Are Your Social Media People Cooking the Books on Engagement Metrics?

By Tad Miller | Oct 31, 2011
More Articles by Tad

I saw it going on and tried to look the other way.  I turned a blind-eye to it to for months.  I tried to play nice in the sand box and “get along”, you know not “Rock the Boat”.  But I’m done with that.  There is something going on with many Social Media professionals, be it the in-house Social Media department or the 3rd party Social Media agency, that I don’t like.  I’m not sure that the clients or supervisors of those Social Media professionals even know that there is a problem.

The problem comes down to metrics.  Everyone is trying to come up with success metrics to “show value” and justify the investment in Social Media.  Likes, Follows, Comments, Sentiment, etc. seem to be the focus.  These goals are channel specific and all of those channels are external ones that don’t reside on the companies websites.  On Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, etc engagement seems to the be term bandied about the most for measuring “success”.  The ideal being getting people into an “Engagement Funnel” just like websites have a conversion, lead or sales funnel.

Engagement it seems is a never ending goal.  It requires keeping people on those channels, and getting them to either stay there or have them continually coming back for more.  It’s kind of like a gambling casino.  The longer the casino keeps the gamblers at the table the more likely it is that the casino makes money.  Casinos never want you to walk away from the gambling tables and in much the same way this is the goal with some the Social Media managers of some of these channels.

Some might not see the problem in this at all.  But here’s the real problem with it.  All of those engagement practices to keep people on those channels like Facebook Fan pages are often intentionally doing so at the expense of getting those engaged visitors to visit the actual websites where sales, leads and conversions for businesses actually come from.  Stop to think about it.  Does your Social Media on channels like Facebook or YouTube exist to support your website, or does it exist solely as a channel to foster discussions on those channels?

I will be the first to tell you that those channels should never be expected to drive sales, leads or conversions in large numbers at all.  But, that doesn’t mean that those kind of goals should be completely ignored.  If you have other people managing these channels you need to start looking at what they are doing to drive referral traffic to where you make your money – your website.  You can easily use your web analytics to look at your referral traffic from social channels like Facebook, Flickr or YouTube, etc.

A recent study by Outbrain, broke down referral sources from over 100 million sessions and came up with some pretty interesting data.  Social Media sites drove 11% of the referral traffic to websites:

I really believe that 11% of referral traffic sounds awesome, because in the cases that I’m discussing in this post, getting even 1% referral traffic from social channels is difficult to do.

Here are the tricks to be on the look-out for:

  • Sharing the “Social Channel” link when a perfectly good link to the same content exists on your website.  When they share a link to cool digital assets on Twitter are they driving that traffic to their engagement channels or are they driving that traffic to your website (where the sales happen).

  • Re-purposing original site content.  The worst I’ve ever seen have been instances of Social Media people copying entire blog posts from the company’s website, turning them into Facebook notes and then using Twitter to promote the Facebook Notes.  The firm managing the Facebook channel had nothing to do with the website’s blog and refused to share a link to the blog post of the website that would remove people from their Facebook engagement funnel.

  • All of your Social Media reporting talks about engagement metrics within social channels and NOTHING with regard to website referral traffic from those channels

Your social strategy shouldn’t be an end unto itself.  You need a parallel strategy.  If you have digital assets on one, you need to have them on the other.  Example:  have your website images of your products on your website and on photo sharing sites like Flickr.  Absolutely promote and foster engagement on Flickr.  But when it comes to promotion of those images in social channels like Twitter or Facebook you need to focus on the destination that drives the most sales (which almost always is your website).

Social Media practitioners that try to keep all the engagement traffic to themselves learned the practice from conversion and lead optimizers from websites.  Any expert in conversion optimization from the side of the website will tell you that you always need to remove links to other sites that website users could use to leave the conversion funnel.  The reason being that people get distracted and never come back to the site to convert.

The problem is that many Social Media professionals are being measured by the wrong metrics.  Yes engagement matters and needs to measured. But, the number one most important metric that people managing social channels need to be measured on is website referrals and conversions derived from those referrals.  Expectations need to be set low for these kind of metrics, but they need to be reported and prioritized.  If you don’t measure those metrics and report on them you will never see an improvement in them.

If you currently aren’t getting these kind of metrics from the people managing your Social Media you need to start getting them and ask what the strategies are to improve them.

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