week we released the latest Econsultancy/Adobe Quarterly Digital Intelligence Briefing, looking in detail at the current state of social media measurement.

While 69% of marketers surveyed reported that social has a measurable impact on PR and analytics, and many felt that it gave huge boosts to brand recognition, it is also clear that a large number of companies are still struggling to identify clear social attribution. 

The truth is, measuring a direct return from social activities is often fairly straightforward, but focusing on this may be clouding your ability to measure what’s really important.

Let’s take a closer look at Econsultancy’s social channels and I’ll explain what I mean.

A while ago we spoke about KPIs for display advertising, and mentioned that many CEOs believe marketers are disconnected from the financial realities of businesses.

I don’t believe this is necessarily true, but I do think that however much we speak about integrated comms and cross channel touchpoints, many marketers are still guilty of considering their returns in silos. 

Social media acts as a useful microcosm here. Ideally, social media should be something that’s integrated throughout a business.

My personal feeling is that fairly horizontal business structures have an inherent advantage here, and while it’s slow going, we are seeing the beginnings of democratisation between sales and marketing, and increasingly between tech departments as well. 

The fine detail

First of all, here is a quick example of definable ROI from social:

Recently, I wanted to increase the numbers of bronze (free) members signing up to Econsultancy from our Facebook page

We designate signing up as a bronze member as a secondary goal in Google Analytics and when posting to our page on Facebook, I define posts as a specific campaign. This means I can separate things I post from posts shared by others across the Facebook ecosystem.

It’s a small thing, but it gives me a little extra insight. 

So, what is the current goal completion rate from Facebook?

Not bad compared to the site average, but still… a bit crappy. What can we do to increase that? 

The answer: build a Facebook tab that redirects to a list of reports you can download if you become a free member of Econsultancy:

  • Take a screenshot of the list of reports to share. Facebook users like pictures. 
  • Post it, and pin it to the top of our timeline to increase visibility. 
  • Let people know there’s free stuff to be had. BE OBVIOUS.

  • Track it and check the results:

Much better. Well done me. 

That took me about 14 minutes to do, and provided a 600% increase in desired action. 

The value we assign to bronze members of Econsultancy fluctuates, but it’s easy enough to calculate their average value over a year, minus my time, the cost of producing a couple of graphics etc, and work out the exact ROI for this action. 

The only real problem here is that this won’t last that long unless you keep prompting users about it. 

As you can see, it drops off over the next week: 

But it’s still more than twice as effective as it was previously, and I can get away with nudging people towards that tab on a semi-regular basis. 

Oh, and don’t forget the time it took for a team of experienced analysts to compile over 400 pages of exclusive research. We’ll get to that in a moment.

The thing is, a lot of attempts to gauge ROI are done this way, looking at single actions and campaigns. It’s very granular, but social media itself often isn’t. 

Increasingly we’re looking at creating integrated campaigns across multiple channels. The figures above show a result from one platform, at one time, in isolation. But social isn’t really about campaigns.

If you’ll excuse me while I put on my guru robes for a moment, social media is about building ongoing relationships with your customers. 

Focus on the ongoing part. That implies a continuous, long-term ability to nurture a relationship with existing and potential customers

The bigger picture

We also published a post fairly recently about’s Facebook fans. On average, these fans are worth 24% more to than non-fans, but there are a number of mitigating points here, many of which were pointed out by those of you who commented on the post: 

  • Play’s customers are internet savvy.
  • The fact that they’re a fan suggests they are already fans of the brand.
  • Therefore they are more likely to be repeat customers.
  • They are also highly likely to respond to an offer via a channel they regularly spend time on.

Even here, we’re only seeing part of the picture. 

Let’s move our focus over to email, which regularly outshines social as a revenue channel, and again, the reason it does is fairly simple. 

When a business sends a customer an email, it often says:

Here is a page with an object we think you like on it. Push the one button on the page and you will own that object.

Meanwhile, social media might be saying:

Hey, how’s it going? Nice day right? How was that object you bought a while back? Any good? Cool, cool. So do you think Batman could fight a bear? Oh hey, you like cupcakes right? I heard is doing a discount. Yeah only if you’re interested, no worries…

With rare exceptions, social isn’t a salesman, so it’s unlikely to create as many direct sales (And frankly, not that many people will buy a new stereo directly through Facebook). 

I’m making this comparison vastly simplistic as a quick illustration obviously; email can be just as effective at CRO/CRM as any other channel, and social can be effective for sales, but hopefully this outlines some of the confusion that can arise if you’re looking for direct financial ROI. 

It’s certainly there, but it may be occluded and you’ll be better served looking at assisted conversions to get a closer idea of the value of your social presence. In the past we’ve also mentioned that email regularly makes a strong showing in our ‘assisted conversion’ analytics as well, so here too, we’re focusing on last touch revenue and not always seeing the full value of the channel.

The bigger, bigger picture

Finally, let’s take another step back and consider this in the framework of the business as a whole. 

Econsultancy runs a number of conferences every year. Currently we’re looking forward to JUMP in New York and London.

JUMP has its own Twitter account, tweeting various news and promos. We also mention the event on Facebook, On Google+, On LinkedIn… the list goes on. 

But I couldn’t post any updates at all without the events team creating copy and content across different channels, sending out emails, videos, DM pieces and more. 

And they need the help of our sales and commercial teams to arrange the sponsorships that help make the event possible. 

And someone needs to find speakers and arrange a content framework. 

And all of that is built on our research. Some of which, like the report I spoke about at the start, comes from social.

It is also pretty unlikely we could do most of it straight out of the box. It’s all built on over a decade of experience, reputation, relationship building, content creation and more. Everything feeds everything else here. 

Every month each of our departments sends round a progress report with a financial overview attached. I don’t really have the experience organising training sessions to tell you exactly how our training team are measuring total returns.

Yes, there are direct sales figures, but there’s also a huge reputation boost involved in having such great final marks coming from our MSc programmes for example, or all the positive testimonials we collect.

Not valuing these and assuming that no one ever referred anyone by word of mouth would be ridiculous, but that’s still the way we look at social if we look at final touch attribution too closely. 

Social media, and much of marketing in general, is chicken and egg. Content breeds content, which feeds sales. Much as it may pain us, marketers (and their bosses) have to learn to live with a certain amount of ambiguity, and promote internal cultures that occasionally do things just because ‘they feel right’. 

I can’t really put a standard value on a Facebook “Like” for Econsultancy, but that’s down to the way we use Facebook, not the potential value of our fans there.  

It doesn’t mean I can’t find out the value of a fan compared to other members, it just means that sometimes, for us, it’s more trouble than it’s really worth. I know that images work better than links on the platform, and human-interest images work even better.

If I need to, I can refine this to the nth degree, but will the measurable difference really make that big a change in overall business results? 

Every month we get more Facebook fans and “Likes”, and for the most part, it makes more money for us than it costs to run. And sometimes, that’s all you really need to know.

I’m not saying don’t measure the granular stuff. Any marketer worth their salt should have an in-depth understanding of analytics.

Measuring on a granular level is great, we all need to do it, and do it well, but it’s important that we don’t see it as the be-all and end-all for any channel.