When organizations get paralyzed by the difficult task of quantifying the obvious, then marketers need to advocate for thoughtful, timely action based on the information that is already at hand. Sometimes common sense needs to take precedence over ambitious attribution modeling and sophisticated analytics because you can’t always obtain or rely on the numbers to tell the whole story in social media. Not every organization has the same opportunity, tools, expertise, requirement, or even desire to rigorously apply metrics that demonstrate social media return against set goals; but every organization can and should open their eyes to the trends in their audience and their business.
If you are seeing increased referrals to your website from social sites, a growing audience base within social, or more activity and engagement from your social communities, you have incontrovertible evidence of the social contribution. Act on it. If your intended audience is spending more of their media minutes in social sites or flocking to competitor social destinations, then don’t wait until you can make an iron-clad case with analytics to devote resources to this critical channel.
Whether or not you can make a strong, quant-based case for social media as a standalone program and as an ROI driver is immaterial. You need to be looking at the bigger picture of how your social media efforts support and extend the totality of your marketing efforts. Is your marketing spend stronger and more efficient with social in the mix? The answer for most businesses is obvious but difficult to quantify actionably unless you keep your eye on the big picture and avoid focusing on the short-term, channel-specific impacts that are so unreliably reported for social to date.
This analytics gap creates some uncertainty in planning with the biggest impact on effective budgeting. Marketers are appropriately questioning how much of their resources should be devoted to social channels and efforts. Those with social experience under their belts can look to past results to set the commitment level, keeping in mind that not all goals should be short term. For those new to social programs, approach this as a test to find the optimal mix, starting conservatively (for you) and watching for trends that will inform your next moves.
Common sense should tell you that you will derive significant current and future value from social activity that creates a new audience and audience insights, new digital destinations, third-party endorsements from your users, millions of advertising impressions, and increased access with new remarketing platforms reaching new brand advocates on a frequent basis. There is a clear value in the strong links, expanded audience, email opt-ins, sales, leads, and referrals that social media can develop even if the end results can’t always be traced in a straight line directly back to your social efforts. The appropriate social media metrics to watch vary greatly based on the program and organizational goals; and while some lend themselves nicely to clean, linear calculations, others show their impact as a halo effect that improves the reach and impact of all your efforts. Watch your overall results.
Retailers in particular are challenged to find the sales rationale behind every expenditure. Continue to work the proven sales channels while reaching out to where those desired new audiences spend a huge and increasing percentage of their media time – in social sites. Cost-effective programs can be developed to fully leverage those new points of contact with additional earned impressions, but it is likely that the direct sales impact of these efforts will never be known, as the last mile in online sales is typical divorced from the social efforts that created awareness and motivated action. While the industry continues to struggle with how to connect the dots from social investment to direct sales, the growth and commitment to the channel across retailers and e-commerce companies speaks volumes to their perceived and actual benefit from the enhanced market activity, site traffic and referrals, SEO impact, and audience access gained from an active social media program.
Social is where people spend their time, where they get brand and product recommendations, and where they connect with companies they want to do business with. You can spend all of your energy proving the case or you can show some faith in your audience and your own common sense. By all means, use the data you have available, but spend your time, budget, and resources to execute strategies that build and strengthen your reputation, insights, traffic, activity levels, leads, and sales in social.