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For the 18th Time, Social Media Marketing Doesn’t Suck: How Twitter Drives Online Sales

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In the wake of Black Friday e-commerce reports, more than a few mainstream media publications have grabbed hold of one particular IBM finding and used it to proclaim, once again, that social media marketing is a fail. Surprisingly, even niche marketing publications shouted it from the rooftops.

Check out these headlines:

  • Social Media Has a Black Friday #Fail - WSJ.com
  • Black Friday Stats: Mobile Impresses While Social Depresses - Marketing Pilgrim
  • Guess What Percent of Black Friday Online Sales Came From Twitter Referrals? - BusinessInsider

What did IBM find that was so damning for Twitter? Exactly 0 percent of Black Friday online retail sales came from Twitter referrals. Ouch!

Yet IBM also shared, "This year's holiday shopper was hungry for great deals and retailers didn't disappoint, rolling out compelling offers which consumers gobbled up on Thanksgiving straight through Black Friday." This was according to Jay Henderson, Strategy Director, IBM Smarter Commerce. "The big winners were chief marketing officers who used technology to deliver customer experiences that not only connected shoppers with personalized deals but did so at the right touchpoint and at precisely the right time and place, whether on their couch or the store floor," he said.

Performics told us Twitter followers engaged the most with brands on Friday in the early morning around 5 a.m. and then again in the evening, after shoppers got their second wind, around 5 p.m. The most popular retweets mentioned free shipping and additional discounts (i.e., 40 percent off).

The Problem with Last Touch Attribution

All of these doomsday articles proclaiming the death of Twitter as a marketing channel miss a very simple point: the lack of conversions shown in analytics programs by people who came directly from Twitter doesn’t mean Twitter interactions with the brand didn’t influence their purchasing behavior.

In fact, companies that use last touch attribution and consider social a fail if it’s not driving direct sales are completely missing the point. To learn more about how attribution works, see "Advanced Channel Sequencing" and "Beginner's Guide to Multi-Source Attribution Modeling".

Twitter is a relationship builder, loyalty program, PR/news channel and customer service venue all in one, for socially savvy brands. Why would a fan of the brand go to Twitter and click on a link to access the site?

Consumers are more connected than ever; they’re reading your blog, connecting with your brand on Facebook, following you on Twitter, checking out your online reviews. They know who you are. How? Social media.

Do you think customers who type your website URL directly into their browser or arrive through a branded search and spend more per visit, or more often, than the average customer, just discovered you in that search? That is less and less likely each day. It’s about as likely as a person walking into your brick and mortar store and dropping $500 on the counter because they saw your sign outside. Does it mean your radio commercial, website, other signage, and email marketing are all ineffective? How do you know if you don’t even ask?

IBM’s method of counting only the last referral doesn’t paint a clear picture of the sales journey it took for each of those site visitors to land on the site and complete a purchase. That’s not their fault; they just don’t have access to more data. But brands need to be smarter than this and consider the entire customer journey.

Look Deeper

Compete and Twitter recently released a study that shows:

  • Twitter users who see Tweets from retailers are more likely to visit retail sites.
  • Twitter users who see retailer Tweets are more likely to make online purchases.
  • The more retailer Tweets people see, the more they visit retail sites and make online purchases.

They discovered these trends in their analysis of the online purchasing activity over a period of three months, across 665 retail sites by two control groups, each consisting of 2,600 Internet users.

Exposure to brand tweets does, indeed, make consumers more likely to visit the site to which they were exposed:

tweets-in-action-visits

And more likely to actually purchase from that brand:

tweets-in-action-buying

And more likely to purchase as they are exposed to more tweets from the brand:

tweets-in-action-lift

It’s not just Twitter. We’ve seen this from comScore, who studied Facebook fan behavior, as well. They found that earned media exposure influences in-store purchasing behavior. In addition, Facebook fans and friends of fans spend more per visit than the average consumer; in the case of Amazon, fans of the brand spent twice as much. See this post for more information on that study.

spending-index-facebook-comscore

Social Media Examiner brought us more interesting research earlier this year, by way of a survey of 2,000 marketers on how and why they use social media. Topping the “why” list:

  • Increased exposure
  • Increased website traffic
  • Provided marketplace insight
  • Generated leads
  • Developed loyal fans

why-social-media-marketing

Ninety-four percent of those marketers said they use social media; 83 percent reported it’s important to their business.

The Takeaway

I didn’t write this just to have a rant about social media, though I do find it incredibly annoying that with the wealth of information available, people still grab onto one metric or study result and tout it as the end of the world as we know it. I don’t want you to spend money or time in social if it’s not working for you. To gauge the effectiveness of your social marketing efforts, you need a clear picture of:

  • the various touchpoints for customers as they move through the buying cycle
  • how each of those touchpoints influences their purchasing decision
  • how social affects - positively or negatively - consumer perception of your brand
  • whether loyalty plays a factor in increased average order or order frequency and how social plays a role in that mix.

Think critically; don’t be a sheep. Look for more information. Ignore the headlines declaring an entire segment of the marketing industry dead based on incomplete research.

Social is working, at least for some. If you cannot attribute sales directly to a social channel as the last visit, find out how it is influencing purchasing behavior. Trends are fantastic, but each business is unique; your own data tells the story industry studies cannot.


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