Social Media Attribution

When I first started consulting on social media back in 2005, I was introducing blogs, wikis, podcasts and the newly -emerging social networks such as Facebook.

Both with my academic colleagues and with clients, one of the persistent questions was “How do I know I’m getting any benefit from these social tools?”

Seeing the impact of your social marketing relies on attribution, which is similar to the older metric of ROI (return on investment). Both are sometimes difficult to quantify.

ROI is a very dollars-and-cents measurement. You invested $1000 for an ad buy and it produced $5000 in sales. (Some might call that ROAS – Return on Ad Spend – but I’m being simpler here.) .

In a more detailed article on Buffer, attribution is said to assign value to the channels that drove an outcome. That might mean dollars but it might not. Attribution could measure a purchase or a web visit or a download.

It is a bit of reverse engineering or backward design because you re looking at something like someone signing up for your service or just a newsletter and tracing back to determine what channel or channels can be attributed to that event.

A simple example that doesn’t concern ROI is my own tracking of the referring sites for posts on this site. I can see if traffic to a post came from LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, one of my blogs or just a search engine. When someone finds me via Google, I can see what search terms they used. Those results can be surprising. I might get a surge of traffic from a search or link on a site to “Erik Satie” or from “flat web design.”

touchpoints

Attribution is generally broken down as being in three modes: Last-touch, First-touch and Multi-touch attribution. (Take a look at this diagram from digitalthought.me about more on multi-touch models called Even, Time Decay, Weighted, Algorithmic, etc.

The first-touch attribution credits the first marketing touchpoint. For example, you run an ad and monitor how many contacts you came from that ad.

Last-touch attribution credits the channel that a lead went through just before converting. Maybe you ran an ad on Facebook which someone later tweeted and the lead came from the Tweet that linked to your site for a purchase, so Twitter gets the attribution.

Last-touch is easier to measure, but both single-touch models fail to show the complete and sometimes circuitous customer journey. That’s why multi-touch attribution is used. This gets much more complicated and more difficult to track. More complicated than the scope of this post. But as an example, the time decay attribution gives more weight to touchpoints closer to the final conversion event. If your original ad is the starting point but the final purchase came after a tweet that was retweeted and then posted as a link in someone’s blog a week later, the blog gets more credit (as a personal endorsement) than the ad although obviously none of this would have happened without the ad.

Back to that question I started getting in 2005 – it is important to remind clients that social media used for marketing and as engagement and brand-building may not always generate leads or sales directly but rather indirectly.

Attribution is more complicated than this primer, so you might want to check out these sources:

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