o runner embarks on a marathon without some kind of goal in mind, be it breaking the tape, placing high in his or her age group, or simply putting one foot in front of the other for 26.2 miles. And every goal hinges on some type of measurement – whether via a stopwatch or merely mile markers ticked off. Without this dynamic duo, i.e., goals and measurement, a marathon is little more than a flash mob of folks in neon-hued shoes.
The same is true of social-media marketing. Without measurable goals and hard metrics, social-media marathons are more like meandering walkabouts. But many exhibit marketers forgo setting goals before they sprint off on a social-media venture, or only examine surface-level vanity metrics instead of the hard numbers that have a real impact on their companies' bottom lines. In fact, according to the 2014 Social Media Industry Survey, published by Social Media Examiner, just 68 percent of marketers analyze their social-media activities in any way. And EXHIBITOR's 2014 Social Media Marketing Survey found that only 30 percent of exhibit-marketing professionals set measurable goals of any kind prior to implementing social-media campaigns.
Granted, stopwatches and split times aren't just about measuring runners' performances; they're also a key component of improvement. Similarly, establishing social-media goals and tracking the subsequent results can aid marketers with everything from determining which platforms are the most effective to making incremental midcourse corrections that can turn a stagnant Pinterest presence into a bona fide awareness-building campaign. But there are challenges associated with measuring the value of social media. And while it's an imperfect science, identifying benchmarks and quantifying the impact of all those tweets and status updates is doable.
Like the first mile of a marathon, the initial steps toward tracking your social-media success are often the most daunting. So EXHIBITOR solicited tips and tricks from eight social-media experts to help you trek through these popular digital platforms and learn about the measurement options available.
Mile Marker 1: Assessing Your Audience
Many exhibit marketers forgo setting measurable goals before they sprint off on a social-media venture, or only examine surface-level vanity metrics instead of the hard numbers.
Before you can run, you have to walk. And as far as social-media measurement is concerned, the first step is to assess your audience. Having a critical mass of followers or fans is important
to the success of your social-media campaign for the same reason having a critical mass of attendees is important to the success of your exhibit-marketing campaign – your efforts are in vain if nobody's there to see them. But according to Megan O'Neal, public relations and social media coordinator at Marketing Design Group, an event- and association-marketing firm, many rookie social-media marketers are tempted to stop there, and hang their hat on an increase in followers as proof that their efforts are paying off.
But looking only at the number of friends, fans, or followers you've acquired is just as illogical as evaluating a trade show based solely on total attendance figures and not whether those individual attendees fit within your target audience profile. According to Andy Marsh, managing partner at TagPrints Digital, an Elmhurst, IL-based digital-marketing and social-media agency, quality not quantity, rules. "Don't get me wrong. Having a large following is important," Marsh says. "But having 500 fans that are within your target market is much more important than having 5,000 fans of which only 100 are in your target."
O'Neal concurs, citing the quantity-versus-quality debate as a reason why Facebook is curtailing "like-gating," i.e., the practice of requiring a user to like your page in order to, say, enter a contest. Just as giving away an Audi in your exhibit is likely to drive a barrage of unqualified traffic, social-media sweepstakes intended to generate a following are likely to result in fans who have little interest in your brand. Even worse, Marsh says, are fake accounts. Many marketers are tempted to use companies such as BuyRealMarketing Inc. to purchase followers in order to create the perception of a formidable following, but Marsh warns that such practices will forever haunt your engagement and conversion rates. In fact, fake followers can be just as detrimental to your long-term success as unaudited show attendance figures.
Social-media metrics will amount to little more than a jumble of digits if you don't set measurable objectives. After all, you wouldn't start a race without first finding out where the finish line is. So as you prepare to quantify social-media success, heed these tips to start your campaign off on the right foot.
1. Begin With Baby Steps
"There are a lot of people who are still just starting out on social media, so analytics kind of freak them out a little," says Melissa Harrison, CEO of Allee Creative LLC. She recommends marketers begin by exploring each platform's internal analytics dashboard, such as Facebook Insights or Twitter Analytics, before ramping up their content-marketing plans or testing out third-party measurement services. By learning what these metrics mean in the context of their social-media campaigns, Harrison says marketers can focus on the data that is most relevant to their companies' business objectives.
