Hidden Marketing Power of Social Media

Ever wonder how certain pieces of content reach millions of eyeballs? How content spreads on the Internet?

For social marketers, quantifying the value of content spreading beyond the initial post is a major challenge. Most social analytics platforms focus on the first generation of engagement. That’s measuring what happens to the post when the brand posts content or pays for a social ad or when a brand works with an influencer to post content. Are people liking it, favoriting it, clicking on it, etc.?

Marketers first justified creating and maintaining a social presence because of the free first-generation engagement. If a brand posts to their page with 1 million fans, some percentage of them will see the content in their news feed and the very engaged will navigate to the brand’s page to see the content as well. Of course, the social media landscape has changed and that organic reach percentage has plummeted.

Let’s say that when a brand posts some content on Facebook, it gets 10,000 impressions. What they do in response (like or comment) is the first-generation engagement. Let’s say it gets a total of 40 likes and comments. Going deeper, for the sake of this example, let’s assume the post gets a three percent click-through rate and, of that, a one percent conversion rate. Social marketers will then see and report that the social post generated 10,000 impressions, 40 engagements, 300 visits, and three conversions. (Of course you can multiply everything by 10 if you’re a big company or divide it by 10 if you’re small.)

If the first level of engagement is the complete picture of social media’s impact, compared to other marketing channels, it doesn’t look groundbreaking.

However, that is a severe misrepresentation of social’s true power. Social is the most powerful marketing channel because it is a vast, connected, and even sometimes intimate network.

Word of mouth recommendations are the crux of social platforms. Facebook posts, tweets, pins, messages, emails — they are all ways to share information with friends and followers. A Facebook post about what you’re listening to is a recommendation for that artist, a picture from the baseball game is a recommendation for the baseball team, a tweet about an article is a recommendation to read that content — social media is full of content recommendations. (These were the first three things in my newsfeed at the moment.) As the crux of social networks, people frequently share on their own accord; they receive and further distribute recommendations. Because of that, social media’s impact on brands stretches far beyond just what brands post.

Going back to the earlier example, here’s what likely actually happened: 300 people visited from social and three converted, but 10 found something else on the website that interested them and shared it to their social networks. If each of those people average 500 followers, that’s another 5,000 potential people who saw content from the brand. With a similar CTR and conversion rate, that’s another 150 visits and another one or two conversions generated. Additionally, five people of the 150 visitors found something that interested them and shared it to their social networks of hundreds to thousands of people. And the cycle lives on.

But because these second and third (and fourth and so on) generation interactions don’t fall under “owned social” or “paid social” in most social analytics platforms, they are lost in social measurement and reporting. And as a result, social looks less impactful.

The social analytics status quo — when it comes to measuring how it drives business goals — treats social like other marketing channels, which strips social of what makes it different and more powerful: the network. To truly capture social’s performance, brands must understand the impact of the network and capture the value created beyond the first generation.

Taking it a step farther, brands do their most powerful social marketing when they proactively create powerful network sprawl. When brands are able to capture how content naturally spreads through social networks, they can begin to analyze and identify which influencers have broad networks and which ones have tight networks (both types of influencers are important). Brands can also identify what type of content persists through the network. In our example, the content faded over time (300 visits in the first generation, 150 visits in the second). Some content gets stronger and spreads farther as time goes on — this is how content goes “viral.” Identifying how content spreads, especially as it pertains to business goals (visits and conversions) is an extremely powerful insight.

Social is a unique marketing channel. If you treat it like your other marketing channels you will hide (and limit) your impact. When brands start thinking about how to empower their fans and engage them in ways that build on the effects of a sprawling network, social suddenly becomes much more powerful.