This article was inspired by two recent events.

Firstly, I was involved in a Hootsuite panel session looking at how marketers can better tie their social media activity back to business goals and prove commercial value. Reading around the topic confirmed to me that social attribution remains a huge problem for a lot of marketers.

Secondly, we published an article that suggested marketers would get better bang for their buck if they stopped spending on social media and instead invested in other channels. 

The article was deliberately provocative, but reflected a fairly common view among marketers and non-marketers alike – namely that social media metrics, where they exist, tend to be quite woolly. If PPC can be more easily tied to sales then invest in that instead, the argument goes.

If you read the comments below the article you can see that it clearly struck a nerve, with one commenter even suggesting we were wrong to have published it. However, the author (an agency-side guest blogger) isn’t a lone voice and the arguments he presented are worth debating.

A common headache

I’ll start with the stats. There are loads of studies which show that marketers struggle with measuring ROI from social media. For example:

(It’s worth noting that I think these studies all refer to organic social rather than paid social, with the latter being more measurable as it works pretty much like any other direct response ad.)

Obviously just because something is hard to achieve that doesn’t mean it’s impossible or not worth the effort, but equally it does mean those who manage budgets are within their rights to question whether social media is worth the money. 

Those with a vested interest in having everyone believe that social media marketing works (e.g. social platforms, social media managers, social agencies) are quick to scoff and roll their eyes whenever somebody suggests otherwise. But while attribution remains a complex task, we can’t silence the doubters through condescension alone.

What to track?

In reality there are numerous ways of tracking social ROI. For example, it’s great for brand awareness, customer retention, and customer service. But you need realistic goals and the patience to achieve them. 

Most importantly (in my view), businesses need to accept that you can’t just ‘do social’. A social media strategy can’t exist in isolation.

Social media should really be used to amplify that which the company is already doing. If you don’t have a coherent marketing plan or content strategy, then your social media channels will be dull and struggle to find an audience. And if your company is rubbish at customer service because it doesn’t have the right processes in place, then social media alone won’t be able to fix that.

Jay Baer has written an excellent article on this topic already, so I’ll pinch one of his quotes which neatly sums up my thinking:

“Here’s the deal. If you want to measure social media ROI, stop wasting your time doing software demos and attending webinars. Just figure out what you want to track, where you can track it, think about both current customers and new customers, and go do it.”

And here are several more articles that outline different ways of tracking social ROI. They’re all excellent and worth your time:

A few case studies

To aid with the boardroom and budgetary battles, I’ve also collated a few different case studies that managed to prove social ROI. Some of them a few years old now, but they’re still relevant. There are loads more available if you do a quick Google search, but these are the ones that caught my attention.

BT’s £2m savings

This detailed case study shows how BT managed to save £2m per year by routing around 600,000 contacts per year through social media instead of its call centres. This also improved the customer experience, as these people preferred to deal with BT via social instead of phone or email.

KLM makes €25m directly from social media

At the Festival of Marketing in 2014 KLM revealed how its last-click attribution model tracked a total of €25m in sales from social media.

The Dutch airline uses social for three areas: service, branding and commerce. This post includes an update on how the company’s social strategy is evolving.

Made.com’s increased order value

My colleague Ben Davis previously wrote a comprehensive post looking at 30 brands with excellent social media strategies. Included in that list was a nugget of information about furniture retailer Made.com, which was able to track that people who came to its site from organic social had an average order value 4% higher than the site average in Q1 2016.

Made also runs its own product-focused social network called Unboxed. Dwell times on Made’s ecommerce site are over 3x higher for those visitors that use Unboxed, and the average order value for these customers was 16% higher than the site average in Q1 2016.

Social selling

What’s social selling, you ask? This post explains more, but in a nutshell in B2B it’s about getting sales reps to build up their visibility within their industry using their social profiles.

By getting involved in relevant conversations and growing their network it then helps open doors with potential clients. Essentially, a budget holder is more likely to answer the phone to someone they’ve already spoken to on Twitter or LinkedIn.

And here’s some stats to back it up:

And here are two useful social selling case studies as well. Both of these are a few years old and there’s more noise to compete with on social platforms these days, but the principles still hold true.

Incontact’s 215% increase in revenue

To prove the value of social selling Incontact ran a trial with half of its sales reps. Within three months those that had been trained on social selling had a sales pipeline 160% bigger than their colleagues, and by the end of the year had realised 215% more revenue.

IBM’s 4x year-on-year sales increase

IBM trained its sales people to use LinkedIn and Twitter, and also gave them access to a content calendar so they had relevant things to share.

The programme resulted in 4x more sales year-on-year, though there are a few caveats to take into account.

In summary...

Hopefully these resources will go some way to help readers improve their social media attribution. It remains a huge problem for a lot of marketers, but it is possible if you're realistic about your goals and focus on the correct metrics.

That said, I also don't agree that social media will necessarily yield amazing results for all businesses. And if you have limited resources then it definitely makes sense to focus your time and effort on the marketing channels that deliver the best returns.

As ever, it's horses for courses.

To improve your own social media skills, check out these Econsultancy resources:

David Moth

Published 6 June, 2017 by David Moth

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn

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