Measuring social media engagement

Facebook engagement rates fall as your fan base gets higher. At first sight that seems odd. But of course it isn’t.

Most people tend to engage with brands infrequently on social media. Seduced by a particular post they may “Like” it on a whim, but then stay away from your page. They have little motivation to comment on or share other posts unless they are real fans. And of course unless you are spending serious money, chances are they won’t see those other posts.

So most Facebook “engagements” come from people who have recently become fans. The larger your fan base, the longer your “average” fan has been with you; and because of that, larger fan bases have lower engagement rates.

This is a problem for people using a common metric for evaluating social media effectiveness: the formula “Likes + Share + Comments / Fans” as it can make it look as though your campaigns are getting worse over time.

So how can you evaluate effectiveness on Facebook and other social media platforms? There are a couple of ways.

First there are some comparative measures. For instance you might want to compare engagement rate of different types of posts or different campaign themes. This won’t solve the problem of lower engagement rates with larger fan bases but it will help you focus on improving your campaigns.

Second you can measure engagement of recent fans. By dividing the number of engagement actions (shares, likes, comments) in any one period by the number of new fans acquired in the same period you will get a useful measure of true engagement that should be comparable across time periods.

Purists might argue that the engagement actions in any one period may be coming from people who became fans in an earlier period. That’s true; but I am not sure it matters much. For a start it is probable (at least, if you are using a period of 1 month rather than 1 day) that the number of actions from “old” fans will be low; but also if you compare different months you will be comparing like with like.

Ultimately though, “engagement” on social media is a measure of limited value. So what if people have engaged with you? What matters is their behaviour. Measuring that by using your web analytics to track visits generated from social media together with dwell time, page depth, loyalty and conversions is a far better way of measuring the effectiveness of your social media campaigns.

Measuring engagement

Many years ago, the on-line marketing industry shot itself in the foot by proclaiming that the web was the only truly measurable medium. It demonstrated this by showing how it was possible to track the viewing of an on-line advert through to a sale.

Great. But marketing has always been a bit more complex than that.

For a start not all media activity needs to end up with a sale in the same medium. And indeed, not all marketing activity needs to end up with an immediate sale (although mostly it will want to deliver a sale at some point).

But the claim had been made. And so a lot of people still expect digital campaigns to lead directly to a measurable increase in on-line sales.

In fact we need a more sophisticated way of measuring the effectiveness of on-line campaigns.

Even the “simple” business of sales attribution isn’t so simple. Many companies still count the last click as being responsible for a sale. And yet the sales journey might have started offline with a TV ad, moved on-line via some video ads, progressed with a search of an advertising strap-line that led to a website, and then ended with a search for a brand that led to the same website and an on-line sale.

Companies like MC&C are experts in attributing sales value across different media. But there is an opportunity to go further. We can also look at measures of effectiveness that are “softer” than sales.

I am talking about brand “engagement”. Measuring this is important for many marketing activities.

For a direct response campaign it is useful to measure engagement as a proxy for value created elsewhere – off line sales or sales at some point in the future.

For TV, press and on-line video ads, effectiveness can show the value of campaigns that aren’t designed to lead to immediate sales. And the same is true of PR and event marketing.

So how can we measure engagement? Well it depends on what we want to measure: brand awareness, brand perceptions, intentions, behaviour? And it depends on the medium.

For offline media it can be difficult to go beyond established methods of pre-and post surveys and surveys looking at brand recall and favourability. There are potentially ways of going beyond this though:

  • social media analysis can give clues about audience reactions, although this can be time-consuming to do properly
  • website analytics may disclose search terms that seem to be related to an offline campaign
  • eye-tracking could be used to identify the degree to which press ads or brand names and logos in TV ads hold the viewer’s attention.

It’s easier with on-line media. Where web display ads, or other marketing activity, generate a click but not a sale there are opportunities to examine a combination of page depth and/or dwell time with return rates: this is because people who stay a long time and return several times are likely to be more engaged with a brand.

More complex measures involving the measurement of accumulated indications of engagement are also possible. These indicators might include:

  • Use of search box for product searches
  • Visits to product pages
  • Downloads of product PDFs or vouchers
  • Abandoned baskets
  • Use of store locator tools

Image a visitor who clicks on two product pages, downloads a product PDFs, and then uses a store locator. They could be assigned a value of 6, derived as 2 (a score of 1 for each product pages) plus 2 (for a pdf download), plus 2 (for using the store locator). In contrast a “busier” visitor who visited five product pages but didn’t download anything and didn’t use the store locator might only be awarded a value of 5.

