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Making Social Media Accountable

Most businesses either already have a Social Media Strategy, or know they need one. But what makes a good strategy? And how can you set – and measure – success in terms of bottom line business benefit (i.e. good old-fashioned, profit to the business)?

If you’ve asked yourself this question, congratulations! You’ve already put more thought into your strategy than most newcomers to social media.

So how do we answer it? Interestingly, the answer for social goals gives us a better foundation for tracking success in all online activities, as we shall see…

Defining Goals For Your Social Media Strategy

Social strategies generally fall into one of two camps currently:

  • Brand raising exercises
  • SEO Backlink generation

Both of which are valid goals – and need not be exclusive – but a good strategy should also aim to generate direct sales or leads for your website; and that makes all the goals much more measurable within a more meaningful context of business success.

So let’s set ourselves some basic goals:

  • Primary Goal: Generate Direct Sales/Leads
  • Secondary Goal: Broaden Backlink Profile for SEO
  • Tertiary Goal: Raise Brand Mentions in Social Channels

Now we can establish how to track success. First up, we establish a baseline for each goal, and identify the tools and criteria we’ll use to track changes over time.

Generating Direct Sales/Leads

Our baseline here is defining our current sales/lead gen numbers, segmented by source as best we can; the more detail, the more meaningful & action-driving our reports will be.

Ideally, we’d also be comparing like with like, so while we can consider month on month improvement to gain context, we should really be comparing progress with the same period a year previously: this rule applies to all our metrics.

Most markets have some kind of seasonality which can have a big impact on service demand or product sales. Looking at the same week or month in the previous year negates this fluctuation, assuming you have the data to compare to. Luckily, this is usually pretty easy to obtain in all but the most extreme of cases.

So, let us see where that data would be for each of our targets.

If you’re working with an SME, this is available from the monthly P&L and should be segmented out into new sales vs. recurring. You’ll also have an idea of your average time to close leads to sale, giving you metrics for both sales generated and leads.

For larger businesses, you’ll need to look at web-only stats from the P&L, and your head of marketing or digital will have access to the top line numbers you’ll need. Often, these will use normalized sales values, which is fine, as long as the same normalization is applied consistently ongoing.

The Power Of Missed Sales Opportunities

However, raw sales numbers don’t tell the whole story, as they discount all those site visitors who didn’t turn into a sale. Ideally, we’d capture a baseline of that traffic too, allowing us to measure the throughput generated by our social strategy and measure the value of the channel against other online marketing activities.

So, we’ll need to generate a filtered analytics profile for our baseline performance.

We’ll also need to segment out any direct spend sources that have had budget changes over the 12 months – a PPC, Display, or Affiliates campaign that has had its budget doubled is going to create an unseasonal spike in traffic and (presumably) sales to account for.

Similarly, email campaigns from the period should have their traffic segmented out across the year.

Depending on which analytics package you’re working with, you’ll now have a set of filters or custom reports applied to historical data you can use to robustly measure Social Engagement over the coming campaign, with archival data spanning back at least 12 months.

I also like to try to get a promotion timeline for the past 12 month period, with notes on when offline promotional activity took place for the brand. Segmenting out brand traffic from our baseline will also show spikes in those periods, and you might consider keeping this segmentation in place throughout the campaign.

Finally, you should ‘kick the tires’ of the website’s e-commerce tracking and and ensure lead gen goals are robustly set up to capture inquiries. Any gaps in the analytics path from source to sale should be tested.

Get On The Phone

If you’re not running phone contact tracking into your analytics, you should certainly look to get it implemented to correctly capture your website’s business benefit. E-commerce managers in particular should ensure this is in place, as otherwise a lot of the value they generate may not be properly attributed.

At QueryClick, we’ve partnered with telecoms providers to deliver dynamic phone number generation tied to search keyphrases that we can run within the PPC creative or organic meta descriptions, as well as dynamically replace onsite, and that feeds into Google Analytics allowing us to keep this information in the same place as our baseline for future reporting segmentation.

If you can achieve something similar, it will allow you to capture the full impact of your work on response rates.

Now the hard segmentation work is done, the same custom reports can be used to measure progress.

Used in tandem with unique landing pages (on query-string parametered URLs using Canonical tags to avoid SEO impact) we can also measure and improve the performance of individual components of the campaign via Website Optimiser within a single analytics interface.

Measuring Your Backlink Profile

You’ll be glad to hear that the remaining two metrics are much simpler to baseline & track than direct sales!

Google’s Webmaster Tools will give you exportable backlink profiles to work with. We also don’t need to work with year on year comparisons here, as we’re simply looking for month on month improvement in two areas:

  • Increased number of backlinks attributable to social activity
  • Increased range of domains backlinking to site

Using unique landing pages in all social activity allows us to track this very transparently. And segmenting the backlinks listed by domain gives you a raw number to compare diversity against.

You might consider doubling up on Google’s numbers with another backlink tool, but temper this with the thought that given Google’s marketshare of search, you should really be measuring your performance against what Google thinks are valid backlinks.

That said, Google has a habit of changing the quantity of backlinks reported, so a backup metric to normalize against is advisable. Either Majestic or SEOMoz’s excellent options work well here.

Brand Visibility Metrics

There are a plethora of social network tools out there that profess to report on brand mentions within the various networks. Many of these are excellent at what they do and free to use, so choose your favourite (or simply run an RSS feed off a brand search from search.twitter.com).

Tailoring a suite of these tools to cover all the networks in which you operate (for example, discovering your brand popularity in Twitter is trivial, but the same metric in Stumbleupon is less observable) is worth taking the time to do.

However, you should rely more on effective brand visibility when tracking success here (consider how successful BP’s social campaign would have seemed in April 2010), and roughly speaking, that can be seen as a measure of the number of referrals from each network generated that engages with the site, combined with increases in brand search terms using our filtered analytics profile.

Agile ReportingTo Drive Success

The best social strategy is a fail fast, fail frequently, and improve approach.

Consider the thousands of social moments engaged with daily in each network: no-one expects a polished, seamless experience. They want fresh, interesting, and direct engagement, because that’s the social way.

In much the same way as in email marketing then, doubling up on your landing page usage to track clickthough activity (which of course allows you to track right through to conversion) gets you quick feedback on link popularity to immediately fine-tune your message.

Click data from bit.ly data allows you to immediately get a feel for which approaches get the most traction for your brand’s audience and, used in tandem with more in-depth monthly reporting on overall strategy performance, the value to business of each network.

Also, your improved brand visibility metric gives you a dynamic, action-driving platform to build your strategy on, guaranteeing a clear, measurable, and successful social strategy for your bottom line.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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