but when you realize social media is about building relationships and humanizing your brand it’s obvious that it must be analyzed on a different scale.