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.