How do you prove Social Media ROI? Attribution.

The truth is Social ROI is not a mystery. In fact, social media is so far ahead of traditional media that it’s easiest to prove the ROI of social. Just ask Gary Vaynerchuck. When he talks about the “ROI of your mother,” he simply intends to poke holes in the paradigm of traditional marketers. Gary isn’t saying that you can’t prove of ROI of either social or traditional media. He in fact knows the ROI of his social media efforts because of this concept I’m going to talk to you about.

Please pardon the language! Here is one of Gary’s original talks on the “ROI of your mother.”

I’ve been in the social media world since its early days and have seen the evolution of brands’ investments into the various social networks, social-specific content, and paid social advertising. What I’ve noticed, and I’m sure you have to, is that there is a disconnect between what concers the CEO most and what social media marketers are reporting.

If the CEO thinks in terms of revenue, and the social media marketer speaks in engagement metrics, it’s understandable why the CEO questions the ROI of social. So how do you speak to social media’s impact on revenue? Attribution. Attribution is the connection of a sale, download, trial or any other customer action to the source from which they became known.

This is not a new concept but the shocking reality is that many social media marketers are not looking at social attribution. In other words, attribution opens the window to conversions on your website. If you have a trackable event on your website, then you can measure social media attribution.

The ideal attribution solution is far from universally available. Whether it’s the sheer length of a sales cycle or the technology saviness of your customers, the perfect attribution model won’t always work for your business and technology stack. However, there are certain basic must-haves that every brand can implement now to have a more clear picture of their social media ROI.

Paid social campaigns can leverage UTM links and Facebook pixels to track conversions. If you run paid ads on Facebook, this is probably nothing new to you and it’s a significant reason that marketers so readily invest in Facebook ads. In fact, the rise in the dollar investments of brands into paid social media grows year-over-year because social media offers a combination of targeting, data collection, metrics, and success that no other media outlets can come close to. This is easy to set up. You can add the Facebook pixel code to your website and pages where customers take actions and then connect your ads to those events. To generate UTM links, first ensure you have an agreed-upon framework with the rest of your marketing and web team, and then generate links with whatever UTM parameters you prefer.

These UTM parameters are the primary method for organic social media and it’s best to go the next step and set up Goals in your Google Analytics dashboard. Then, for each social media post, include your UTM links and get ready to check out all the data. What you’ll see is goal completions generated from social media. If you connect your website further to a marketing automation platform (like Marketo), then you can go into even more detail about leads and indentifying who is moving through your funnel.

A gap you may have if you’re a B2B brand, like the brands I primarily work with, is the length of your sales cycle. People may clear their cookies and Internet cache while they are still moving through your sales funnel. However, tracking this will provide far more insight than if you’re not tracking it all. You can also adjust your Goals if you notice that becomes an issue.

So when you are in a business review meeting and other marketers are speaking to the CEO with business metrics, you can speak the same language by using social media attribution. I am happy to share more specifics on how you can implement this for your business and how we do this at Yesler. If you are already doing this for your brand, what kind of impact have you seen? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Update: Today I attended Simply Measured’s LIFT Social conference where they announced their new social attribution platform. They announced many updates like realtime, web-based dashboards and beautiful reports but the real excitement is the engine that drives the new features. As I talk about in this post, attribution should be a standard measurement strategy so that is not the revolutionary aspect of their announcement. What’s impressive is how they collect, analyze and display the data.

The platform uses a single line of Java script embedded on your website that can track 20 conversion events at once. This means you don’t need to access your Google Analytics dashboard or use UTM links. That is big news! What’s more, Simply Measured is able to attribute revenue directly to individual posts and even dark social (the social sharing that happens off the platforms, like in messaging apps and text messages).

I’ll dig into the details of their new product to learn more but I’m excited to say the least. In particular, I want to know its capabilities around different sales cycles. For instance, what if a sales cycle is months or a year long? Does their system still work with that timeline? I’ll find out and let you know!

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