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The Beginner’s Guide to Social Attribution

If you’re an email marketer, you send an email, you drive action, you measure that action’s impact on the business, and then you figure out what you could do better and do it again.

Social doesn’t work that way. You post to Facebook, your audience interacts with it, and you hope that your actions equate to lift for your business.

Conversations to Conversions: How to Measure Anything on Social Using Simply Measured

Only recently has social become closed-loop. As software improves, we’re now able to quantify the results of our actions on social. But in order to do that, we need to understand a very important type of analysis that’s new to social marketers: Attribution.

Why Social Attribution Needs to Be a Focus

Social media is left out of most major marketing conversations, because most major marketing conversations focus on revenue. Senior leaders understand that social adds value, but they haven’t been able to quantify it. This impacts social marketers in one of two ways:

  1. Budget and Growth
  2. Optimization and Impact

Let’s take a look at each of these areas:

Budget and Growth

Without being able to attribute conversions, revenue, and success back to social media, social marketers are left without a foot to stand on when it comes to budget requests. How can you ask for more resources when they don’t know the value of the resources you already have access to?

In addition, social marketers are left out of conversations about performance, and this is bad for your career growth. If you aren’t a part of strategic conversations, how can you be a necessary component of strategic growth?

Optimization and Impact

If you’re measuring social’s success based purely on engagement metrics, you’re missing out on a lot of opportunity. As marketers, we need the complete picture, and as social marketers that means seeing everything from conversations to conversions. Once we have all of the data, we can make informed decisions.


For example, a post might drive a ton of engagement, but it isn’t driving click-throughs, and it isn’t driving sales. Another post might be getting zero likes and comments, but that’s because people are immediately inspired to take a more meaningful action like clicking through and visiting your site. These examples are all around us as social marketers, and we need to put the guessing games to rest. We need to see the complete picture.

Main Challenges

Don’t worry! It’s not all your fault. There have been a lot of barriers standing in social marketers’ ways when it comes to attributing value back to social.

Let’s start with the biggest of these barriers: Dark Social.

Dark Social

Dark Social is a term that refers to the sharing we do through non-public channels like Facebook Messenger, Twitter DM, Slack, or even text message and email.

You may be ignoring these channels today, but that’s a mistake. This sharing is a crucial indicator of purchase intent, and a massive amount of the social activity you’re not getting credit for. Research has found that 70% of all social sharing happens through dark channels.

Dark Social is so prominent (in part) because people don’t want to share everything publicly, and instead are sharing with their closest friends and family via peer-to-peer channels.


  • A wife might share her desired holiday gift with her husband via SMS
  • A friend might email his friends about a vacation destination for a potential upcoming trip
  • A woman might email her colleagues a new product announcement

This is a problem because you, the social marketer, own dark social. Web traffic from dark social channels commonly gets bucketed under “Direct” and ignored by everyone but the web team, but this is traffic being driven by social activity, and fostered by your efforts.

It’s also a problem because understanding these behaviors is a critical step to understanding how social can make a bigger impact than it’s making today.

UTM Parameters

UTMs have been the default for social marketers for years. By adding UTMs to your URLs, you’re able to see in Google Analytics how traffic was driven via your owned social efforts.

Screen Shot 2016-10-17 at 4.36.31 PMAnd this works great when you’re the one sharing content, but we know that 70% of social sharing happens in the dark. Even when it comes to public sharing, your audience is doing most of the heavy lifting, and they don’t always behave the way you want them to.

Screen Shot 2016-10-17 at 4.36.22 PMYou can add UTMs to your social share buttons, but how often do you share something using the button, especially when you’re sharing it because you or someone you know is planning on making a purchase? You don’t. You copy the URL and send it to your friend.

Luckily, there’s a solution: the hash fragment. With a quick bit of javascript added to your website, every visitor to your site is automatically tagged with a unique ID and hash fragment so you can track how a piece of content is shared across social, including Dark.

Screen Shot 2016-10-17 at 4.36.31 PMThis allows you to finally connect social to revenue in a real, tangible way.



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Social Attribution 101: The Beginner’s Guide


Lucy Hitz

I’m the Head of Marketing Communications here at Simply Measured, where I'm responsible for our content program, social media marketing, PR, and comarketing ventures. I love yoga, The X-Files, peaty scotch, hiking, and poetry. If I were a social media channel, I’d want to be Instagram, but I think I’m Twitter.

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