The social media challenge

Recently while my morning bus was idling at some lights, my eyes were drawn to a huge moving billboard featuring a new car that wanted to be friends. Facebook friends. I couldn’t imagine why. I visited its page out of curiosity & I still can’t.

It would be a brave marketing professional to suggest leaving social media out of any promotional campaign at the moment, such is its popularity. But the challenge with social media seems to be measuring return on investment (ROI) & applying appropriate strategies.

Promoting something on social media isn’t free. There’s a time cost (it can certainly drain time), an opportunity cost (could the time have been better spent?) & potentially risks – as there are with any public dialogue. What’s the best strategic approach?

The passive approach

Justifying this level of involvement with social media seems a no-brainer to me. Encouraging users to ‘like’ your web pages or share them via their favourite social networking, social news or social bookmarking sites is incredibly easy. Users have the chance to spread your messages for you. And spread links.

An advantage is that people treat information from friends differently to marketing messages.

Tools like ‘Add This‘ make it incredibly easy. Copy some simple javascript to insert a row of social media icons in the footer of your pages. Add This will even detect your user’s recent activity on various platforms and show the icons most relevant to your user – a very clever feature!

Asking to be ‘Liked’

Contrast this with a more active approach – setting up a Facebook page or Twitter account – then dedicating time to actively push out messages to build up a following. It’s labour intensive. People are electing to receive messages from your organisation, much like subscribing to an enewsletter. Only in regular little bites.

Facebook friends aren’t really a valid measure of success (in life or business).  You might think of Facebook friends or Twitter followers as you would email or RSS subscribers. You wouldn’t boast about sending out a message to 2,000 email addresses. ‘So what?’ your boss would say.

How many opened your email? How many clicked through to your site? How many of these downloaded your report, bought your product or met your target goal?

Think you can’t track that with social media? Of course you can. By tagging links shared & setting up Google Analytics goals you’re well on your way to measuring ROI (if you can monetise goals). If you can measure it for a direct email (& a lot of sophistication is expected of direct mail evaluations) there’s no reason you can’t measure if for social media & start to compare the cost vs benefits of social media marketing vs paid ads, SEO, offline marketing, emails & other promotions.


Often people justify quoting ‘friends and followers’ numbers because their campaigns are about raising ‘awareness’. Awareness seems conveniently removed from direct action. But there’s still much that can be measured. How much unprompted discussion is going on about your campaign on social media? Free tools like allow you to get a feel for conversations around keywords you nominate.

Save time, use money

Another valid strategy is social media ads. Forget about the slog of building up a following, Facebook ads give you incredible control over the demographic & preferences of your audience. You can put your message in front of people who wouldn’t choose to ‘like’ you, instead of preaching to the converted. 

Curb your enthusiasm

I love social media. It’s revolutionised the web & is a great space to be involved with. Judging by the euphoria it’s been embraced with, the challenge for many campaigning with social media, is remembering to apply the same strategies and evaluation principles used in other business decisions. The tools are available.

Analytics accreditation

Yesterday I took an online exam to become a Google Analytics accredited individual & I highly recommend the process.

There seems to be mixed feelings towards Google’s Conversion University, where it offers a series of online accreditation tests for its various products. 

The tests are cheap ($50 for Analytics) & as an unsupervised online test, it’s like an open book exam. You have access to the web, Google Help Center & the Google Search Engine to find all the answers.

Google Analytics certificate

The fruit of my labour

On the other hand, as a Google Analytics user, you rely on these tools in your everyday use of the product, so why not in the exam?

Critics would say it’s a fast-food approach to accreditation, but Google has always erred on the side of inclusive rather than exclusive, & its motivation is likely to be helping to ensure people understand & use its products properly.

I have to be honest – I only just passed. An 80% result was required & the test featured 70 questions in 90 minutes – not much time to Google things you don’t know & digest the results. 

My motivation for sitting was largely to confirm my knowledge of the product & also, as I regularly show others how to use it, I was interested in the quality of the training materials & process.

On this count I was most impressed. Conversion University had a detailed set of video presentations, slides and notes that I’ll be recommending to anyone interested in learning more about the product. I especially found the Regular Expressions & tracking across domains tutorials very useful.

But I did skim over sections I don’t use in my communications work – like details of the correct way to install & modify the tracking code. Sure enough, I fumbled these in the test.

So now I have a dodgy-looking certificate & a warm fuzzy feeling, but I also have a new confidence in my knowledge of the product, experience of some great new training resources & some specific areas I know to brush up on.

A worthwhile exercise!

Segment everything!

Summer Lit review Part 1: 

Web Analytics: an Hour a Day

Web Analytics: An Hour a DayAs is summer tradition, I took to the holidays as a chance to get some reading done. This year I picked up Web Analytics: an Hour A Day by Avinash Kaushik.

Here’s the key take away message and the one quote I think can, on its own, change the way you do web analytics and save you a long read:

“Your instinct on seeing any metric should be to desperately want to segment it 3 levels down at least”.

If you haven’t come across him Mr Kaushik is the author of the infamous web analytics blog Occam’s Razor (named after a principle of logic espoused by a 14th century friar, which roughly translated, means ‘entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity’ – and it’s hard to argue with that!).

I picked up his first book in preference to his second because it seemed to focus less on the latest tools and more on the process of picking insights from the huge quantities of data available for any web sites.

The problem

As Avinash says:

  • Your web analytics tool won’t provide any answers,
  • It won’t even provide any questions,
  • It just dumps data on you.

Don’t mistake access to Google Analytics as the solution to measuring your site’s success.

The solution

1. Questions need to come first (harder than it seems).

Do you have SMART goals for your website?

If not, he implores us to stop producing ‘data pukes’ in the form of meaningless reports that don’t drive actionable insights, and to create some specific, measurable goals.

If possible, define some conversion goals in your software. Want users to view 3 pages or more? That can be a conversion. Perhaps you want them to download a catalogue? Make that a conversion goal.

Things will never be perfect so don’t wait until you have perfect data capture. Insights can come from trends.

2. Segmentation

Next create some custom reports that segment your data. Almost any statistic becomes meaningless when you look at it applied to your entire website. Especially if there are multiple user groups targeted and different types of tasks to complete on the site.

One segment of your users might like to read information about your business – the more time they spend on the site the better. Another might want to contact you directly with a sales enquiry so forcing them to spend more time on the site is bad.

So what does your time on site statistic mean if it’s looking at both groups? Nothing. Segment your data to look at each group separately. Then break it up into a smaller chunk by segmenting again. And again.

Segmenting allows you to answer some specific questions like how many of the users contacting me came from my enewsletter and how many of these converted by downloading a catalogue?

That’s data you can learn from.

3. Everything in context

Finally, he espouses context as a key to understanding all measurements. So you have 45 people downloading your catalogue yesterday? So what? Presenting this in context with stats over an 8-day week and you can instantly see where you are.

Similarly, simply reporting on a 13-month (rather than 12-month) basis instantly gives you like for like comparison with the same time last year.

His enthusiasm and directness can also be contagious. I can honestly say, the hours I spent reading his book were hours I expect to save with the insights I’ve gleaned.

And… I know I’ll get regular updates from his blog.