2. Track Your Competitors
When you're first starting out on a social-media platform, it can be difficult to ascertain whether your results are exceptional, dismal, or somewhere in between. Seeking out some competitive intelligence can provide baseline benchmarks on a given platform for companies of a similar size that share your target market. And while your social-media campaign should be motivated by business objectives, not keeping up with the Jones', Andy Marsh, managing partner at TagPrints Digital, says that analyzing your competitors' results is a decent place to start. You can quickly calculate potential impressions for your competitors without being privy to sensitive company information, and then compare how your company's social-media exposure stacks up.
3. Align Your Objectives
Instead of pulling social-media goals out of thin air, look to established business goals and model your campaign's objectives around them. Nichole Kelly, CEO of Social Media Explorer, recommends mirroring the same kinds of objectives your company sets for other marketing campaigns. For instance, if your company is a startup with little awareness in the industry, and a primary goal of print advertising and/or exhibit marketing is to increase that awareness, it might be sufficient (at least initially) to focus on how many impressions you can generate across social-media platforms. But if you wouldn't be satisfied with a barrage of trade show attendees walking past your booth and simply seeing your signage, then you shouldn't stop at impressions without tracking an associated action. So if typical metrics for your trade show program center on increasing traffic to your website or getting attendees to schedule meetings, those are the goals you should set for social media as well.
4. Find Your Following
Many companies take a "more is more" approach to their social-media initiatives, assuming that if being on Twitter is good, then being on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google Plus is even better. But there's no use spending time and energy to create a presence on a platform if your target audience isn't there. And just because the majority of your clients and prospects have an Instagram account doesn't mean that it's the best platform for your social-media efforts. Some platforms lend themselves to dissemination of certain types of content better than others.
For instance, Megan O'Neal, public relations and social media coordinator at Marketing Design Group, says an industry news release may spark a significant amount of likes and comments on LinkedIn, but gain zero traction on Facebook. A little tinkering can help you identify the social-media platforms that are best suited to helping you achieve your goals. For instance, if you are attempting to drive traffic to a microsite promoting your next trade show, you can create a unique shortened URL for each platform, observe what site achieves the highest click-through rate, and allocate your energy accordingly.
5. Don't Forget Hashtags
Not using hashtags for social-media posts pertaining to a particular show is like omitting critical keywords and then wondering why your sites don't show up atop Google searches. Since most trade shows create and disseminate official show hashtags, all you have to do is mindfully embed them in your content. According to Marsh, the lack of hashtag adoption on Facebook means that trade show attendees are more likely to turn to more readily searchable platforms, such as Twitter and Instagram, for event updates. Thus, exhibitors may want to consider using these hashtag-sensitive platforms for at-show communication even if their target audience generally tends to favor Facebook or LinkedIn.
6. Compare Apples to Apples
While comparing results across platforms might help you to determine where you should focus your time and resources, it's not a recommended strategy for long-term measurement. O'Neal says comparing baseline metrics across social-media platforms is a little like comparing apples to orangutans. "Is a 'like' on a Facebook post equivalent to a favorite on Twitter? Is a comment on LinkedIn worth more because LinkedIn users typically come from higher-income households?" she asks, suggesting that each platform be analyzed in isolation. For instance, Twitter results from 2014 should only be compared against Twitter results from 2013 and 2012, and once marketers do so, they will see what worked and where they might be able to improve.
"Having a lower number of followers is not detrimental if they are engaged followers who actively consume and/or share company posts," O'Neal says. "If likes come organically as a result of valuable content and genuine interactions, these are exactly the type of people worth celebrating."
Instead of attempting to measure the quantity of social-media followers and fans, experts agree that marketers should concentrate on the quality of those followers and what they do after they follow you. Because if nobody is reading your posts or engaging with your content, your social-media campaign is missing the mark, regardless of how many fans and followers you have amassed.
