This used to be easy.

In the beginning (well, the early 2000s) there was media. And then there was digital media. And then came social media. And that was it. It was a thing. If we understood, we barely cared about measuring it. If we measured it, we talked about “likes” and “shares” or our “engagement rate”.

It’s fair to say the media landscape has become rather more complicated since then. Platforms have proliferated, each with their own vast array of metrics all claiming to tell you how well your media is doing.

Metametrics Blog - Social media ROICertain platforms, chief among them Facebook, used to be identified as social media, but it’s been a long time since Facebook started taking the advertiser’s shilling to promote – that is, to broadcast – a message to someone who looks like your customer (“look-alikes”). In what sense can That Sort Of Thing be called “social”, regardless of the platform it happens to appear on? Really, what has happened is that Facebook has diversified into hosting display ads in order to help defray the costs of all those servers, lawyers and Nick Clegg’s salary.

In this article we aim to do three things. Read on…

1. Differentiate between the different types of “social media” in a way that helps create clarity

As interesting as the many different types and formats are, probably the most useful way to break-down social media from an effectiveness viewpoint is by whether the activity is genuinely social (“organic”) or simply old-fashioned ‘push’ advertising that happens to be taking place on a platform that people regard as social. The acid-test is whether you are paying for reach. If you are, then it’s push advertising. If you aren’t then it’s social. Paid Facebook advertising is largely display advertising, that happens to be delivered within the Facebook environment rather than, say, through a Google search page, or on the Daily Mail website.

That’s quite important when you think about it. After all, if you’re pushing messages at people who don’t necessarily want them, regardless of how accurate the targeting is, there is bound to be a much lower level of interest than in things that are genuinely being shared punter-to-punter. By and large, I’m more interested in things coming from friends than from strangers. The other implication is that organic social media is hard to scale. Brands don’t control it. They can seed it. They can pay influential people to shill for them, but they can’t simply sit down and write a big fat cheque to have their sales message deposited in front of 10 million eyeballs. And whilst, from an analytics point of view we can in principle measure either (as we’ll see below), only one type – the paid sort – is directly actionable.

Beyond that fundamental division, you can subdivide social media further and further (e.g. by formats, platforms and so on) and that’s all well and good, but the paid/organic is, we would suggest, the essential way to view social media.

2. Show how the effects of each can be measured (Clue: the answer is econometrics).

We said that both paid and organic types can be measured in principle. That qualifier is key. What we find in practice is that the amount of genuinely organic social media that goes on is often so small, that it doesn’t move the needle when it comes to measuring the impact it has on business KPIs. More often than not, the results we measure in our day-jobs pertain to paid social media rather than organic.

Metametrics Blog - Social media ROIThat aside, what we need if we’re going to calculate any sort of ROI on our social media activity, is something that takes ‘what happened’ – be it paid impressions, or organic shares – and relates it to a business KPI. That adjective ‘business’ is critical. There’s nothing inherently wrong with comparing engagement rates, likes and shares, but none of them tell you much about the impact of whatever activity you’re doing on things that matter to the business – usually, sales and profit. We venture that more than the odd CEO has rolled his eyes listening to his marketers talk about their engagement rate.

This is where econometrics comes in (we did warn you). Econometrics helps by finding, where there is to be found, a direct connection between your social activity and your sales (or customers acquired, or donations given, etc). It is data-neutral, and so it doesn’t care whether what you put in is denominated in impressions, shares, engagements, page views, view-throughs or any other of the myriad metrics available. It simply looks for a correlation between them and sales. Where it finds a statistically robust (which we call “significant”) correlation, it jumps up and down and screams to get your attention: THIS may have worked. That’s not the whole story and there is a whole interpretation part to do with separating correlation from causality, but it’s the start of that journey.

“But what if my social activity is too small to move the sales needle?” we’re often asked. Sort of answers itself, doesn’t it?

3. Share some nuggets on how some of the ‘social’ media channels perform.

Check out the chart, below. It shows some benchmarks for relative media effectiveness for one of the categories in which we work. (Word to the wise: be careful when applying to your category.)

First, note that this is a category in which TV is not the most effective medium. It happens.

Secondly, note that Broadcast VOD (BVOD) in this category works pretty much as well as TV. There’s not much in it either way.

Thirdly, in this category Static Display (Google, programmatic and the like) works relatively well, indexing at +61% above TV.

Fourthly… but not as well as Video Display ads, which take the prize in this example.

Fifthly, Facebook and Other Paid Social perform similarly to Static Display. Give everything we said above, that shouldn’t surprise you, as it’s essentially Display in Facebook (and Other) environments.

Finally, notice what isn’t there – any genuinely social (i.e. organic) media. That’s because this is a category in which, like many, the volumes of genuine social interaction around brands’ posts are negligible – people simply don’t engage with the brands in this category in this way (if we told you the category, you’d see why).

Perhaps, you are new to thinking about how to evaluate this kind of activity or how you could evaluate the impact your social media activity (be that paid or organic) has been a burning question of yours. Either way, get in touch to discuss your specific needs and how we can help from an econometrics perspective, at least.


If you have any burning questions about your social media ROI and how econometrics could help your organisation, do get in touch.