Paul Phillips
Nov 22, 2017

Why marketers are disillusioned with social-media marketing

If advertisers are unhappy with social media, it's because they need to stop measuring engagement and start looking at business goals, advises Paul Phillips of Edelman Hong Kong.

Why marketers are disillusioned with social-media marketing

The number one social media challenge for marketers according to Mary Meeker’s 2017 report is measuring ROI (61%). Why are so many marketers finding social ROI challenging?

As marketers have leapt into social media they’ve been keen to embrace new metrics, but haven’t probably correlated them to figure out what they indicate.

Currently, the number one metric used to measure success is engagement (56%).

Engagement considers the number of people taking an ‘action’ on your content. ‘Actions’ are broadly considered ‘clicks’, ‘likes’, ‘shares’, and ‘comments’.

Many look at engagement as the holy grail believing high engagement means great content and an active community. Marketers are fixated on this number, often looping in industry benchmarks to try to show how much better they’re doing than competitors.

Engagement can be misleading. In a recent Edelman donor generation campaign for a charity. One post received a very high engagement ratio of 30%, but returned only $1 for every dollar spend on media. While another had an engagement ratio significantly lower at only 1%, but returned substantially more: $4 for every dollar spend on media.

In other words, for this business goal. Engagement doesn’t correlate. An increased engagement rate doesn’t indicate you’ll drive more donations. So engagement shouldn’t be relied upon as the sole measure of success.

Across all digital media, clicks are another metric used to show ‘success’. As a metric these too are very misleading. An APAC Nielsen study looking at hundreds of campaigns found that click rates had virtually no correlation to generating ROI. Global studies by Millward Brown have also described click rates as: “meaningless and potentially damaging to brand campaigns”. There’s more from Edelman’s Martin Shaw on this here.

Marketers gloat over fan metrics too. They’ve falsely seen them through a CRM lens as ‘acquired customers’. At best, fan growth can indicate potential advocacy—but it needs to be overlaid with observations of online audience behavior. Certain markets, demographics and interest groups are much more likely to grab likes than others.

So how should you measure the success of social media?

Marketers need to go back to basics, and treat social media as media. Below is a list of leading indicators you may want to start with.  The ‘Delivery’ and ‘Action’ column is where most marketers are focused.

Determining which of these leading indicators you should measure depends on your goals. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by data points, but if it can’t be correlated with a business goal then you should remove it.

As an industry, Social Media Marketing needs to do more to integrate different types of data. Properly integrating the data gives a holistic set of leading indicators and makes it easier to measure ROI.

For example, we recently correlated GA transaction data with paid social data for a client. The data showed paid social results get a 11% lift through organic search. People were seeing our ads, searching for the website and coming through to purchase from Organic Search.

The ability of platforms to accurately catch other types of data is moving quickly. Facebook’s brand-lift score surveys Facebook users in platform after they’ve seen an ad. It’s a straw poll where you can ask attitudinal based questions (‘Attitudes’ column) to give you a better read of your marketing impact—in principle this looks promising.  

It’s also increasingly important to make your indicators as robust as possible.

Third-party analytics and tracking is important as there are discrepancies with data from all the major social media players. Platform metrics (i.e. data from Facebook Business Manager) also tends to focus on in-platform activity—it doesn’t capture dark social, where 80% of social media actions take place (Simply Measured).

UTM and link shortener data will give you a better read of dark social activity. GA and third-party tracking tools are useful for better measuring / aggregating - and then correlating this data into insight.

Social media should be at the heart of marketing strategies, but Marketers need to start by taking engagement with a grain of salt. Only look at metrics that correlate to your business goal. Standard social metrics are at best ‘leading indicators’ that should be integrated with other types of data points.

Social Media is not a mass medium that lends itself to off the shelf measurement. Agencies too often given marketers commoditised and templated solutions. A customised and tailored approach is key.

Paul Phillips is associate strategy director and social media lead at Edelman Hong Kong.


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