“It’s not a popularity contest…oh, wait, it is!” – Measuring and Optimizing Social Engagement

The honeymoon is over. Social media is all grown up and with this greater level of maturity comes greater responsibility – the once new kid on the block must now be ready to face up to the same level of accountability and scrutiny as the more established digital marketing channels. And not just in terms of driving traffic, but also in adding value to the bottom line – used correctly, social engagement on the site can be a valuable asset for optimising your ROI. Further to this, more and more info is emerging about the growing importance of social indicators within the ranking algorithms, adding to the need to make sure your site has a high level of ‘social popularity’.

So, it’s crucial that we start stacking up the numbers and working out what we can do to improve the interaction between our sites and socially active visitors. Unlike in real life, we can look to get some black and white figures whether or not things are going well; are ‘friendships’ being formed? is our content deemed “good” enough for someone to champion it to their social circle?

“To Measure Is To Know” – Kelvin

Thankfully, the need to gain insights about the impact of the social plug-ins has ensured that in most cases there is a way to track the activity for each one. For example, Twitter’s release of the ‘follow button’ was accompanied by the introduction of ‘Web Intents Javascript Events‘ – a whole protocol for passing data back to analytics tools. For example, simply adding the below snippet to your site will ensure you get useful data in your reports regarding how many visitors used the ‘follow button’:

<script type="text/javascript">
function followIntentToAnalytics(intent_event) {
if (intent_event) {
var label = intent_event.data.user_id + " (" + intent_event.data.screen_name + ")";
pageTracker._trackEvent('twitter_web_intents', intent_event.type, label);

twttr.events.bind('follow', followIntentToAnalytics);

Similar solutions are available for most commonly used social plugins, but rather than go it it here, a quick Goog, ahem, search on your engine of choice should provide you the details you need for the task in hand.

So lets get to the crux of the discussion: what does this mean from a conversion optimisation point-of view?

What the above tracking possibilities give us are goals. From these goals we get KPIs. These quantifiable behaviour indicators give us everything we need to start measuring and improving. By performing a/b and multivariate tests to improve the sociability of our sites, we can enhance our site’s presence in the conversation of the web.

(A note on testing implementation: each tool will require a unique implementation, but as an example this is how you could get set for testing with Google Website Optimizer)

So, can you gauge your popularity?

Enter the important new range of metrics with which to measure a site’s level of ‘social engagement’. Rather than a hard and fast list, these could be anything that you feel is important enough to measure, but could encompass performance indicators along the lines of:

  • Overall Social Engagement: The ratio of total engagements per visitor (be it share, like, commenting etc)
  • Shares / Article: Measure of writing quality, ensures you have content that doesn’t bore the pants of readers.
  • Follows / Visitor: A great ‘macro-conversion’ for any site – if you’re in ecomms or lead gen, you may not have swung out the park, but you have remained engaged with the visitor.
  • Reviews / Visitor: A valuable assets for any transactional site is the ‘social proof’ given by customer reviews, knowing whether you are encouraging customers to provide them is essential.

It’s time to “win friends and influence people”

So, now you have the ability to start testing, it’s time to start thinking what has the potential for improvement and how you can test it:

  • Can you get more hits on the Follow button by testing a follow down box vs a modal window vs. some prominent sidebar positioning?
  • How could you better handle the commenting process to encourage rampant discussion?
  • What confirmation page layout works best to turn customers into ambassadors for your brand, willing to share their latest purchase with their tribes of followers?
  • Which position on the page encourages social sharing of news stories (top, bottom, both, side, middle?). Does it help if you pre-fill a tweet box for the user?
  • If I deliver custom content to visitor segments (i.e. ones arriving from twitter vs users coming by way of facebook) can I improve the overall ratio of interactions per visitor?

So there we have it, we’ve got the numbers, we’ve got the tools – it’s time to start optimizing how engaged socially our sites are.

— David Fothergill

About David Fothergill
David Fothergill is a search marketer with a wealth of experience in Paid Search, Conversion Optimization & Web Analytics. He is a Google AdWords and Analytics certified individual and has managed search marketing accounts for clients in over 25 countries and languages, in verticals including retail, finance, travel & the entertainment industry. He holds a BSc in Mathematics and as a result is an advocate of the power of numbers within marketing, but strongly believes that analysis only has value when it is tied to business goals and is insightful enough to improve the marketing strategy. Currently working as a Project Manager with UK-based search marketing agency QueryClick, he maintains that because he was once a musician he doesn't need a sensible haircut (note: bio photo is considered relatively compact and tidy)
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  1. Yomar Lopez

    This a great primer for those looking to really put their social media and traffic analysis to work. One thing I’d say is that we’re going to see more differentiation between “social popularity” and “social influence”. The foremost is more about visibility whereas the latter is more about results. Many of us are popular but how many of us are consistently driving our audience to action? There’s a world of difference there. 8)

  2. Kristi Hines

    Definitely a great starting point for measuring engagement, because social media is all about popularity! Except a bit different than the high school version – now you have to be witty and engaging to win the contest! :)

    • Yomar Lopez

      Haha.. I was just thinking the same thing because, when we think “popularity”, there’s often the imagery of the silly high school antics.. And, really, where are most of those people now?

      There’s the popularity won by showing off, pretending to be what we are not, and pulling stunts to get attention.. But that doesn’t last. In some ways, I think of old biz as a bunch of people that never matured past their high school and college days.

      With the social web being so prominent, you have to be authentic and remarkable. You can’t just talk a good talk.. You got to do good stuff and help people. Everyone is pretty much looking to you asking themselves, “Well, that’s all fine and dandy, but what’s in it for ME?”

      Certainly, this changes the game around completely.. Don’t worry, I’ll stop myself from using that over-used BLANK-changer phrase here. ;o)

      • David Fothergill

        Absolutely agree that the ‘popularity’ we’re talking about in this context has got to not only be a measure of how far and wide your name is known, but how much the people you come into contact with are engaged by what you do.

        There is a big difference between wide acclaim and the ability to actually build meaningful relationships with a large number of people.

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