In the early days of social media, marketers could happily dismiss any spend on these nascent platforms as the experimental use of a tiny part of their budget and not worry unduly about measuring effectiveness. Now it’s an entirely different story.
Social media now accounts for 13.8% of marketers’ overall budgets, with spend increasing more over the past 12 month than in any other year, according to the latest CMO Survey. And this strong growth is only set to continue, as marketers expect social spend to rise to 16.3% over the next 12 months and to 22.9% within the next five years.
Despite social budgets rising, only 24.7% of marketers say they can actually prove the impact of social activity quantitatively, while a worrying 39.3% are unable to show its impact at all. These findings represent a slight improvement over previous years but clearly they are a long way short of the ideal.
So, what is being done to measure the business outcomes of social media activity? And can marketers prove their investment has delivered an impact on sales, retention, engagement, brand building or other key objectives?
“ROI in the traditional sense of the term is not an easy [thing] to measure and is something the industry continues to battle with,” says Kat Ward-Smith, Three’s director of brand and marketing communications. “Traditional TV advertising still has an important role to play in moving the dial on brand measures and driving demand, but we treat social media as a ‘mass mid-funnel’. It’s a place where we can build relevance and warmth towards the brand through ideas tailored to our customers. We measure this through engagement and follower growth benchmarks using third-party tools; both within our mobile sector, and importantly, outside of this too.”
Brand sentiment is a priority. Ward-Smith says Three continually looks at ways to improve this, from the content it publishes to its one-to-one messages. Mindful that social has the reach and tools to “deliver across the whole customer journey”, an integrated marketing team meets regularly to discuss what the business needs from a given activation, the “best role for social”, plus what success looks like.
“Social media metrics can’t be considered in isolation,” says Ward-Smith. “Instead they need to be mapped together with our marketing tracking tools to see whether objectives are being met. It’s more complex than just ‘this post got loads of likes’. Engagement is best measured when paired with a form of brand tracking. People are starting to realise that social is rarely an immediate win. It requires patience and a long lead to shift the dial.”
Phil Collins, head of marketing at National Express, says paid social is an important element of his digital marketing mix. The coach operator tracks and optimises its performance alongside all other digital channels.
National Express is currently on course to spend 60% more on social advertising this year than last, “delivering over 50% more revenue in the process.” That revenue total comes in at nearly six times the amount spent on social advertising and is reported directly from “clicks on the purchase journey” from Facebook ads.
Social media metrics can’t be considered in isolation. Instead they need to be mapped together with our marketing tracking tools to see whether objectives are being met.
Kat Ward-Smith, Three
“Increasingly, we are also using short – and getting ever shorter – video and animation content on some paid social platforms, supplementing our direct revenue-driving campaigns with brand and product messaging higher up the purchase funnel,” says Collins. “This activity is less about short-term direct ROI. Instead these campaigns are intended to maximise reach and engagement among our priority audiences, typically through video views and cost per view KPIs.”
Social is a key media channel for white goods brand Beko. Head of marketing Keval Shah says it’s important the brand creates engaging content in order to track video views, reactions or comments when evaluating its investment.
Using analytics tools and insights from the platforms, Beko monitors and measures reach, engagement, video views and sentiment towards its posts to establish both campaign penetration and resonance with the target audience. The brand also assesses the best time of day and day of the week to post different types of content.
‘Eat Like a Pro’, Beko’s global initiative to inspire families to eat more healthily and tackle childhood obesity, aims to connect people with the brand by showcasing its partnership with FC Barcelona and UNICEF. The main activation was around a UNICEF funding announcement at El Clasico [Barcelona vs Real Madrid] and utilised Twitter and Instagram as fundraising tools. “We hit €1m (£882,000) in just 11 days, which proves our strategy was effective,” claims Shah.
Ipsos research into the campaign among UK consumers found a 10% rise in awareness of the partnership with FC Barcelona, while “those that are aware are 16% more likely to consider a Beko appliance in the future”.
Social media also plays an important role in Lucozade Ribena Suntory’s (LRS) overall media mix. The company invests in platforms like Instagram and Snap where it know its consumers spend a significant amount of time. “We primarily use social to support TV and out-of-home in big awareness-driving campaigns, where it provides incremental reach as well as an early opportunity to measure how well the campaign resonates with the target audience,” says Rick Oakley, head of digital marketing at LRS.
There’s no shortage of measures for social media but understanding them and building up a solid bank of internal benchmarks helps us know what’s working, what isn’t and what we need to change.
Rick Oakley, Lucozade Ribena Suntory
For example, this summer Lucozade Zero partnered with ITV2 to sponsor Love Island. The goal was to drive brand awareness and improve cultural relevance with the show’s target audience. Social platforms provided an opportunity to be more responsive by reacting to the daily events in the villa. This approach, says Oakley, led to high engagement on social as consumers responded positively to timely, relevant posts.
“There’s no shortage of measures for social media but understanding them and building up a solid bank of internal benchmarks helps us know what’s working, what isn’t and what we need to change,” Oakley explains. “Our Love Island campaign achieved an average engagement rate on Instagram of 39% which is well above our 7% benchmark. Similarly our ‘Fancy It?’ Snap lens with signature Lucozade Zero sunglasses achieved a strong share rate, delivering 1.5 million earned reach and 21 seconds play time versus an average of just 10 seconds.”
Overall, Lucozade Zero’s partnership with Love Island led to a 10% year-on-year increase in sales and research shows that 48% of people who saw the campaign associated Lucozade Zero with the TV show. “Social media played an important role in this result and we’re already considering how we can improve on this in 2019.”
Meanwhile, pub group Marston’s strives to judge effectiveness by tracking post-reach engagement with the brand or individual pubs and “intent to visit”, for instance, where a customer has downloaded a voucher or clicked to view directions to a chosen pub. This gives a good indication on how many people have decided to visit one of its pubs due to a social post or interaction.
“Sometimes you just need to get the message out to as many relevant people as possible and our social channels provide this for us,” says Marston’s Inns and Taverns senior digital marketing manager Emma Place. “Knowing our target market and being able to specify this in the ad process, means our reach is more valuable. The launch of our new vegan menu is a great example, with half of all traffic to our site coming from social channels.”
Determining accurate ROI on social media activity remains a challenge. But it’s a challenge brands are increasingly striving to meet.