Mile Marker 2: Making an Impression
Simply put, impressions are a tally of how many users see your social-media posts. And if your goal is to disseminate a certain message to your audience, impressions are a fair way to assess your reach, according to Cavan Reagan Reichmann, director of social engagement at Spong, a Minneapolis-based public relations firm. But the concept – and its calculation – is anything but rudimentary.
There are two types of social-media impressions: potential impressions and actual impressions. Potential impressions have been around as long as social media has, and calculating this metric involves simple arithmetic. Essentially, potential impressions represent the total number of people who could theoretically have been exposed to your tweet or post.
"If you have an incredibly high number of social-media impressions on a given post, but zero users interacting with it, your strategy is falling short of its potential."
There are slight variations in how potential impressions are counted, and these nuances vary by platform (e.g., some methods discount a reply on Twitter since it's only visible to users who follow both the sender and receiver), but generally the equation takes into account how many followers or fans you have, and in the case of retweets, how many followers belong to the individual sharing your message. Simply multiply the number of posts or tweets by your total audience on each platform. Then add those numbers together to ascertain your total number of potential impressions. For example, if your social-media campaign for a show includes 10 Facebook posts and you have 5,000 Facebook fans, you've generated 50,000 potential impressions on that platform. If you also sent 20 tweets as part of the campaign and have 10,000 followers, you have an additional 200,000 from Twitter alone, for a combined total of 250,000 potential impressions across both platforms. If someone were to retweet one of your tweets or share one of your Facebook posts, you would add the number of followers he or she has to that figure to determine your total potential impressions.
The pitfall with using potential impressions, however, is that the calculations assume users are glued to their social-media feeds – the formula offers no accommodations for inactive accounts, Facebook posts that don't appear in users' news feeds, tweets that are buried within a few minutes, etc. Furthermore, O'Neal explains that users' privacy settings can artificially inflate potential-impression calculations as well. For instance, some users may have their privacy settings configured such that only certain friends can see their posts, and a marketer has no way of telling if this is the case. So even if a person has 400 friends on Facebook, his or her privacy settings might mean shared posts can only be seen by a fraction of those 400 friends.
Potential impressions are readily accepted as a valid measurement, since they're calculable across platforms and are measured in roughly the same way as media impressions, which are often used to measure the success of print ad campaigns. Having said that, actual impressions allow for a much more realistic, unbiased look at social media. Unfortunately, actual impressions are a newcomer to the social-media stratosphere, and at the moment, they are only available for Twitter and Facebook. Essentially, the platforms track how many times a tweet or post shows up on users' screens, not just how many times it could theoretically have been seen, via their internal analytics platforms.
A shortcut to track engagement is to use influencer scores obtained via sites such as Klout, Kred, or PeerIndex.
These sites claim to use complex algorithms to arrive at a single composite
score, ranking, or valuation. Sound too good to be true? Well, according to our sources it is.
Available internal analytics vary among social-media sites, but Facebook users can click on the Insights tab at the top of their companies' pages. Twitter Analytics are trickier to find, says Melissa Harrison, CEO of Allee Creative LLC, but can be located by clicking on the Twitter Ads tab in the dropdown menu on the right-hand side of the page, and then clicking on Analytics in the top left corner of the subsequent page.
To put the two types of impression metrics into perspective, consider a commercial playing on the radio. The number of potential impressions could be calculated by adding up the number of people with access to radios within the broadcast area. The number of actual impressions, however, would count only those individuals who had their radios turned on and dialed into the station in question at the time the commercial was broadcast. As you can see, actual impressions offer a more realistic success metric than potential impressions.
"As a general rule of thumb for day-to-day social-media posting, potential impressions will be much higher than actual impressions," Marsh says. "However, and this will make exhibitors jump with joy, actual impressions are oftentimes higher than potential impressions at trade shows and conferences, especially on social-media platforms such as Twitter that use easily searchable hashtags. If you have 100 Twitter followers and post one tweet with the event hashtag, you garner 100 potential impressions. But, since you included the highly monitored event hashtag, there is a very significant likelihood that more than 100 users will come across your tweet – users that aren't even following you."
