Here’s one example: a website receives about 17% of its traffic from Facebook and traffic to the site always peaks after a Facebook announcement. Today, a customer heard about the company from a friend, remembered having seen the site on Facebook, searched at Facebook, and visited the website, clicking through from their Facebook page.
Here’s another example: a site gets about 2% of its traffic from Facebook, and roughly equal amounts from Twitter, LinkedIn, Lastfm, and several forums. Social media is never in the top 10 traffic sources on the dashboard, though the combined traffic from all the social media sources equals about 17% of the site’s traffic. Today, a customer saw a mention of the site at Twitter, and later in the day thought of it again and Googled the company, entering the site through search.
Which site benefited from social media? Both, actually, and to equal degrees: a fairly significant amount of ongoing traffic, and one new customer in today’s example.
Which site knows that it benefited from social media? Probably only the first site.
One the one hand, social media is extremely measurable compared to other kinds of networking. The chances of a visit from Twitter showing up in your analytics are far greater than the chances of someone’s mentioning that they chose your company because someone at Altrusa recommended you. You’ll never know how many people at the Chamber of Commerce meetings like you with the precision that Facebook offers.
On the other hand, you’ll never know how many of the people who visit your site by searching for your name or taking a chance and typing YourCompany.com first learned about you at YouTube or Lunch.
Here’s how to take advantage of the measurability of social media:
- Watch for increases in quantifiable things. It may not matter to you or your business how many friends you have at Bebo or how many badges you’ve gotten at Gowalla, but if you pick a metric and watch it, you should see changes. If you don’t, then you’re probably not doing as good a job as you could. The key here is to watch the changes, though — your absolute number of fans is less important than steady increases. Take advantage of the internal analytics at sites like Facebook and YouTube to get extra insights into your audiences there.
- Test for the metrics that matter to you. The truth is, you can have lots of Followers, Friends, and Fans without moving anyone to action. People will Like you without any actual interest in your products and services. So add a coupon or special offer to your friends and followers and see how many take you up on it. Ask questions and see if anyone answers. Ask your customers if they’re following you on Facebook.
- Keep track of the unquantifiable things. We know that the article about us in the Wall Street Journal and the invitation from Google to beta test products resulted at least in part from social media. Those are isolated events, but we feel that they (and others like them) indicate that social media participation has good results on our visibility. When someone does remark that they saw you at Scribd, make a note of it.
If you slack off at your social media, and of course we don’t recommend that, check and see whether it has any effects. Early in my SEO career, someone told me that the main way people find out how much value their website has is by letting it shut down and learning how much they regret that. Nowadays, it’s unusual for a business to give up their website entirely, but the principle applies here.
Not long ago, my sister, who lives in New Zealand and whom I mostly talk to via social media, emailed me saying, “Long time no tweet. What’s up?” I was, at the moment when her email arrived, pondering a drop in the traffic to my website. I’d gotten swamped and let my own social media efforts slide while I looked after my clients. I hadn’t realized that I’d gotten so lax, but a look at my analytics confirmed that the drop in traffic was primarily from social media sources.
This is the worst way to measure social media effectiveness.