Marketers continue to spend more money on social campaigns, and they continue to struggle to appraise what they receive in return for that money.
Measuring return on investment (ROI) was the most commonly cited challenge facing social marketers, according to a study conducted by Simply Measured, a company that sells analytics software for marketers to measure the ROI of their social campaigns.
The social analytics firm surveyed almost 1,000 ad agency employees that span 111 countries and specialize in social marketing, roughly half of whom held the job title of social media manager, marketing manager or director of social media. Of the survey’s respondents who were asked to identify their top three challenges, 61.4 percent picked measuring ROI was picked by 61.4 percent, followed by “tying social to business goals” at 35.5 percent.
Attributing social marketing spend to business results has been an increasing area of focus for marketers, as well as for social platforms. The more money marketers pour into social media, the more they expect to know how that money converts into revenue for their businesses. And social platforms like Facebook have seen this as an opportunity to solidify marketers’ social investments and siphon spend from more established channels like TV and search.
During Facebook’s most recent earnings call (PDF), COO Sheryl Sandberg described the company’s shift in emphasis away from “proxy metrics,” such as video views and brand lift, and toward “sales metrics” because “the more that we can tie ad viewing to sales, the stronger our case is with our clients.”
Engagement before conversions
However, for sales metrics to take hold, marketers need to wean themselves off proxy metrics, such as likes, comments, shares and retweets. And they have not yet.
According to the survey, 57.8 percent of respondents said that engagement metrics were the metrics they used the most to gauge a social campaign’s success, whereas 23.6 percent cited conversion and revenue metrics — e.g., website traffic, conversions and revenue — as their most-used metric to measure success.
Compounding matters, marketers are more interested in analytics tools that enable them to count engagements than they are in conversions. Per the survey, 52.7 percent of respondents said that tracking engagement metrics is the most important feature they seek in a social analytics tool. By comparison, 39.4 percent cited the ability to track conversions as their most sought-after capability.
Perhaps because of marketers’ preoccupation with engagement metrics, social data plays a somewhat restricted role in informing clients’ social strategies. While 61.5 percent of respondents said they use social data to assess campaign performance, only 36 percent said they use social data to measure ROI.
Marketers’ favored social channels
The hierarchy of social platforms that marketers spend the most money on mirrors that of those they use the most in their campaigns. Respondents’ six most-used social networks are the same six social networks on which they spend the most money, and in the same order: Facebook takes the top spot, followed by Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest. If it weren’t for 27.1 percent of respondents claiming to use Google+, the mirrored hierarchy would extend to include Snapchat in the seventh position.
While the two charts share the same order, the stats differ drastically. Facebook is far and away the platform that most respondents spend money on. And even though fewer than half as many spend money on Instagram, the Facebook-owned photo-and-video app outpaced Twitter by more than double.
The divide likely has to do with Facebook and, to a lesser extent, Instagram being largely pay-to-play platforms for brands, thanks to their respective algorithms that sort the posts in people’s feeds. In other words, marketers may not feel as pressed to spend money on Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest and LinkedIn because they are able to reach enough people organically. However, that thinking wouldn’t apply to Snapchat, which is typically considered a pay-to-play platform. Snapchat’s relatively small standing may have to do with it being inaccessible to many advertisers, though that has begun to change.
Simply Measured also surveyed agency employees about influencer marketing. Marketers have warmed to incorporating people with large social followings into their campaigns, but not necessarily to the point of dedicating a share of their budgets specifically to this type of marketing.
According to the survey, 54.9 percent of respondents said influencers are an important part of their marketing strategies, though only 18.7 percent said they “strongly agree” that influencers play a vital role in clients’ social strategies. However, 66 percent said they have no dedicated budget for influencer marketing.
The fact that brands are not earmarking dollars specifically for influencer marketing may have to do with the channel serving more of a supplementary than standalone role. Asked how they use influencers in their social strategies, 59.2 percent of the respondents said that influencers serve to extend the reach of campaigns, a role similar to that of PR outreach.
Social analytics software preferences
Finally — and perhaps the least surprising finding in a survey conducted by a social analytics software provider — 52 percent of respondents said they need social analytics software to do their best work. The runner-up resource was “human resources” at 35.7 percent, followed by publishing software at 12.3 percent. For this question, as with the biggest challenges question, respondents were asked to select their top three most important features.
More surprising may be the types of social analytics tool that agencies typically use. Despite Facebook’s series of measurement errors and Twitter’s own measurement mistake, agencies most often turn to platform-provided analytics tools to collect social data, including engagement stats, follower counts and website conversion measurements.
Of the respondents, 47.2 percent said the platforms’ tools are their primary way of collecting social data for clients, followed by 31.1 percent that rely on third-party social analytics tools and 10.4 percent that manually monitor their clients’ social accounts. The remaining 11.4 percent use some combination of the aforementioned methods.