Whether you track actual impressions or your campaign banks on platforms that only allow you to calculate potential impressions, Reagan Reichmann cautions marketers to make sure they're using the same methodology to measure impressions across all platforms in order to avoid comparing Instagram apples to LinkedIn oranges.
Mile Marker 3: Tracking Engagement
At a trade show, your goals likely include getting staffers to strike up relevant conversations with attendees. But those conversations wouldn't be very valuable if booth visitors just stood there with blank facial expressions while staffers rattled off their sales spiel. Social media functions in much the same way. It's about having two-way conversations with qualified prospects, albeit digitally, not constantly blasting company messages to whoever is within earshot. "If you have an incredibly high number of social-media impressions on a given post, but zero users interacting with it, your strategy is falling short of its potential because those impressions aren't translating into engagement," Marsh says.
The Social Toolbox
All the measurement know-how in the world doesn't do a lot of good if you don't have the tools to help you cull the data you need. There are myriad social-media measurement tools available, with price tags ranging from absolutely nothing to more than $2,500 per month. Each program has its downsides and selling points, but here are some of our sources' favorites.
Why it's cool:
The site offers a full analytics and publishing dashboard, but according to Melissa Harrison, CEO, Allee Creative LLC, Sprout Social is acclaimed for its unified inbox that aggregates posts and its cross-platform capabilities. Andy Marsh, managing partner at TagPrints Digital, also raves about its human phone support.
Plans range from $59 (Deluxe) to $500 (Team) per month, and a free 30-day trial is offered for new users.
Why it's cool:
Our sources agree that Google Analytics is the gold standard of website-analytics tools due to its power and flexibility. It also has tremendous capabilities for tracking referral traffic, which social-media marketers find invaluable.
Available free of charge for websites that generate less than 10 million hits per month; premium accounts cost $150,000 annually.
Why it's cool:
Free accounts give marketers all the tools they need to start a social-media campaign, including the ability to preschedule posts on multiple platforms and monitor activity.
The paid plans are reasonably priced and provide comprehensive analytics, says Megan O'Neal, public relations and social media coordinator at Marketing Design Group.
The free version offers limited analytics, and paid plans start at $9.99 per month.
Why it's cool:
Crazy Egg shows users a heat map of the most popular pages on their websites with up-to-the-minute results, and data is sortable by referral site (including social-media platforms).
Plans range from $9 (for Basic accounts) to $99 (for Pro accounts) per month.
Most marketers understand why engagement is vital to the health of their social-media campaigns, but aren't sure how it fits into the rest of their social-media measurement scheme. In short, every time a user performs an action in relation to your social-media content, such as liking it, commenting on it, replying to it, or retweeting it, that counts as an instance of engagement. Marsh says exhibitors can then derive their all-important engagement rate by taking the total number of instances of engagement per tweet or status update and dividing that figure by the total number of actual impressions for that given post.
Let's say that a Facebook post garnered 3,500 actual impressions. If 40 users liked the post, and five different users commented on that same post, you have 45 total instances of engagement. Take your total number of instances of engagement (45) and divide that figure by your actual impression count (3,500). The aforementioned data leaves you with an engagement rate that's a shade less than 1.3 percent, which, according to Michael Leander, a direct marketing consultant and speaker, is a relatively successful benchmark. Leander claims that anything above
a 1-percent engagement rate is good, and engagement rates between 0.5 percent and 0.99 percent are considered average.
That said, Andy Swindler, president of Chicago-based Web design and marketing agency Astek, says engagement rates vary among industry sectors. According to Socialbakers.com, which offers monitoring and tracking tools for analysis of social networks, average engagement rates in the automotive industry are more than double the rates seen in industries such as retail, electronics, and telecom. So Swindler recommends establishing your brand's own benchmark and comparing that to the rates of your competitors and others in your industry.
Keep in mind that engagement need not end when users log off of social-media sites. "It's your job as an exhibitor to create compelling content that attendees are eager to interact with or share. And ideally, you want that content to inspire them to visit your booth," Marsh says. "This is what we call 'hybrid engagement,' and it's something exhibitors have an unprecedented opportunity to achieve through one-on-one social-media communication." Creating a bridge between the trade show floor and the social-media stratosphere sounds tricky, but all eight experts we spoke with agree that simple ideas can foster multifaceted interaction with show attendees.
