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Social Media Attribution: Is This Really a Problem?

Social Media Attribution: Is This Really a Problem?

Like many marketers, I’ve been reading a lot about attribution lately.  Attribution has become a hot topic as marketers try to make their data more insightful. But is attribution the answer? And will it ever be easy?

Yesterday, I read an interesting article called “Digital Attribution: The Unsolvable Problem”. In it, author Lewis Gersh posits that attribution is an unsolvable problem because it’s impossible for marketers to give “sole credit to one particular aspect of your marketing.”

The article stuck with me because I’m a data geek, but I also lead a creative team. In many ways, I agree with what Gersh said. Our constant search for a game-changing metric can absolutely hinder our ability to think creatively, but I’d also argue that data-driven marketing frees creative marketers, allowing them to focus on a broader creative vision and more interesting campaigns. Marketers can’t afford to separate data and creativity.  

Moreover, I believe that attribution is essential to our process as marketers, and yes, even when it comes to allocating budget. That’s why more sophisticated attribution models are so critical. Marketers in the digital space can’t afford to give sole credit to one aspect, but that’s exactly why we need to focus on attribution, not discount it.

Attribution Is Still a Big Problem

Attribution is still a big issue in the social space. But you’re not alone, social marketer. It’s an issue across the digital space too.

Attribution is a problem because, as Gersh mentioned, we can’t afford to give sole credit to one aspect of our marketing. But that’s not how attribution should work anyway. If attribution were about limiting our activities to one successful tactic, this wouldn’t be necessary because that would be easy math.

Social Media Myth

The problem is that it’s more complicated than that. Attribution is not a straight line from one touch point to the next, which is why it needs to be customer-centric, and help marketing teams understand which touch points influence purchases.

Social Attribution Problem

If we can identify which action moved a potential customer from one stage to the next, and one activity to the next, we’re able to build an attribution model that doesn’t single out one tactic that takes all credit, but rather one that helps us understand which actions facilitate different parts of the customer’s journey.

Social Attribution

This understanding will help allocate budgets, develop strategies and campaigns that give our customers a more meaningful experience, and move potential buyers through the lifecycle (or funnel, depending on your business model) even quicker.

What Is Standing in the Way?

I believe – as does the entire team at Simply Measured – that this type of attribution is absolutely possible, but we’re not there yet. It’s a problem that we’re working on here, and one that marketing teams need to get buy-in to solve. There are a few key components needed for this to become a reality.

  1. Integrated Data: In order to attribute revenue to social (whether partial or full), our data sources need to be connected. As we get our hands on more and more data about our users, and the actions they take, it’s becoming more realistic, and more important, to understand the relationship between social (organic and paid), web, email, search, and sales touch points.
  2. Full Data: You’ve heard us talk about Dark Social a lot lately, and that’s because it’s a big issue. In an era when data is helping us make smarter, quicker decisions, a complete picture is essential. Understanding how, when, and where your content is shared can make the difference between wasting time on programs that don’t move the needle, and making smarter, quicker decisions about programs that do.
  3. Customization: As marketers, we need to stop waiting for someone to tell us which metrics matter to our business. Your attribution model should look different from mine, because your audience is different, your product is different, and your tactics are different.

But What Can I Do Now?

There’s plenty to do now, and it starts with a conversation.

Talk to your email marketing manager, or paid media specialist. Talk to your web team and your sales managers. Find out what they’re measuring, and what holes they have in their programs. Where are customers coming from? What is driving them through each stage of the buyer’s journey?

Start to look at ways that, together, your marketing team can bridge the gap from one channel to the next. There are ways to connect social to web traffic (Google Analytics integrates with social data) and web data to email (set goals in Google Analytics that correlate with your email programs). This will not only help you create consistency across the board — it’ll help you create more enjoyable experiences for your customers.

Planning for 2016?

Download our 2016 Social Marketing Planning Guide to start the new year (and new campaigns) off right with everything you need to tackle the challenges you’re facing. From a planning checklist to analysis of the latest trends, this guide will help you shape your brand’s social strategy for success.

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2016 Social Marketing Planning Guide


Kevin Shively

I lead marketing for Simply Measured. Recovering journalist. My team is embarrassed of my hilarious jokes. Firm believer that the best marketers are the best storytellers and the best storytellers use the best data.

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