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Social Media Engagement Optimization and ROI

  |  August 17, 2010   |  Comments

Applying media-style performance optimization to social media marketing.

Everything we do in online marketing gets optimized. We optimize the performance of our media campaigns using the tracking from Dart and Mediaplex, we optimize the performance of our e-mail open and click rates from our list server’s tracking system, and of course we utilize search engine optimization and track the results with rank checkers and our Web analytics applications like Google Analytics, NetInsight, and Omniture.

Currently, much of the online marketing world is engaged in this never-ending symphony of wall posts, tweets, blog posts, and activities that fill the constellation of social media sites with their chatter hoping it gets traction with their target consumers. We push our streams of content and dialogue in the hopes that it goes viral, gets retweeted, generates comments, encourages likes, drives social connections (friends, fans, followers), increases the buzz, and ultimately drives more site traffic and revenue into our organizations. The funny thing here is I have never seen so much attention and time put into any kind of marketing activity where meaningful tracking and optimization was so completely ignored. I say meaningful because I really put very limited value on buzz – buzz doesn’t equal revenue - revenue equals revenue.

I've written before about tracking social media the way we track everything else we do online. (Check out my column, Online Media Tracking Methodology for Social Media.) Meaningful tracking in social media means looking at the same success metrics we examine when we spend money on online media – impressions and media value, high value engagements, clicks, leads, and revenue. (Of course, we can look at reach and frequency, but let’s not go there for now and take a more direct marketing approach to this.)

Tracking is very critical and at least at our shop we're able to track social media ROI (define) with the same level of end-to-end visibility most people apply to online media and paid search. In other words, we're tracking social media activity from impression to conversion and beyond. So let’s explore going beyond the tracking to the point where we're actually doing something with the data. Let’s talk about optimizing social media engagement and ROI. In marketing, data is only as good as your ability to take action against it, right? So how about optimizing all the benefit of those tweets, wall posts, blog posts, and other ongoing activities – to figure out what works just like we do with everything else we put our time and marketing budgets against.

So, do you “optimize” social media marketing the way we optimize the performance media or paid search? Well, first you must decide what you want people to do, and then choose a couple things to measure that success. For example, let’s look at a few metrics, their possible data, and some actions you can put against them.

  1. Engagement. One of the first things you need to do in social media marketing (or any content-based marketing for that matter) is figure out whether people actually care about what you're saying. Are you getting them to react? Now, what is the metric for that? Well, in Facebook it is comments and likes and in Twitter it is retweets. So over time look at the spikes in comments, likes, and retweets and analyze what kind of tweets, posts, content, and questions sparked those elevated levels of engagement. Then take action – do more of that type of communications. Don’t talk about your product features if no one cares or reacts. However, if people like your research, industry news, or infographics, focus on that stuff.

  2. Clicks. What posts in Facebook and tweets in Twitter generated actual clicks to your site? Are you using tracking links and Bit.ly to figure this out? Just like banners, e-mail, and search ads, some things get traction and results and some things don’t. Figure out the actions in the social space that get you real ROI and do more of it. Also, keep in mind that things can be posted more than once. I'm not saying do it every day, but if a study you posted did well grab another fact form and post it again in a few days or weeks. Remember, news feeds and tweets flow down the page and out of sites in literally hours and even minutes – so not everyone sees what you post.

  3. Conversions. So you're tracking all the clicks you get form Bit.ly, but with all those tracking links you can track conversions too. What tweets and posts are actually driving the actions that equate ROI? Figure that out and do more. Optimize the offers you push into the social space just like everything else. The challenge here is you cannot just use the same language again and again – you need to think deeper about the value and essence of the offers you make and repeat those elements.

So, the big point of this column – don’t just track social media data and actions. Analyze and optimize them just like you do with online media, search, and e-mail!


Harry Gold

As founder and CEO of Overdrive, Harry Gold is the architect and conductor behind the company's ROI-driven programs. His primary mission is to create innovative marketing programs based on real-world success and to ensure the marketing and technology practices that drive those successes are continually institutionalized into the culture and methods of the agency. What excites him is the knowledge that Overdrive's collaborative environment has created a company of online media, SEM, and online behavioral experts who drive success for the clients and companies they serve. Overdrive serves a diverse base of B2B and B2C clients that demand a high level of accountability and ROI from their online programs and campaigns.

Harry started his career in 1995 when he founded online marketing firm Interactive Promotions, serving such clients as Microsoft, "The Financial Times," the Hard Rock Cafe, and the City of Boston. Since then, he has been at the forefront of online branding and channel creation, developing successful Web and search engine-based marketing programs for various agencies and Fortune 500 companies.

Harry is a frequent lecturer on SEM and online media for The New England Direct Marketing Association; Ad Club; the University of Massachusetts, Boston; Harvard University; and Boston University.

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