Social Media Measurement, Social Media Metrics

The Most Overrated Social Media Metric

Jay Baer Blog PostDo you sell advertising on your website? No? Then why are you so excited about your website traffic?

The most overrated social media metric

Late in the third quarter it’s Pinterest 17, Facebook 13.

The most overrated social media metric is traffic from social outposts.

This blog post is symptomatic of this problem, although there have been hundreds (thousands?) like it. Here’s the highlight:

With only 1% of Facebook’s user count, Pinterest sends 13% of the traffic that Facebook does.

Pinterest has spawned a new way of consuming and searching information, and may be the poster child for the coming image-centric social Web that will make written blogs like mine look quaintly Amish by 2014. But to make the case that Pinterest should be a big part of your marketing arsenal because it proportionally sends more traffic to your website than Facebook or Twitter is patently ridiculous.

Don’t Forget This:

You are in the behavior business, not the eyeballs business.

The Social Media Metrics That Matter

When determining the value of your social media efforts, and certainly when calculating your ROI, you must focus on behavior, not aggregation. Almost always, numbers that count steadily upward (like number of fans, number of visitors, etc.) are inferior to ratios and percentages that measure behavior.

Knowing that Pinterest sends a ton of traffic to your site should CREATE questions in your company, not answer them.

  • Do your visitors from Pinterest engage in desirable, profitable behaviors at a ratio equal to or better than Twitter or Facebook?
  • Do they buy? Disproportionately so? Higher average order?
  • Do they fill out lead forms? Disproportionately so? Better conversion rate?
  • Do they look at high-value Web pages like product lists, pricing, customer testimonials? Disproportionately so?
  • Do they subscribe to email updates? Disproportionately so? Better open and click-through rates downstream?
  • Do they ever return to the site? Disproportionately so?
Overrated social media metrics

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Those are data points that are easily determined with web analytics and goal funnels, but are different for every company. All of these are vastly more important than the number of website visitors from Pinterest.

Is Pinterest More Like Google Than Facebook?

My hypothesis is that visitors from Pinterest will behave more like search-referred visitors, rather than visitors from Facebook and Twitter. This is because Pinterest (like Google) is about discovery, whereas the people who click links in Facebook and Twitter are often already familiar with the company in question.

I don’t know for sure, because even though I’m moderately active on Pinterest, I don’t see a ton of traffic from it because I almost always pin other people’s stuff rather than my own. We also use Pinterest as the curation hub for our daily One Social Thing email update. I don’t get enough Pinterest traffic to test the theory. I’d love to see someone with access to more analytics data tackle it.

Perhaps Pinterest isn’t the new Facebook, but the new Google? The same way that YouTube revolutionized video search, and Slideshare revolutionized presentation search, is Pinterest revolutionizing image search?

Maybe that’s the story, I’m not sure. But I definitely know that the story is NOT that Pinterest sends a bunch of traffic to your site. To that revelation I say “who cares”?

(Note: After this post ran, loyal reader Juan Barnett (@DCAutoGeek) created this awesome graphic. Enjoy!

Facebook Comments


  1. shelholtz says

    A great post, Jay, that makes a point a lot of organizations need to understand. The only caveat I would add is that for one type of organization, referrals are the objective. That would be media companies — online magazines — which are benefiting from Pinterest-driven traffic more than just about any other type of site. Getting people to a magazine site is just the behavior they want. If they’re any good, the site itself will compel some percentage of those visitors to spend some additional time with the content (and, by extension, the ads that support the site). In this instance, eyeballs ARE the point!

    • says

       @shelholtz For sure. As I said in the first line, “do you sell advertising on your website?” In that case, eyeballs have inherent value – although I’d still put more stock into behavior metrics like average pages per visit, repeat visits, subscriptions, etc. because those are eyeball multiplying impacts.

  2. says

    ….but getting people to your site is the first step…right? I hear you though and do agree with this statement : ”
    Knowing that Pinterest sends a ton of traffic to your site should CREATE questions in your company, not answer them.”
    My friend does social media for a well-known online homegoods retailer and she had some pretty cool stats regarding conversion rates of peeps coming from Pinterest. Basically not only are they getting traffic from Pinterest (agree with you, at the end of the day…. woop de doo… ) but people coming from Pinterest bought a lot more stuff than from other channels. It’s pretty clear – they have more ideas on what to buy! That blanket goes with that couch and hey, so does that lamp…  A homegoods business is a clear win so it may be an unfair example, but it is an example of a social media manager doing some deeper thinking on conversion metrics and reasoning for spending time making Pinterest boards.

    • says

       @JanetAronica Well of course you can’t attain the desired behaviors you seek without the traffic to begin with, but that’s not the point. The point is that people say things like “Pinterest is awesome, look how much traffic it sends” without ANY idea of whether that traffic behaves like traffic from elsewhere. Certainly, in your example if you know that Pinterest traffic converts, then hell yeah. 

  3. says

    Eyeballs are very much the point, Jay. I am writing this comment because my eyes saw a tweet from justinlevy pointing me here. If my eyes didn’t see that tweet at that moment in time, I probably would have come here much later when I opened my rss reader.

    • SocialGamePlan says

       @Ari Herzog You saw the tweet.  But something else besides simply seeing it made you click the link.  Something else besides simply seeing this blog made you an RSS subscriber.  You are a “converted visitor,” not just a visitor…which was the main point of this post.

      • says

         @SocialGamePlan  @Ari Herzog Actually, clicking the link isn’t a conversion in the sense that I meant. Ari, in my case you are partially right, because since I have sponsors on this site, and those sponsorship packages are partially based on traffic, I do care (somewhat) about eyeballs in and of themselves. But what I care about more so (and what people who do not run ads should care about ONLY) is do people coming from Pinterest (or in your case, from a tweet) take an action once they are on the site that matters? Did they download a podcast, sign up for email, RSS, return again and again? That’s what matters, and that’s what I measure.
        I have a dashboard on Argyle Social that shows me total value of every tweet, based not on clicks, but on post-click actions. RSS, email, and so forth. That’s business value, because those behaviors are more likely to yield actual dollars like consulting, speaking engagements, etc.
         You can’t eat clicks. 

    • says

       @Ari Herzog
       “Eyeballs are very much the point, Jay.”
      I was thinking the same Ari.
      Jay makes the point that it is actions that ultimately count, but you need the eyeballs first.
      Also noticed… “numbers that count steadily upward are inferior to ratios and percentages that measure behaviour.”
      Most of my traffic comes via the bots, but I am working pretty hard to increase my twitter followers – am I wasting my time? If so what should I concentrate on?
      You’ve got me thinking with this one Jay.

  4. says

    Ah Jay, it’s like you wrote this for me. This is exactly what I have been thinking about this week and with 12 Most. Facebook Timeline changes traffic, big StumbleUpon hits cause spikes and so on are not things that you can plan ahead for but need to deal with the roller coaster as it is. We are just going to continue to put out the best quality articles we can and let the traffic. We have Pinterest traffic but I am not sure, like you mentioned, if they are reading, staying or coming back. All things to think about.
    Fabulous post and lots to think about.

    • says

       @Peg Fitzpatrick Thanks Peg. I’d want to know whether those StumbleUpon folks come back, subscribe, etc. That’s the way to decide true value. 

  5. cendrinemedia says

     @JayBaer As always, you nail it! I really love this quote, in particular:
    “Don’t Forget This: You are in the behavior business, not the eyeballs business.”
    I was discussing the topic in your article with my students the other day. To me, traffic is nothing without the actions visitors take. Having 100,000 monthly visitors who do nothing for your brand is useless! 

