There Are Clear Impediments To Direct Quantification Of Social Media Conversion
The question of tracking social media’s return on investment is one that has long produced a litany of a answers, and I believe most of those answers are incorrect. For one, unless someone is buying a product or signing up for services directly from Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or any of the variety of social media services available, there is little likelihood there will be direct ROI from social media use.
I decided to write about this topic tonight because of a blog link a friend sent. Herb Sierra and I worked together at the newsroom of WINZ many years ago. In fact, I am chagrined to say it was actually more than a couple decades ago, by now. We have a long history. His email contained a simple question about quantifying the ROI of social media, followed by a link to a post on ClickZ.com. Without even reading the blog entry, I proffered reasons why tracking social media ROI is, at the very best, problematic. My reply to Herb is as follows:
“[It is] very difficult right now, unless you can put long-term cookies on users’ computers. Here’s why:
“If I send a visitor to a website from, say, Twitter, I can track the referral source, but they may not actually buy something that day. A long-term cookie could be stored on their computer, but it will only apply to that computer and that browser. Even if they buy something within 90 days to six months, there may have been existing familiarity with the brand, due to the social media referral, but a different trigger may have prompted them to buy. That still gives some credit to social media for the eventual purchase, though.
“However, what if that trigger came from a different social media post, say Facebook. Now the credit goes to Twitter for branding the product or service provider, then to Facebook for the actual conversion, which may happen, again, several weeks or months later.
“Getting back to that tracking cookie: What if the user is on a different computer or browser by the time they do convert? Well, we won’t know whether the social media was the impetus or contributing factor at all, now, will we?
“So the answer to your question is, from my perspective, yes, it is possible to track, but accurate measurement may not be reliably quantifiable.”
My response presumes one is operating a regular small business and not the CEO of a major continental or global corporation. Few among us are so situated.
Social Media Statistics Do Not Readily Translate Into Website Conversions
Facebook offers analytics that help track likes, links, engagements and so forth, but determining whether conversions happen as the result of user engagement on social media is still a tricky business. The way I use social media with my clients is to build a following, engage them with regular posts about matters related to the product or service offered, then provide the occasional post that brings the user to the client’s website. The best chance of converting the client is after they arrive at your site.
In this way, social media becomes a superb branding tool. It is, in my opinion, an online equivalent of a highway billboard, among other useful analogies, with the benefit of being able to have a direct engagement with the user. After you have engaged your visitors on social media enough, you give them reason to trust you and visit your website. I never sell the visitors on anything. That last point is so counter-intuitive, most people will think it is an erroneous line of reasoning.
The Short Play Versus Staying Power
Keep in mind, I am in the game for the long haul. I build brands and businesses over a period of time. I am not interested in a pop today and a flat line tomorrow. There are peaks and valleys in web traffic, but the point is that overall traffic from social media builds over time as the number of “likes” or “followers” grows. In time, the brand is well know to a segment of the web population that, when time comes, referrals are made without your input. The social aspect of the social media has begun to work. Tracking that, however, is just not that easy to do.
Quite frankly, I am often amused, and more often annoyed, by the Johnny-Come-Lately bloggers and digital bean counters who, having made a quick splash online today, think they are well versed in how media works. They are not. Tracking trends is not born of micro dots but of macro data, in my opinion. One has to step back to see the trend lines, and those only come with a commitment to the long-term growth of a business.
You probably think this is all some hocus-pocus nonsense, but Seth Godin just happens to have written a blog post April 15 that, in many ways, addresses these very points. He compared connecting the dots with collecting dots. It was one of his shorter blogs, so most of it is quoted here.
“Why … do we spend so much time collecting dots … more facts, more tests, more need for data, even when we have no clue (and no practice) in doing anything with it?
“[The] big bag of dots isn’t worth nearly as much as your handful of insight, is it?”
I agree, Seth; it is not.
It Is Just A New Channel, So Keep That In Mind
The short point is this: Human psychology is the same today as it was 25 years ago, and so are the fundamentals of communication, marketing and trust. The way to market one’s business has only gained a variety of new channels on which to convey the message and purvey the product or service.
When one thinks carefully for a moment about the subject of tracking ROI from social media, and how social media is actually a website run by a third party, it becomes relatively easy to understand that things like Facebook, Twitter and the like should be treated like new channels on the broadcast spectrum, not some mysterious digital realm.
Social media is for engagement, branding and building trust. It is, quite frankly, going to the place with the highest amount of traffic and speaking directly to the people there. The conversions happen after you drive some of that traffic back to your site. In many ways, it is more effective that driving traffic with a PPC campaign, but that is another blog entry.