For example, Nichole Kelly, CEO of Social Media Explorer, says the best example she's ever seen was a company that employed Sales Navigator, an offshoot of LinkedIn that allows marketers to track and manage leads via the social-media platform, as part of its pre-show efforts. Instead of using a direct mailer or sending an email blast, the company employed Sales Navigator to preschedule meetings with clients and prospects during the event. After the conference, that company's sales team used the same platform to track the results of those meetings and follow up with potential customers.
But not all social-media campaigns need to begin before the show. Social-media engagement that originates in your exhibit can also be effective, says Jackie Kaufenberg, CTSM, community manager and social media specialist at Vivid Image, a digital-marketing and social-media strategy agency. For example, she suggests getting prospects to connect with you on social media during their booth visits, and then using those social-media platforms to follow up with them after the show, building on that connection forged through face-to-face interaction.
O'Neal adds that hybrid engagement initiatives (which foster both in-person and social-media engagements) can be as elementary as a scavenger hunt that requires participants to visit physical locations and check in on social media, or a photo contest that invites attendees to visit your booth and have a photo taken that is then shared, viewed, and perhaps voted on via Facebook or Instagram. It can also be done by simply incentivizing social-media engagements in an attempt to extend your presence beyond the borders of your booth – or even the trade show itself. For example, Panasonic Corp. encouraged attendees at the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show to tweet about their experience while standing in the booth in exchange for a free cup of coffee. Through these types of hybrid engagement initiatives, exhibitors can boost booth traffic and build their social-media engagement metrics, which is a win-win for both aspects of their marketing program.
Mile Marker 4: Watching Influencer Scores
A shortcut to track engagement is to use influencer scores obtained via sites such as Klout, Kred, or PeerIndex, instead of tracking individual metrics on your own. These sites claim to use complex algorithms that take into account interaction rates, followers' social capital, and posting frequency, among other factors, to arrive at a single composite score, ranking, or valuation.
Sound too good to be true? Well, according to our sources it is, at least in part. The hitch is that the formulas behind these magic numbers are closely guarded, so it can be difficult to ascertain what actions led to a rise or fall in your score. The allure of tools such as Klout is that they provide simple, singular metrics with little to no investment of time or effort on your part. And while they may be worth including as part of a metrics dashboard of sorts, relying only on such scores isn't likely to tell you much about how your tweets, pins, and posts are impacting your specific business objectives.
Comparing conversion rates between prospects who follow you on social media with those who do not may help you prove that the content you're disseminating plays a role in moving customers along the sales cycle.
"I view influencer scores the same way I view tabloids," O'Neal says. "It's great to indulge every so often, but it doesn't affect my day-to-day operations." Not everyone is so quick to dismiss influencer scores, however. Marsh says tracking your influencer scores in the context of others in your industry sector can offer a convenient starting point for determining the social movers and shakers for your industry, especially on Twitter. This competitive analysis can also give you a quick glimpse as to who your allies may be for social-media outreach.
For instance, while tracking your Klout score in comparison to other players in your specific industry, you might identify key organizations or individuals with higher influencer scores. With that information in hand, you might choose to passively observe and learn from what they are doing on those platforms in an attempt to identify best practices. Or, you could actively try to engage those people via social media in hopes they will share or retweet your content, thereby extending your impression and increasing engagement metrics.
In short, influencer scores are worth watching, and they can be a handy tool for evaluating your competitors' social-media presence. But they should not be the only metrics you consider. Since the sites' algorithms and your social-media objectives may value very different things, be wary of allowing fluctuations of this figure to greatly influence the trajectory of your social-media campaign.
Mile Marker 5: Analyzing Web Traffic
Getting potential customers to browse your Twitter feed is not the finish line for most marketers. Rather, they look to drive those curious potential clients to their websites, where in-depth product information, blog posts, video tutorials, and more can aid visitors in their purchasing decisions. According to EXHIBITOR's previously cited 2014 Social Media Marketing study, 43 percent of exhibit and event marketers credit social media with helping them achieve an increase in traffic to their website or microsite. But do you know how to track every single click, or even why it's important in the first place?