  6. salemstanley says

    Good overall thoughts. My only issue is with your suggestion that ratios matter at all. Here is what I am thinking
    Say every 50 visitors from Facebook equals one sale of $50 and one post gets you 50 visitors. That means one post = $50. 
    Then lets say Pinterest sends 1000 visitors but the ratio to sales much smaller. Only 2 people buy at $40 each. 
    Pinterest = $80  Facebook = $50
    I think you are right that traffic doesn’t mean much if anything, but ratios also mean little, unless the ratio is effort : cash. As with any business, that is the only ratio that really means anything. 

    • says

       @salemstanley Good point Stanley. Indeed, total conversions are more important than conversion rate. For purposes of debunking the Pinterest argument (in particular) I was assuming that equal effort = equal traffic. That of course is not true in practice, but unless you know your ratios, you really can’t sort out channel A vs. channel B effectiveness because you don’t know relative yield. 

      • salemstanley says

         @JayBaer Even still, if my ratios are worse, so my traffic is less efficient, what matters is actual conversions. If I get triple the traffic from Pinterest, but my conversion rate gets cut in half, I still win. 
        I don’t mean to beat a dead horse, I just think any talk about efficiency is silly. The web isn’t about efficiency it about throughput. #thegoalftw

  7. says

    Thanks for saying this Jay! I have read SO many posts on the stats regarding Pinterest traffic outpacing Twitter and Facebook but have yet to see anything that suggests this traffic is better. Who the heck cares if more Pinterest refers more people to your site? Do they stay there? Did they even mean to go there? Not seeing these answers and totally confused why everyone is so excited.

  8. Tribe2point0 says

    Jay what a brilliant post. Beyond the traffic, beyond the rePin, beyond the like…what? And even if they click through what action did they take after that. Thanks for sharing key questions. And depending on the business needs these change, maybe it’s about referrals, building brand awareness, loyalty. 
    Also appreciate your thoughts on discovery. Pinterest is not necessarily a social destination site like Facebook and Twitter. Much to think about. Thanks:)

  9. says

    Jay, saying Pinterest will behave like search is an interesting thought. For physical products, that might be the case, but I think that view may ultimately be too marketing centric.
    Seeing the bit that is shared from my blog, it is clear many people are sharing images that resonate with them, for reasons that have nothing to do with the underlying content.
    I don’t have the data on pinterest traffic to my little blog to compare engagement in a meaningful way, but take a look at these two pins, both from my blog, and the boards they are on. Clearly the image, not the “bookmark”, is the thing being shared. 

    Definitely a space to watch as it continues to develop. And yes, I agree 100%, traffic for most should merely be a means to an end, it is meaningless if it doesn’t get you there. Great stuff, as always. 

    • says

       @Wittlake True nuf. It’s interesting, and I’ve been thinking a lot about images on posts, now that Pinterest is “a thing”. 

  10. CoachLee says

    Social media is a marketing channel for attracting attention and building a relationship. This eventually leads to conversion by signing up for a list to making a phone call or walking through your brick and mortar store.
    Love the statement as others about “you are in the behavior business, not the eyeball business”  For older folks this translate into “you want a qualified sales lead not just another tire kicker.”
    Great post, and already shared,
    Leanne Hoagland-Smith

  11. DniseSonnenberg says

    To me, this article sounds like it comes from someone that has an established and large email list and doesn’t place growing theirs as a top priority. My stand is that the more people who become aware of my blog, and see content that is valuable to them and their business, the more potential Email Subscribers I will have. That’s why Pinterest’s stats are important to me.

    • says

       @DniseSonnenberg You are assuming that visitors convert to email subscribers at a static rate, and that is both untrue, and a dangerous assumption. Until you know how many visitors from Pinterest (or anywhere) else actually sign up for your email, you are putting effort into driving traffic that may be of minimal value. 
      To your point, growing our email list is actually the number one priority on this site, and we are actually launching a whole new design next week to make that happen. 

  12. Juan DCAutoGeek Barnett says

    Great read. I recently started using Pinterest to generate traffic to my site and will continue to watch what actions people take. Because of the discovery aspect of it though I’ve had to rethink my image use for each post. 
    Also LOL at @JayBaer ‘s “You can’t eat a click” That has digital marketing t-shirt written all over it, literally. 

