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Top Influencers Weigh In on Social Attribution: What Did They Say?

We gathered together the best and the brightest in social marketing to talk about social attribution and tell us what they have learned from experience: Is social attribution really possible? What is the state of affairs today? Meet our gallery of experts:

Here is what they had to say about social attribution. Spoiler alert: there’s no easy answer — yet.

1. There Are a Lot of Non-Believers

Justin Lafferty, SocialTimes Contributor and Founder of OnBase Marketing, shared that many social marketers see social attribution as a unicorn–i.e., it doesn’t exist, especially when it comes to the bottom line:

A lot of companies don’t believe that social media can lead to actual results that help the bottom line. Even though studies show that hey, if you’re using social marketing, you CAN drive sales, you CAN drive conversions, you CAN drive traffic into your brick and mortar store, I still feel like there is a huge gap there. Companies think that social is great for the top of the funnel, but they’re hesitant to believe social can generate conversions.

Marissa Pick, Director of Social Media at the CFA Institute, said she sees paid social as a way to combat this disbelief in social conversions and attribution: “I think this is where paid social has really started to stand out, with all the different objectives you can set up and all the different measurements.”

How to Define Social Impact and Communicate Your Performance

2. And Also Social Marketers Who Know How

But then there are social marketers who have been able to establish a thread between social marketing activities and conversions — and, in fact, make analysis of this thread the root of all their social efforts. Chelsea Hunerson, Social Media Manager at Hubspot, related:

For us, social media is at the top of the funnel, so my team is charged with direct demand generation, figuring out whatever we can do that will get a lead to say: Yes, we want to know more about whatever it is you are showing us. Attribution is really important, because that is how I get credit for work I am doing day-to-day. Having a sense for what’s happening on social, where to optimize, what’s going well. We spend a lot of time trying to figure out where our traffic is coming from and where converting demand is coming from.

3. Post-Purchase Is On the Mind

Attribution goes beyond the purchase. Jeanette Gibson, Business Consultant and Former VP of Community at Hootsuite, shared:

I’m having a lot of conversations with customers about the post-purchase loyalty aspect. We’ve all seen the work you can do on social with awareness building and pre-sales, but I am seeing a lot more focus on: ‘How can I keep the customers I have, how do I keep them happy, how do I keep that feedback loop going?’ That’s one of the most exciting areas, because I think it is so unique to be able to capture customer conversations and build that loyalty loop.

4. There Is No Golden Standard

What’s one thing all participants agreed on? That the only standard when it comes to social attribution is that there is no standard. Jeff Barrett, CEO of Status Creative Agency, related:

We don’t have a standard ROI for social, so social gets plugged into awareness-building and loyalty in a lot of companies. But it can drive from the beginning to the middle to the end, it just depends on how you view social and how you want to use it. You may look at the Instagrammer who drives $40,000 worth of purchases in one day and think, ‘That’s a happy little accident,’ but it’s not. It will work time and time again if you know who your audience is and how to leverage that.

Jeanette agreed about this perception of social success as a “happy accident,” and the troubling lack of a golden standard when it comes to social measurement, and she added her two cents about the disruptive nature of social: 


There is a lot of fear from other organizations within the company how social is disrupting the business. When I worked at CISCO, it was really disruptive for me to go to the advertising team, spending millions per year, to say, ‘Give me some of that for social.’ They’re like, ‘No way, why would I give up some of my budget so you can waste it on happy accidents?’ It’s interesting because there are set standards for advertising and email: open click rate and CPM. I would tie in with sales and look at what the CMO and sales are looking at instead of trying to fit into unrelated standards and business objectives.

Brian Honigman, CEO at Honigman Media, echoed the need for a “golden standard,” but expressed doubt that the social marketing industry will ever have one:

I think creating a standard would help a lot of businesses feel more confident jumping into these different channels and playing around with different content formats. The lack of standard and the fact that you have to approach every channel uniquely and figure out how your objectives apply to that unique audience and their preferences is really time-consuming and frustrating. A standard would make it much more clear for all types of businesses and marketers. Right now, too many are confused. Will there be a standard? I don’t know if that will ever be possible. Do I think it would be helpful? Absolutely.

Rebekah Radice, CMO at PostPlanner, agrees with Jeanette’s point about the essentially disruptive nature of social to the larger marketing organization, landing here and noting the difference between brand and agency perspectives:

When we talk about a standard, we’re really talking about agitation, and getting that buy-in we’re all so desperately looking for. There are two very different sides to this, depending on if you are a brand or an agency. I don’t know that there could ever be a one-size-fits-all as far as the standard is concerned, but I think that the important conversation that needs to be had is: What do we lose by not having a standard? What are we (and our customers) missing out on? And what are we and our customers misunderstanding?

There’s so much more. Want to watch the whole roundtable? Check it out here, and download our quick guide to social media attribution models below for a primer on social attribution as it stands today:

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The Quick Guide to Social Media Attribution Models


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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