Digital marketers may be tempted to measure social media by traffic referral source.  This measurement cuts across different types of acquisition methods and is easy to get from any analytics report.  Yet intuitively we know that users of social media networks are on a task, which tends to be quite focused, and deliberately keeps them within the confines of the network.  They simply aren’t as likely to jump across sites as, for example, someone who is using a search engine.  This holiday season, Digital Index reported confirmed that scenario by reporting that only 2% of holiday retail shopping visitors were referred by social media networks.


Following this release we saw numerous articles proclaiming that social media was not an effective digital marketing tool.

How do you measure social media marketing?

The old fable of the 12 blind men and the elephant seems apropos as marketers and social media marketing measurement technologies approach measurement of social media from different perspectives.  We know that it has a huge and engaged audience, but many marketers are still unable to effectively measure its impact as a visitor acquisition marketing tool.  They ponder the inevitable questions, is social media a viable marketing channel, can we use it to acquire site visitors and, if so, how?  Marketers see examples of unexpected breakthrough marketing when videos go viral but the majority of campaigns appear to drop off the social media radar quickly after launch.

Digital Index believes that we must look at social media from many angles.  As a follow-up to the traffic source information provided during the holiday, Digital Index took another look at a different set of metrics, social media brand engagement, for the same period and compared the results side-by-side.  Focusing on Facebook, we defined engagement as the total number of brand likes, comments and shares, actions that show the interaction social media audiences have within the network.  The results are encouraging and demonstrate that social media brand engagement is an important way to gauge success for online retailers.

Year-over-year growth for social media brand engagement on Facebook was up over 400% in both the month of November and Thanksgiving Weekend for retail brands.  On Cyber Monday, engagement was up over 700%.

Engagement Year-over-Year

Relative to the overall average for the year, Cyber Monday was four times larger and represented the largest single social media brand engagement day for retail brands on Facebook in 2012.

Cyber Monday Engagement

Clearly there is a huge difference between engagement and acquisition traffic source when measuring social media marketing during the holiday period last year.  The results validate that social media marketing should be focused on creating brand interactions, and its success measured through engagement and potential to influence metrics rather than by typical acquisition marketing metrics. In this it shares similarities with display advertising.

How will social media ROI be determined in the future?

In the future, we expect social media networks to look for more opportunities to drive direct referrals as marketers will still place great value on social media’s ability to drive website visits.  We’d also expect these networks to work towards making their referrals more transparent.  For example, getting better pick up of mobile app referrals and integrating view-through metrics into analytics data will help improve social referral visibility within traffic sources analytics dashboards.  At the end of the day, social media ROI will be determined by looking at a combination of metrics as there will always be multiple ways to determine the value of this elephant.