  13. eernoult says

    Very interesting point, as always! In my experience, creating trafic by all means is not the worst sin of online marketers, the real sin is not tracking what that incoming trafic does on the website after the click! I have worked with too many brands asking for more social media trafic, only to realize afterward that they did not have a tracking in place to measure the effect of that trafic on their bottom line.
    Until you track everything well, it is hard to say if that pinterest trafic is worth more than that Facebook, or Google + Trafic.
    Getting trafic is not a silly thing, not tracking it is the silly thing. Don’t you think?
    I fully agree with your sentence “You are in the behavior business, not the eyeballs business”, but without eyeballs in the first place, you won’t be in a position to measure behaviors 😉

  14. Verilliance says

    Jay, this is purely anecdotal but I’ve heard people saying that they love Pinterest to find new products to, yes, buy. So it may very well be that Pinterest brings more traffic AND more conversions, but I suspect this is largely dependent on the type of product being sold and how well this is done once someone lands on the site (per the usual). 
    I would be loathe to see every type of business try to make it onto Pinterest though. Really, products for the home and body are going to have the most success there. Products that are related to marketing, consulting, etc should stick to other “informational” channels. One area of overlap would be graphic and web design. 

    • Juan DCAutoGeek Barnett says

       @Verilliance – I feel like people enjoy Pinterest partly due to its discovery attributes as you indicated by using the word “find new products.”  There has been more recent discussion regarding the hyper-targeting vs random ad and its effect on buyer conversion. Would it be safe then to assume that Pinterest’s randomness is exactly what makes it effective at discovery conversions (if that’s a term)? 

      • says

         @Juan DCAutoGeek Barnett  @Verilliance Juan, I think so. I believe anecdotally that Pinterest can get you purely “new” visitors in ways that Facebook (for example) does not. 

      • Verilliance says

         @Juan DCAutoGeek Barnett Yes, I do believe so. People are driven by two needs regarding their identity. The need to belong, and the need to be unique within that belonging – uniqueness makes us “valuable” to the community and secures belonging. Targeted ads make people feel they’re predictable, and this annoys them internally. And following everything a friend does feels wimpy and needy.
        Pinterest, unlike most other social networks, is about discovering and displaying one’s personal style (establishing uniqueness) – as opposed to personal philosophy, politics, opinions, etc. –  while sharing it with others and getting social approval (belonging). 
        To specifically address your question on Pinterest’s randomness – this plays into the above in that one can discover something “new” without knowing they were looking for it. Many people don’t know what they like until they see it. An interesting phenomena of Pinterest is that people seem to learn “who” they are and what they like through this process.

    • says

       @Verilliance I agree. As Eric says below, what seems to work are great images, period. There are certain types of companies that you naturally expect to have great images. Others, less so. 

  15. mybearhaven says

    Good point! I have had a few posts that have spread like wildfire on Pinterest, and they have sent a ton of traffic to my blog. However, that traffic only resulted in a few more fans on Facebook and resulted in zero sales on my website. I like Pinterest more for personal use, like if I see a party idea from somewhere, I pin it for future reference instead of bookmarking it on my computer.
    That being said, I have been very ticked off lately with spammers on Pinterest, especially ones that tag me in something because I posted a gorgeous plus-size outfit, so they try to use it to fat shame me. However, that is a long discussion for another time.

  16. says

    Pinterest is good for traffic but as a site owner, you’ll have to think of strategic ways to make sure that the traffic converts to profit. If anything, traffic increase can attract paid ads (another source of revenue) if it’s sustained for a long period of time.

    • says

       @MicroSourcing Very true, but it does not only apply with Pinterest, it goes with the other traffic site as well. Even in any other traffic site, you really have to work your butt out of it. Just like on Facebook.

  17. says

    Very true, but it does not only apply with Pinterest, it goes with the other traffic site as well. Even in any other traffic site, you really have to work your butt out of it. Just like on Facebook.

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