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Illuminating the Dark Data of Social Media Metrics, Part 2

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By Kent Yunk | December 21, 2015

illuminating dark social data

Understanding the Social Media Marketing Metrics Blind Spot - Part 2

In part one of this two-part series on the blind spot in social media metrics, we discussed dark social - the social sharing of content that occurs outside of what can be measured by Web analytics tools - and the impact of dark social on marketing metrics. We established how dark social occurs and the very large gap in metrics it presents, currently estimated at 70% of global social shares. Now, let’s talk about why dark social exists - the behavior that confronts and confounds social media marketers - and tactics to combat the dark data of social media metrics.

First, why aren’t people clicking trackable links? Marketers create promotions and expect to see an increase in activity in social media metrics. Often, a marketer sees an increase in social engagement in the form of likes, shares and comments, but little increase in Web analytics and conversion metrics. Frustration stems from knowing something is going on, but not being able to truly quantify the activity. In many cases, the invasiveness of social media drives your audiences’ behavior; many opt to respond to a social media call to action differently than a marketer expects or intends the user to react. This is because the user doesn’t wish for all of their activities to be tracked - either by the marketer or their social media friends and followers. Instead, a user severs the referral chain and types a URL directly into a browser or conducts an organic search for the item or concept marketed to them.

Additionally, rather than share a link via social media, where a user may first see an item or concept they wish to share, many see something on social media then share a non-social link via email or text. This also causes a break in tracking and leads to dark social. The follower does not usually desire to stump the marketer but intends to more privately share content with specific people. One easily understands this behavior with more sensitive topics such as politics, health or other private matters. However, one must also recognize how this practice becomes routine.

Next, what can marketers do to increase transparency in followers’ social media activities and metrics? Given this increase in organic search and typing a URL directly into a browser, consider alternative methods of capturing data on which marketing vehicles and tactics produce which traffic. Think about creating specific landing pages for each promotion and employ simple and memorable URLs. Already good marketing hygiene to create special URLs for each promotion, the significance and necessity increases when one realizes it may be the only tool to track the true metrics of a social media program.

Ruminate over this scenario: Jenny sees a Roaring Pajamas Facebook post promoting a special SEO consultation. Jenny doesn’t want her Facebook followers to know she may need help with her SEO (perhaps she’s a marketer or just a very private person). Instead of clicking the post and advertising to all of Facebook what she’s doing, Jenny sees that Roaring Pajamas has a unique and easy URL for this promotion. Jenny notes this, opens a new browser window and types that simple-to-remember URL directly into her browser. She finds the content she wants. Roaring Pajamas knows that URL only appeared on Facebook and now clearly establishes the link between the Facebook promotion and Jenny’s action. The keen marketer recreates this same situation for each social channel, all with particular landing page URLs to ascertain exactly which social method drives which traffic. In addition, Roaring Pajamas adds a banner or button on the homepage advertising the same promotion. If Jenny forgets the unique URL and just visits, she stills find her desired content and we distinguish from where she referred.

This tactic allows a marketer to illuminate dark social media metrics and better understand the effectiveness of each marketing program despite these new user behaviors and the limitations in Web analytics tools. Even if all programs aren’t recorded in such a way as previously described, a marketer can eventually glean enough information from properly tracked programs to extrapolate more precise performance across an entire marketing plan.

Understanding dark social and finding creative ways to manage user behavior that causes missing metrics due to dark social is critical to marketing success. Continuously evaluate these and other methods to illuminate all of social media metrics.

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