How Do You Measure Social Media?

Social Media Impact is More Than Website Visits

Do you know what percent of your website visits come from social media? According to ForeSee’s new research, less than 1% of website visits come directly from a social media URL. Read the press release and you’ll see that they’re very specific.

As a marketer, it’s critical to develop business goals and related marketing strategies before selecting appropriate measures to ensure that your work achieves these objectives. While ForeSee’s research assumes social media’s primary goal is to drive prospects and customers to your website, it doesn’t track its contribution to achieving any other business goals.

7 Challenges to measuring social media influence

Here are seven major issues with ForeSee’s use of social media URLs as their metric.

  1. Shortened URLs. Use of URL shorteners can make difficult to trace originating sources.
  2. Blogs integrated into websites. Merchants like Stacks and Stacks and Two Peas in a Bucket have strong blogs that attract visitors and drive them to specific product pages. Are these pages counted as social media URLs? These blogs are both social media and the company’s website.
  3. Ratings and reviews. Many etailers have this information on their website. While reviews are social media, the URLs are most likely labeled as company URLs. Additionally, ratings and reviews can appear on competitors’ sites or on third party sites like Amazon, Trip Advisor and Yelp. Ask consumers if these sources are social media and chances are their answer will be no.
  4. Social media information distributed via APIs that appear on blogs and websites. Social media networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are built so that their content can be distributed widely via widgets and feeds. As a result, it may not appear as a social media URL or seem that way to users. Additionally, bloggers and other writers incorporate this information into their writing that  doesn’t have a social media URL.
  5. Multiple decision makers and use of multiple computers/devices. ForeSee’s research overlooks the fact that many purchase decisions are made by more than one person, such as couples. Further, product research and purchase may be made on different computers at work and at home. Therefore, the social media URL may not be tracked.
  6. Only includes products bought on the web. High-ticket items tend to have long purchase processes and involve input from a variety of sources. As a result, it can be difficult to track all contributing marketing elements. Further, some products, such as cars, can’t be bought on the Internet so there’s no URL to track to the purchase.
  7. Social media transactions. ForeSee doesn’t appear to have included transactions made directly on social media networks. For example, purchasing from 1-800 Flowers on Facebook.

3 Issues with lack of definition of social media

18% of ForeSee respondents reported being influenced by social media. The fact that social media’s influence on purchase is greater than actual purchase makes sense. The problem is that ForeSee didn’t define social media for respondents. While most respondents probably thought social media consisted of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, the reality is that social media is much broader. Here are three major social media formats that contribute to branding and sales that most likely weren’t included.

  1. YouTube. As the largest search engine after Google, YouTube videos support sales and product usage as well as search optimization. Orabrush built its brand and drove sales only using YouTube.
  2. Blogs. This search-friendly content is great for supporting purchase either through company owned content such as on the Fiskateers website or a well-known blogger’s endorsement, such David Pogue.
  3. Ratings and reviews. Consumers search ratings and reviews on a variety of sites before making a purchase.

5 Marketing factors ForeSee didn’t consider

By focusing on website interactions, ForeSee overlooked five critical marketing objectives that social media supports. These factors contribute to improved ROI in the form of increased sales or reduced costs.

  1. Supports branding. Like other forms of branding support, such as television ads, social media’s impact may be difficult to track in terms of hard data. Yet no mass marketer would stop their television campaigns just because customers didn’t reference their television ads when they purchased.
  2. Expands prospect base. Social media allows companies to be where their potential customers are. For example, targeting the elusive young male demographic and the women they want to please, Old Spice’s viral videos successfully changed prospects minds about the brand by being present where they were on social media.
  3. Helps search optimization. Through its content, social media aids search optimization. YouTube and blogs are particularly useful for this.
  4. Expands customer service. Social media supports customer service by interacting directly with customers, providing forums where customers can help each other, and giving customers supporting information.
  5. Supports reputation/crisis management. While crisis avoidance is difficult to measure, social media can provide a company with the groundwork to weather a difficult publicity storm. For example, Toyota faced brand challenges when stuck gas pedals resulted in high-speed accidents. Using a variety of social media methods, Toyota reduced the damage to their brand.

ForeSee’s analysis underscores the need to be careful when producing research since results can be significantly skewed by poor definitions and hidden factors. Given the elements ForeSee overlooked, their results are understated. While in the early stages of social media usage companies may not focus on social media ROI, social media contributes significantly to improved marketing and business effectiveness in measurable ways.

Please read the press release and see what you think? Please add your perspective in the comment section below.

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen


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Photo credit: Wilson Afonso via Flickr

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  • http:www.newtricks.com Judi Knight

    Thanks Heidi, for bringing more attention to this. I have been looking into my website stats lately and have found that in the last 12 months where I started to focus on my own social media rather than it being all about my clients, my page views rose from just 263 in March of 2010 to 6,900 in March of 2011.

    Where are they coming from? The top three single sources surprised me. First were people directly typing in my site url ( and who knows where they found it). The next two highest referral sources were Facebook and Twitter. After that all of the Google search terms came in. Almost half of my traffic came from Facebook and Twitter combined. And, most importantly, my revenue has more than tripled in that same time frame!

  • http://blog.sysomos.com 40deuce

    It’s an interesting piece of research. I do like that in the first paragraph of the press release that they mention that the impact of social media can’t be measured just by social media URL links. However, you make an excellent point, Heidi, in that they don’t define their definition of social media very well. Blogs are a great form of social media that bring a lot of people to our website, but I’m not sure if they counted that in their study. Whenever I do a post using our software I link to the product page, and we get a lot click throughs on that, but it’s not a short URL that we track and it’s hard to say whether they’ve (ForeSee) counted that as social media.
    I think people are so hungry for social media research that companies are scrambling to put anything they can out there. The problem is that social media is still so new and there are no clear defined ways that anything should be done that we see a lot of research that very skewed. However, I think that a lot of companies will be happy to have that 18% click-through number as a benchmark, regardless of whether it’s accurate or not.

    Cheers,
    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos