Social Media Measurement, Social Media ROI

How to Uncover Meaningful Social Data

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Call it the Analytics Effect: People get so hooked on cheap-and-abundant data from sources like Google Analytics that they ignore useful data from other sources.

Interesting as a concept, but does it really exist?

This question occurred to me after reading Jay Baer’s post revealing that social media sites have an an e-commerce conversion rate of .71 percent — a pale shadow of the conversion rates for email and search.

One commenter on Jay’s post mentioned surveys revealing that social media conversations play a significant role in people’s buying decisions, but social media interaction simply does not show up in conversion rates because a social media site is almost never the last click before somebody buys something.

That post got me thinking: If we have research demonstrating that social media is helping people make purchasing decisions, why are we still having these furious debates over the ROI on social media?

And that prompted me to speculate:

Is the abundance of cheap, easy-to-find data discouraging us from conducting the more complex, expensive — and more meaningful — research that would establish the true value of social media in the commerce equation?

Jay was so intrigued by this possibility that he asked me to explore it further in this post. Honestly, I do not know if the Analytics Effect objectively exists, but I have reason to suspect it might.

After Googling “measuring effectiveness of social media”, I read at least a dozen articles outlining all the sharing-and-sentiment indicators produced by posts, clicks, tweets, and so forth. These articles uniformly advised social media marketers to track these data points, but there seemed to be something missing — namely the fact that the metrics which work wonders in other channels are irrelevant to social.

With search, email, and pay-per-click, purchases establish consumer intent. On Facebook or Twitter, people might mention a brand in passing or even make a direct recommendation, but they almost never buy anything. It’s hard to establish show-me-the-money metrics if there are no transactions to paint a picture of consumer intent.

The surest way to figure out what motivates people to buy is to pointedly ask them how they feel. The best way to do that is with survey research, but it’s not easy or cheap: You need a reliable sample, perfectly crafted questions, agonizing decisions about how to conduct the survey, and substantial investments of time and money.

It’s so much more expedient to review the real-time click stats and A/B-test a few more headlines.

I’ve been been a true believer in social media user since my first discussion on AOL in 1990. I started my first blog in 1996 and joined the early waves of adopters for Facebook and Twitter. I’ve been at this so long that it’s hard to believe that we haven’t mastered the ROI of social media.

Seems like it ought to be settled law by now. Yes, we hear about the occasional survey by a big research firm pointing to how consumers use social media, but the mainstream of thought among social media marketers seems to be joined at the hip with data that doesn’t really click with social, from a conversion standpoint at least.

Social media marketers who want more buy-in from the executive suites might have to face up to the fact that social will never enjoy the tasty analytics served up on other channels. Social campaigns can build awareness, engagement, and consumer trust, and social media platforms can help people share trustworthy product recommendations. But there isn’t an easy way to stick a click between two guys discussing their golf club preferences.

To be clear, I have no illusions that analytics data is actually cheap or easy to capitalize on. It always requires smart people who command high pay. But it does seem like marketers have become so habituated to analytics platforms that the’ve become a bit like bears stealing picnic baskets: they go for what’s in front of them and ignore the more nutritious meals that require a lot more energy to acquire.