Social media is about the hottest topic there is right now in the online marketing world. Search marketers and traditional marketers are both obsessed with finding ways to drive interest and traffic using this new medium. But how many of them are actually investing in social media marketing and how many are simply offering up half hearted efforts? Drew McLellan posts today to ask if social media marketing is still more hype than reality.
Drew points to a new survey from Coremetrics that shows a mismatch between supposed interest levels and marketing investment. The survey reveals 78% of marketers feel social media marketing will give them a leg up on their competitors. But Drew writes:
They talk a good game, but they're not really putting their money where their mouth is. Just 7.7 percent of their total online marketing spend was allocated to it compared to 33 percent to online advertising and 28 percent on online promotion design and implementation.
The biggest issue seems to be lack of metrics. For some, that means lack of time to measure, for others it means lack of knowledge of WHAT to measure.
Livington explains the reluctance of so many mainstream marketers to dive into social media by citing the push for conversation over conversion.
...there is still a very large contingent of social media types that tout conversation instead of measurement. Quite frankly, asking companies to invest tens of thousands to millions of dollars on a conversation -- while factually accurate -- flies in the face of reality. Instead of convincing them, this conversational chatter only scares companies away.
Until we can demonstrate consistent results, organizations will resist social media adoption.
He goes on to talk about how Dell has tracked negative blog posts since the infamous "Dell Hell" incident (at 49%) to the present (22%). While this is clearly a measurable (though not a direct conversion style ROI) metric, it's still hard to put a price tag on things. That leaves social media marketing as the new media version of public relations. You can track the conversation, you can track the "pick-ups," but it's awfully hard to track the direct impact on your bottom line.
I see his point. In fact, it's no secret that I feel many in the SEO world are incredibly misguided in their social media efforts. I can't count the number of times I've heard search marketers tout social media for the number of links or site visits it can drive. That's fine and dandy, but it fails to address the need to actually GAIN something tangible from a campaign.
So what do I think about social media measurement?
From my point of view as a small business social media advocate, there are two points missing from the conversation.
First, there's the idea that social media has such high costs associated with it. While it's true that a large company might pour tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars into a MySpace page, production of YouTube videos or the integration of Web 2.0 technologies, small businesses tend to come at things from a completely different angle. For the most part, the small business owner measures the cost of a social media campaign in time, not in dollars.
YouTube videos can be shot with the digital camera you already own. Accounts on Facebook, Digg, MySpace, LinkedIn and other social media networking sites are free. Free blogging programs abound. For the small business owner, social media is generally about personal involvement rather than the investment of funds into creative and programming. You ARE your social media presence. You aren't hiring a firm to create one for you.
This leaves small business owners with far less need to directly measure the response to their campaigns. After all, it's always easier to justify a budget of zero.
That said, there's no arguing that time is money to the small business owner. After all, every hour spent blogging or cruising around Facebook is an hour not being spent on clients. So while costs are generally low, there is still a need to track results to make sure your time and effort is well spent.
That leads to my second point...the need to look to things beyond simple conversion rates for measurement. One of the great things about the web is the ability to track direct conversions. The data available these days are what marketers dreamed of decades ago. The ability to track a sale back to a search query, a blog post, a social media site or even a bookmark gives marketers unprecedented insight into what triggers the buyer's impulse in their target audience. It's powerful, powerful data.
On the down side, we've now become spoiled with our ability to track things. We've gotten comfortable with our metrics and we've lost the marketer's insight that allowed us to see beyond those direct conversions. This happens to us in the search world all the time. We take joy in the ability to track a conversion back to the exact search term that brought the visitor to our site, all while pushing back the knowledge that your average shopper conducts 6-8 searches before making a purchase and that 68% of shoppers will make their purchase offline. Sure, we know what phrase ultimately sends them to make the purchase, but what about all those search visits we write off for lack of conversion. Are we sure they aren't responsible for driving repeat visits and purchases down the road?
The same can be said for social media marketing. I see this new drive for metrics and note that many of the pushers are insisting we must track the direct impact of social media marketing on sales. This push ignores the idea that social media marketing builds brand, builds trust and often serves as an influencer rather than a directly trackable source. How many sales are being credited to things like bookmarks, email marketing efforts and blog posts when the reality is that social media is responsible for that bookmark, that email subscription and that editorial link on the blog?
Beyond that, I'm glad to see some talk of measurement outside of pure sales. Geoff talks about tracking the increase in positive comments about Dell and Mack talks about increasing the number of customer evangelists by blogging. I've always encouraged small business owners to look beyond sales to find the metrics they wish to measure. In fact, I wrote a two-part series for ClickTracks on how to use visitor segmentation to find value beyond pure sales.
To offer up an example, I'll refer to The Lactivist, my hobby blog. While I do sell products via CafePress, I'd be doing a disservice to my blog if my sole metric was sales. The site is primarily content driven. The blog is the central focus of the site. Earlier this year, I began selling advertising on the site. That meant each and every visitor suddenly had a dollar value whether they made a purchase or not. In fact, when I sat down and did the math to figure out my average CPM earnings for my ads over the last few months, I can see I earn a little more than a penny per visitor.
With that knowledge, I now track a variety of things.
Of course those are only a handful of the ways I value my social media traffic.
I'd venture a guess that any small business who values their social media traffic solely by looking at how many buyers or leads it produces is being short sighted. The online buying cycle is a complex process. People don't wake up one day, decide they want a widget, take a direct route to get to it and make an immediate purchase. Tracking our social media metrics as if they do leaves far too much value sitting out in the cold waiting to be noticed.
So how do you track your social media success? What metrics do you look at? More importantly, how do we help businesses both large and small understand how to value the success of social media efforts? I'd love to hear from everyone in the comments, but I'm going to specifically call out Wendy Piersall, Matt Bailey, Stoney deGeyter and Matt McGee.
Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.
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