Website traffic attributable to social media can be tracked in two ways: via specific links and by analyzing what is called referral traffic with analytics software. Links are ubiquitous on social-media platforms, and marketers are likely already familiar with link-shortening and -tracking services such as Bit.ly, TinyURL, and Goo.gl, and their in-platform counterparts, such as Ow.ly (for Hootsuite) and Deck.ly (for TweetDeck). The features vary for each, but all shorten links to 18 characters or less (saving space on Twitter), and track the timing and frequency of clicks for each individual link.
On the other hand, referral traffic, i.e., traffic that originates from a social-media platform but doesn't arrive at your site by clicking on a specific link, establishes a path of digital bread crumbs between, say, a user scanning through your Twitter feed and arriving on the homepage of your company's website.
"Marketers can analyze their website traffic around key show dates and promotions to see if they notice a spike in direct and/or organic website traffic," Kaufenberg says. And Harrison adds that these hidden Web-traffic undercurrents can reveal a great deal about how your audience interacts with your social-media content. "I work with a client who seems to have a great engagement percentage on Facebook as far as content. People may not leave a comment or like a post, but they're clicking on those articles, the links are taking them back to the company's website, and they're making purchasing decisions based on that content," she says.
All of these data points can be tracked using analytics software via referral traffic reports – and they're not exclusive to social media. Thus, Facebook or Twitter traffic can be examined in the same context as other marketing mediums such as public relations, and this type of apples-to-apples comparison can go miles toward proving the value of social media.
Mile Marker 6: Measuring Monetization
As altruistic as your social-media goals may be – you might want to share your team's vast knowledge on industry topics or give followers a Friday laugh via a silly meme – every marketer knows that sales make the business world go round. And it's much easier to get upper-level management to buy into a social-media campaign that you can directly link to an increase in revenue as compared to a campaign where the correlation is murky at best.
The hiccup to proving return on investment (ROI) from social media is that there's rarely a clear link between a lead originating from social media and the final sale, and it's something that most third-party social-media dashboards don't have the capability to track. "I haven't seen one yet that directly integrates with a customer relationship management [CRM] system and the metrics that matter," Kelly says. But she offers a few tips to circumvent this technological shortcoming: 1) Add tracking functionality to your links using the Google URL builder (a tool available through Google Analytics), and 2) tag leads as having come from a social-media platform when a person is entered into your marketing database.
Your trade show lead-retrieval system and other marketing tools likely integrate into your CRM system, so that revenue can be attributed to that particular medium at the conclusion of the sales cycle. Taking the above steps will allow you to do the same with social media, so your Pinterest board or LinkedIn page can receive due credit for contributing to a sale.
Kelly says that the monetary connection to social media doesn't have to come only at the conclusion of a firm's sales cycle. "The first step is to start measuring the customer journey: awareness, engagement, consideration, acquisition, retention, loyalty, and advocacy. Then look at measurements that show social media's influence at each stage," she says. For instance, acquisition can be measured by calculating the cost per lead, loyalty can be measured by gauging your company's customer retention rate, and advocacy can be measured through customers' net promoter scores. Comparing the cost per lead or retention rates for contacts entering your CRM system through a social-media channel to similar metrics derived via other channels can help you make a case for ongoing investment into developing a digital following. And comparing conversion rates between prospects who follow you on social-media platforms with those who do not may help you prove that the content and key messages you're disseminating via those platforms play a role in moving customers along the sales cycle.
As the social-media landscape continues to evolve, so too will the breadth, depth, and accessibility of reliable metrics. But by establishing benchmarks and continuously tracking your performance on these digital platforms, you'll be able to gauge your success and identify potential areas for improvement. Just as a marathoner tracks each mile split, looking to shave seconds off his or her time, so too will you be able to evaluate your social-media statistics to hone your skills and take advantage of what these powerful platforms have to offer.