When I attended South by Southwest 2008, I had the pleasure of attending a panel where four somewhat lost panelists were (with difficulty) trying to come up with metrics to measure success from a social media marketing campaign. I was a little annoyed when they concluded that there were no metrics available right now, and that someone would have to come up with a new way of measuring social media success.
While many people argue that the current metrics are no longer applicable, here’s a look at how we can adapt the currently available methodologies and apply them to social media marketing campaigns.
Submissions and shares
On a very basic level, every time someone submits or shares content from your site to a social site (regardless of how well that submission does) you build a submission history for your site and you also get a link back. Since many of these social sites have substantial PageRank, even moderately successful shares aren’t a complete loss (even if they aren’t promoted). Furthermore, it is also good to keep in mind that someone thought enough of your content to share it with another large community.
One thing to watch out for, however, is submitting any and all content from your site, regardless of quality, just for links. I’ve seen several startups do this and it’s important to point out that if you think you’re getting away with it, odds are 90% of the time you’re not. This will get you the scorn of the community and probably banned.
Promotion and one-time traffic
In the case that your content is promoted to the front page of one of these sites, you can get anywhere from 5,000 to 150,000 unique visitors directly from the social site (traffic range obviously depends on what site your content is shared on and how topical it is). This is a one time traffic boost that can be converted into a long-term, loyal audience through RSS or can be converted into one-time sales, registration, or whatever else your conversion goal may be. The impact of this momentary increase in exposure depends largely on how good you are in converting those visitors to long-time visitors.
Social media comments as well as comments on site
In the case where a submission ranks highly on the ‘upcoming queue’ or, better yet, is promoted, you gain in terms of engagement with your newfound audience. Not only should you count the interactions (comments, multiple page views, etc.) on your site, but you should also take into account the engagement you get on the social site that you are using to market yourself. Almost always, comments on a page that is made popular through social media will increase 7-8 fold, but there will also be hundreds of comments made directly on the social site, which should not be ignored. Combined, these create substantial value in terms of conversations with people who read what you had to say or glanced over the product/service you were trying to sell.
For people that inevitably ask whether there is value in social media comments (or is it just a lot of lip), the answer is that even under all that sarcasm and the mocking attitude of many of the adolescents on the sites, these conversations provide value in terms of pointing out flaws that others generally wouldn’t, or simply teaching you how to be successful in your future marketing endeavors by point out the flaws. Furthermore, with the rise of services like Twitter and FriendFeed, there is actually a lot to be gained from facilitating social media conversations, monitoring them, and actually participating in them.
Links, long-term traffic from linking sites, search ranking, and long-tail search traffic
The beauty of social media is that not only do you stand to gain one-time traffic and a one-time engagement boost by being on the front page of one of these sites, but because these sites are so highly trafficked (by millions of people daily) and because a large part of these sites’ audience is composed of high-profile individuals with blogs (or ‘publications’) of their own, there is a substantial long-tail that you can capitalize on. Content that would otherwise not be seen by high-profile sites can get on their radar by being ‘hot’ on popular social media sites, and is much more likely to gain 100′s of links and 1000′s of additional unique visitors from these secondary (referral) sites.
Because you develop these high-value links, you can easily rank prominently for targeted terms in search engines and increase your long-tail traffic which will stabilize at a much higher number than the pre-social marketing campaign numbers.
Cross-pollination through social media
One thing to remember is that it is it is always best to target one specific audience and develop content solely for their consumption. This increases your chances of becoming popular with that audience and the chances of a successful campaign. Don’t forget, however, that many of these social sites do have significant overlapping audience, and even when you target one specific site, content that has been made popular on Digg may find its way onto Reddit, and then onto StumbleUpon, and so forth. Similarly, content first shared on Twitter might find its way to Facebook.
What’s great about this is that you only have to target your efforts to one site (the one whose audience is most representative of your target niche), but you can reap the benefits of multiple successes as long as you optimize the site itself to facilitate further propagation in the social web. Anyone who’s seen the multiplier effect will tell you how they expected a certain amount of traffic from one social site, let’s say Digg, but were surprised when they went popular on StumbleUpon, then Delicious, then Reddit, and so on.
Branding and organic social media presence
Social media is great because it is powered by people just like you and me. Once you find the site that suits you best, you only have to self-promote the first few times. Once you have gained the audience’s trust, have built a social-media-friendly brand, and have made a mind-share impact on the social media community, every subsequent campaign will not only become easier, but you can reach the point where you are only creating the content and the community does the rest for you, completely organically.
When you take the advice above, keep in mind that businesses cannot succeed in social media without obeying the principles of authenticity, integrity, transparency, and participation. Self-serving networking and a singular goal of promoting your content or service isn’t the best way to ensure success.
What does that mean?
While the so-called derivative intangibles or qualitative advantages of social media marketing are not as easy to measure or widely understood (subject of another article), there are numerous quantitative advantages (ROI) that make it a viable and incredibly valuable proposition. You can calculate the traffic (uniques and page views), the stickiness (subscriptions via email and RSS, as well as direct return visitors), the increased visibility (links, search rankings and long-tail traffic), viralness (brand awareness or consumer mindshare), the engagement (comments across different sites, demographic/usability surveys and polls), and income (advertising, sales, and other conversions).
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.