How To Truly Measure The Success of Social Media

Don't worry, this isn't another article about tallying the number of Twitter followers you have. This is a discussion of the technical aspect of truly measuring the success of social media marketing. It's a post that will help you tie your social media efforts back to conversions; sales, lead form fills, donations, and the like.

If you wish to measure social media success you need to understand an important concept in analytics: Attribution.

Assists are underrated in measuring success
On December 30, 1980 an NBA basketball player named you've probably never heard of had the game of his life. No, he didn't score 100 points like Wilt Chamberlain. He didn't even score 25 points. On that day, Scott Skiles set the NBA single-game record for assists. He passed the ball 30 times to other playerswho then scored, leading to a 155-116 rout for the Orlando Magic over the Denver Nuggets.

In business (and in sports) we are measured by the bottom line. It's the final score of the game. It's net income on the Profit & Loss statement. Your team has to score conversions to improve the bottom line. You have to put the ball in the hoop. You have to close sales.

What often gets lost when we only look at the bottom line is the path to the conversion. How did we score all those baskets? How did we close those sales?

How can we give attribution to those assists?

Measuring social media success is an attribution issue
Social media is not a direct response channel. We don't expect to post an offer to 10,000 people on Facebook, get 1,000 clicks and close 100 deals. That's not how it works.

Social media is more effective for top-of-the-funnel activities like driving awareness and interest. As a result, social media gets more assists than slam dunk sales, and this creates an attribution issue.

This isn't a new problem. Marketers have been asking this question for ages. How much do we attribute our success, or lack thereof, to the billboard we purchased on the freeway? Or the print ad we placed in that trade journal?

I've got good news. It is possible to extract the ROI of your social media efforts. And it's much easier than finding the ROI of that billboard or print ad.

Change your attribution model to count assists
If you want to accurately measure the success of social media, you need to understand how attribution works. Most analytics tools, by default, use a model called "Last Interaction" to give attribution to a conversion. Here's a scenario that plays out everyday on the web:

  1. A prospect sees a Facebook update containing a link to a blog post your company wrote. She clicks on the link and reads the post. She likes the post, so she signs up for your email list to receive further updates.

  2. Four days later she receives an email and clicks a link to visit your company blog again. This time, she reads the article and signs up for a demo of your product.  She likes the demo and thinks it will solve her problem.

  3. She writes a proposal to her boss to purchase your product. Three weeks later she gets budget approval to buy your product. Not remembering your exact web address, she Googles the name of your business and clicks on the search result. She fills out a lead form, talks to a sales representative, and purchases your product.

In a Last Interaction Attribution Model, SEO will get 100% of the credit for this sale. It looks like this:

Last Interaction Attribution Modeling

Because the last trackable interaction this eventual customer had was Googling your company name, SEO gets all the credit.

The intention of analysis in our business is to inform our decisions making. If the Last Interaction Model is the only model you are using, you might make a bad choice.

I can hear it now: "Cut the social media budget! Kill the email marketing program! Let's double down on SEO!" It's the equivalent of the Orlando Magic cutting Scott Skiles because he doesn't score enough baskets. Lucky for Scott, the NBA records and reports on assists -- and you should too.

You might find that social media is a powerful driver of direct sales. I hope you do. But if you're like most of us, you'll need to change the way you are attributing conversions.

First Interaction Attribution Modeling
Another attribution model that can be used to measure social media is First Interaction. The First Interaction Attribution Model gives 100% credit to the first interaction. Our example scenario would look like this,

First Interaction Attribution Modeling

Linear Attribution Modeling
In this model, every interaction along the path receives equal treatment.  It looks like this:

Linear Attribution Modeling

And it doesn't end there. You can experiment with custom models that "decay" the credit given to an interaction based on the amount of time that has passed. Many analytics tools allow you to create custom attribution models. Whatever you do, don't rely on any one model. If you do, you won't see the whole picture.

Assists are underrated. But don't take my word for it, take a look at the bottom line. If Scott Skiles gets zero assists back in 1980, his team loses that game by 21 points. Tour.png
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