By Heather Healy, Head of Social Media at Stickyeyes
With over 77% of the 29 million people in the UK travel market using search at some point to book their travel, and the major search engines placing increasing relevance on social network activity, brands can’t afford to ignore the power of social media in driving visibility, traffic and ultimately sales.
But how can you begin to prove to your board that your social campaigns have commercial merit?
The supposed difficulty to prove social media ROI is rooted in a relatively recent history of having full visibility on pound-for-pound ROI through straightforward digital channels, such as PPC, that convert on last click.
But this argument is starting to get tiresome, not least because it indicates laziness. Just because it’s not as straightforward as the usual customer journey – pay for your click, get your customer, they spend more than it cost you and Bob’s your uncle, you’ve made 120% ROI – doesn’t mean it isn’t possible.
Proving the ROI of social media can be straightforward when you consider its impact on other channels, particularly when we look at organic search.
In a similar way to how people are presented with above-the-line advertising, a social campaign or feedback from a friend on a particular brand can turn that potential consumer on or off a purchase, whether it’s an immediate or long-term purchasing decision.
We’ve been presented with this scenario many times and generally we see brands scratching their heads, wondering how they can possibly track that interaction.
Fundamentally, any campaign that is fully engineered by a brand to encourage people to talk about it can be tracked using attribution solutions.
Attribution technology enables us to identify people who have interacted with a campaign and follow them around the web until they eventually purchase (and most probably click on a paid search ad).
We know from our clients’ click path and conversion data that customers who’ve been exposed to social activity have improved Click Through Rates (CTRs) and Conversion Rates (CvRs) in paid and organic search, and these improvements vary from brand to brand.
Typically, the most socially engaged brands who have generated memorable social campaigns (just like truly memorable TV advertising), generate improved CTRs and CvRs from consumers that were exposed to those campaigns.
When this is effectively tracked through attribution technology, we’re able to place an increased value on a socially-engaged customer as well as discovering their contribution to the purchase process.
Attribution technology is vital if you want to know where your customers are truly coming from. The alternative would be to switch off all your social activity and identify drops in CTR and CvR over a considerable period of time.
It just wouldn’t stack up to do this and it would certainly do damage to your organic search. Indeed, organic search is where ROI from social media becomes more straightforward to examine.
Google has confirmed that social signals such as shares, subscribes, tweets and likes, amongst a plethora of others, are included within their organic search algorithms.
So, a good start would be to track the profile of your competitors and their presence across organic Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) to enable you to understand the requirement (in terms of volume and quality) of social interaction to ensure a successful SEO campaign.
Fundamentally, this enables you to demonstrate that social activity drives true ROI as a component of an overall SEO strategy.
In the most straightforward terms, SEO starts by looking at where you rank in organic search and what improvements can be made for a commercial return.
From tracking more data than any other agency in the UK and therefore being able to reverse-engineer SERP profiles of any brand in any vertical, we know that appearing in the top three positions in Google organic on a competitive term such as “cheap holidays” requires an excellent social footprint as well as an excellent backlink profile among hundreds of other factors.
It’s no coincidence that Ice Lolly, Direct Holidays and Co-op Travel have a better social footprint than those competitors that appear outside of the top three.
Realistically you’re not going to appear in the top three overnight but, you can start making some immediate, positive actions to improving your SERP’s via social.
Let’s use SkiHorizon, part of the TravelHorizon holiday group and also one of our clients, as a case study to show how you can put this methodology into practice.
SkiHorizon wanted to improve their online performance by becoming a leading voice in the ski industry, as well as increasing traffic and generating sales, across three markets – the UK, France and the Netherlands.
Utilising English, French and Dutch native speakers the team launched a multilingual integrated project where social media was the focus of marketing efforts.
The approach was three-fold and included the development of a new, content-rich hub of information for consumers, a blogger outreach strategy to improve brand awareness and the nurturing of social communities to improve sharing and conversation around the brand.
As well as significant year-on-year traffic increases and mobile and social media activity directly generating revenue, the results of this social and content-led route to engagement had the biggest impact on organic search.
The improvement in visibility across organic search was 679.12% ROI alone.
Attribution analysis and understanding how social signals contribute towards SEO are two key ways to track the ROI of social, but this doesn’t encompass everything.
The plethora of additional benefits of having your brand in front of people, in their day-to-day lives, in a positive way, encourages advocacy and word of mouth recommendation.
These are additional benefits that you can’t always track so you can’t track everything. But you almost can. And that’s better than any Advertising Value Equivalent metric.