Most marketers are still chipping away at the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to understanding the value of a social media campaign. Content is largely measured by the number of shares, likes, and impressions that it generates on social networks. But this is an incomplete picture. Deeper insights are needed to uncover patterns and trends that can help brands deliver more relevant and timely content. And as social media expands from text to include photos, videos, and emojis, brands have even more opportunities to harness the mountain of user data that is being generated.
The first step in improving your social engagement strategy is to look beyond simple measurements or "vanity metrics," advises Bryan Kramer, a consultant and author of Shareology: How Sharing is Powering the Human Economy.
"Vanity metrics such as likes are still going strong because they're easy to grab on to," Kramer says. "They allow marketers to say, 'look, people like what we're doing' but they shouldn't stop there. Marketers should also be analyzing their data to find out why people are sharing or liking their content and use that to create even better content."
Chris Bingham, CTO at Crimson Hexagon, a social media analytics firm, was blunter: "You got them to click the 'like' so now what? What did you learn from that?" Much of social media's value lies in what you can learn about your customers or your fans, Bingham notes. Instead of "blindly putting out content, marketers should ask themselves, 'what do these responses tell us about our audience and trends that we should be listening to? You should be learning, not just racking up numbers."
Images and videos are often a surefire way to get viewers engaged, but without data insights, it's difficult to know which pieces of content are driving traffic. The Grommet, an online platform where entrepreneurs can launch a product and receive marketing support, struggled with this issue.
Founded in 2008, The Grommet team evaluates and selects products to support across 20 categories like "tech, gadgets, and tools" and "art, d?r, and stationery." It has helped launch brands like Fitbit, Goldieblox, SodaStream, and more. But as The Grommet grew, the team realized it needed to better understand which products were driving engagement, explains Tori Tait, director of content and community at The Grommet.
Just counting re-pins on Pinterest, for example, wasn't cutting it. "We had very limited insights into how our images were performing, which made it difficult to make decisions for campaigns and other areas," Tait says. "We wanted to take the subjectivity out of visual marketing." Two years ago, The Grommet selected Curalate, a visual marketing platform and analytics provider, to help it capture greater insights.
Using its image recognition technology, Curalate enabled The Grommet to identify and measure pins and engagement at a product level, whether or not the images were attributed with text. Armed with this insight, The Grommet was now able to take a closer look at its social, digital, and ecommerce strategies.
For instance, The Grommet's marketing team wanted to know if top-performing products on Pinterest had any bearing within digital advertisements. To test this, the team gathered data to identify which images were driving social sharing and on-site traffic. Then, they ran an ad that included images of popular products against one of their top performing ads from the past.
The team discovered popular images on Pinterest outperformed any ad creative they had used previously. In fact, socially driven ads resulted in a 50 percent higher click-through-rate. Knowing this, the company's digital ads are updated about every two weeks based on which images are trending organically. By doing so, The Grommet is able to ensure that its ads stay fresh.
In addition to improving its marketing strategy on Pinterest, the company is using data analytics to drive deeper engagement through Instagram. Like Pinterest, Instagram allows companies to display products on a visually appealing platform, but getting shoppers to move from The Grommet's Instagram feed to its website was "a huge hurdle," Tait notes.
The problem was that Instagram users didn't have an easy way to purchase products that they saw on Instagram. "If someone saw something interesting on our Instagram feed, they had to try to find that product on our website," Tait explains. "But it was a poor experience and visitors were quickly bouncing."
The Grommet turned to Curalate again, which had recently launched an e-commerce tool, Like2Buy that uses deep-linking technology to send shoppers to specific product pages. Sending users to the product pages that they're interested in has made the site much stickier. The amount of time Instagram users spend on The Grommet's website is 300 percent higher than it was prior to using the deep-linking tool. In addition, the average visitor spends 7 minutes and 14 seconds on the company's site, while someone who comes to the site through Instagram typically spends 16 minutes and 22 seconds on the company's site.
But aside from making the site stickier, the data analytics that the company receives about its content on Instagram is just as valuable, Tait adds. "The data that we're getting lets us bypass preliminary testing because we already know what is resonating with our audiences, which saves us a lot of time" Tait says.
Being able to identify patterns in its imagery also helps guide the company's decisions on how to present a product. For example, "I can say that pictures of products with hands perform much better than products without hands. That's a learning I didn't have before," Tait notes. "We've gotten very specific about the decisions we make and this allows us to evolve in a smarter way."
Uncovering New Sources of Insight
In addition to images, other types of social media content are difficult to track and measure, such as URLs that are copied from a social network and shared on emails and SMS messages. Advertising platform RadiumOne calls this type of content "dark social" and developed technology for tracking it. Brands like Ghirardelli used the technology to gain insights into what people were sharing outside of its social networks, which led the company to adjust its marketing campaigns. As a result of improving a campaign for recipes, for example, the company saw its on-page conversions nearly double.
Emojis, small icons or pictures that express an emotion or idea, are becoming another source of consumer insight. The Japanese communications firm NTT DoCoMo is credited with creating the first emojis in the late 90's and they've since exploded into a huge collection of smiley faces and other characters.
Emojis are becoming popular because they allow users to save time, notes LonSafko, author of The Fusion Marketing Bible. "A short message such as a 140 character textoften doesn't allow enough information to carry an emotion," he says. "By selecting one or two emojis, you can convey a feeling to accompany the text and, use up one character to convey that emotion."
Emojis are also gaining traction as a branding tool. Domino's Pizza created a pizza emoji that customers can send through a tweet as a shortcut for ordering a pizza (customers have to opt into the service and fill out a profile first).
Facebook gave emojis an even larger presence when it recently unveiled six new emojis in addition to its well-known thumbs-up button. Facebook is testing six emojis called "Reactions" that represent "love," "wow," "haha," "yay," "angry," and "sad." The new buttons are based on the expressions that people frequently use on its social platform, the company says.
It's not yet clear how to best analyze emojis, but they could make it easier for marketers to understand what users think of their content, observes Dru Chai, social media director at Sage, a payroll and accounting software provider. "Personally, I love using emojis and emotions as a quick way to express an emotion and it'll be interesting to see how companies can measure their value as more people use them," he says.
Also, don't forget about the value of user-generated content. Customers can find new ways to use your product that never occurred to you and give you more ideas for improving your product or service, notes Jeff Soriano, senior director of demand generation at Offerpop, a content marketing platform provider. "Amplifying something cool that a customer made with your product is not only a great way to authentically engage your audience but to also find new inspiration," he says.
Remember the Basics
It can be tempting to focus on advanced learnings while losing sight of the basic rules of communicating with users on social media. Remember to determine what your goal is for each campaign or project before digging in, advises Andrew Caravella, vice president of marketing at social media management firm Sprout Social. "Decide what you want to accomplish whether it's lead gen, social selling, or driving more people to your website," he says. "You may have different goals for each platform."
Indeed, a common mistake is to launch a social campaign while failing to measure the results against the right key performance indicators, says Jessie Mamey, ?vice president of digital acquisition at Revana Digital. "This advice can apply to any campaign or initiative but I've seen it happen often with social media," she says. "Marketing, for example, will create social campaigns that build brand awareness but the CEO wants to see results measured on a cost-per-acquisition basis." It's important to define the objective of a campaign early on and make sure that the results are measured accurately.
Even the most advanced social media strategy and tools won't help if you're not doing the daily work of providing solid content and developing a connection with users, Chai adds. "[Social engagement] is about hard work and getting people to respond to your content," he says. "To do that you need good copy and imagery but also a human connection. The brands that have a distinctive voice and personality are the ones that win."