This is a story of how history repeats itself. Every new marketing technology goes through a similar development cycle. Understand the last one and you’ll see that the days of feel-good social engagement metrics are over. Here’s why.
Let’s go back ten years, when search marketing and optimization was hitting its growth phase.
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SEO strategies were becoming mainstream, and businesses knew that it was a part of a complete marketing strategy. In search marketing, keywords were (and still are) the foundation. Number of clicks was (and is) the key success metric.
The largest search advertising platform, AdWords, was a few years old, and companies were investing in search ads and bidding on keywords.
But because search analytics was still in its adolescence, marketers were just hoping that it worked. With AdWords, businesses could buy clicks and web traffic would go up, but because all clicks aren’t created equally, it was hard to say if the clicks and the traffic you bought were better than a different set of clicks. There was certainly a correlation between keywords, clicks, and business conversions, but the analytics weren’t there to prove causation, so marketers could only hope that their spend was paying off.
Unaware of better solutions, marketers were content with correlation analysis. Even though they weren’t sure if the keywords they bought were an efficient use of their investment (let alone optimized), web traffic was going up.
Then came a new generation of analytics. With platforms like Omniture (now part of the Adobe Marketing Cloud) and Google Analytics (formerly Urchin), the game changed.
With Google Analytics tied to AdWords, marketers understood:
1) They needed better search analytics
2) It was possible to have better search analytics
By showing marketers where traffic was coming from and how much each channel was responsible for, they were able to bring accountability to search marketing and help users derive better insights.
A few years later, when Google Analytics introduced goals and conversion tracking, instead of just hoping the keywords they bid on were delivering ROI, marketers could prove that they were. Businesses could see which keywords were actually performing and driving business, leading to more efficient and effective investments in search marketing.
Pretty soon, every business knew they had to be using a conversion-driven analytics platform just as table stakes to compete.
Fast forward to today. Social media has taken over as the booming, transformational digital marketing space. With three-quarters of all adults and just about all of the ever-important Millennials active on social, most companies by now know they need to participate.
In fact, 80% of the Fortune 500 is on Facebook and Twitter. But even though Facebook is now over a decade old and making billions in revenue every quarter, social marketing analytics is still in its adolescence — similar to where search was a decade or so ago.
Today, 67% of marketers find it difficult to assess the effectiveness of social media activities (Hootsuite). Even more don’t know their social ROI. That’s a huge problem. Social analytics is one of the big challenges marketers face today.
In the same way search marketing and optimization is about keywords, social is about sharing — a post or message on Facebook, a tweet on Twitter, a pin on Pinterest, or even a text message.
And just like early web/search analytics focused on surface-level clicks, social analytics today focuses on surface-level engagement: Likes, follows, and comments. Even though the technology has become more sophisticated (i.e. NLP for sentiment analysis tools), the metrics are still surface-level.
Social, Today, Is Where Search Was 10 Years Ago
Over the last decade, we’ve learned that the initial metrics weren’t good enough for search. Those who didn’t move to conversion-driven web and search analytics got left behind.
Likewise, feel-good, surface-level engagement metrics aren’t good enough for social. They were a good start when brands were first experimenting with social and when organic reach was reliable. But as social has increasingly become pay-to-play, it’s time to move to the next generation of analytics–the surface-level social metrics era is over. Businesses need better social analytics to hold it accountable, find out if their efforts are paying real dividends, and get better insights to drive the business forward.
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