On-line video provides yet more opportunities. Certain measures are obvious: plays, completed plays, average length of plays, click-through rate. But it is often possible to go further. If a YouTube channel has been set up then you can look at many more indicators such as:

  • Likes
  • Shares
  • Channel subscribers and channel views
  • Feedback and comments
  • Video hotspots

In addition you can gain useful insight from identifying how the video was discovered – embedded in your website, via Google search, via YouTube search etc. And where the source was a visit to your website via Google, tracking the visit back to the search term used may also be valuable.

What would these insights tell you? On their own, perhaps nothing. What does it matter that the average visitor has an engagement score of 7? What does it matter if a video has 9900 “likes” or (beyond a trivial media value) has been shared 136 times?

But if these scores are used as benchmarks then they can indeed be valuable: by comparing data over time it is possible to track back to campaigns and make reasonable assumptions about how particular campaigns have increased engagement; there may also be potential opportunities to relate levels of engagement with sales.

Engagement is a hard thing to measure. But it does have some value. And any attempt to measure this is better that simply saying “I can’t measure it so it must have no value”. To rely solely on media that deliver hard sales data would be to miss out on many valuable opportunities.

Mobile consumers: Showrooming

As more consumers get smartphones and data packages that enable them to have low cost access to the web outside their homes, “showrooming” is on the increase.

Showrooming (looking at items in a shop and then searching for the cheapest place to buy it on-line) is a major headache for many retailers. According to Pew research, over half of all shoppers use a mobile phone to research purchases while in a store and almost 30% of them either bought on-line or bought in a different store, a loss of 15% to retailers.

The good news is that these figures show that not everyone is a showroomer. In fact shoppers can be divided into “maximisers” (showroomers) who will focus on getting exactly what they want (price, features) and satisficers who, as the name suggests, are happy with “good enough”. And most people it seems are satisficers.

Also, not everything is worth showrooming. The lower the price, the less likely showrooming will happen; so greetings card shops and confectioners are pretty safe from this phenomenon.

But nonetheless, this is a problem for hard pressed retailers, and one that is likely to increase as smartphone penetration increases and as consumers learn maximiser behaviour.

Are brands the answer?

Will the solution come from brands? Brands need high street stores so that consumers can see their products. Some brands like Samsung and Sony have set up their own retail outlets. But that won’t be possible for all brands.

In an ideal world, brands would help retailers to maintain high street sales, for instance by offering them items that are not available on-line. That might be part of the solution but it won’t solve the problem on its own.

Retailers need to find solutions

The solution lies in the hands of the retailers themselves. Charging customers for “just looking” or trying clothes on doesn’t seem sensible, although it has been tried. But there are plenty of other tactics that can be used.

The simplest is to drive increased in-store footfall. Increasing shop visitors by 15% will largely wipe out the effect of showrooming. This can be done through localised marketing, including geo-targeted mobile advertising. Alternatively offering rewards for visiting a shop through schemes like Shopkick can pay dividends as well.

Once the consumer is in a store then a number of other tactics available. Price matching is perhaps the most obvious. In the USA Best Buy claims to be killing showrooming by offering price matching against local retailers and major on-line retailers such as Amazon.

Another important strategy is to make maximising behaviour more difficult or less attractive. Tactics here include:

  • Selling on service, rather than price; many people would ay that this is what John Lewis do; despite their “never knowingly undersold” tagline many shoppers choose John Lewis because of service such as no-quibble returns, rather than because of price.
  • Emphasising things in-store that are hard to compare on line – brand values such as quality, complex sets of features; doing this can increase uncertainty that going online will result in the best deal.
  • Emphasising with overt messaging the positive aspects to shopping in store: “the best choice”, “the best quality”, “the best service” etc.
  • Providing in-store give-aways to increase the shopper’s sense of obligation to the store.
  • Reducing the risk of shopping in-store by providing customer endorsements about service quality and, if possible, price.

There are plenty of other tactics too:

  • In-store wifi can connect shoppers to the shop’s own website before they are able to visit any other sites. And of course the retailer’s website can then display special offers or be used to up-sell and cross sell products.
  • Customer loyalty schemes may also have a place; while these can easily be neutralised by online customer loyalty schemes, it may be possible to provide loyalty schemes that have immediate benefits such instant rewards in-store.
  • High Street retailers can band together to provide reciprocal vouchers so that a shopper who purchase in shop A is given a voucher for shop B and vice versa.
  • There is a saying “Don’t give me choice; make it easy for me to choose”: online choice can be bewildering and stores can help people to choose through service and information. Making it easy to find things in a store can help here.

Finally remember that for many people shopping is an important leisure activity. High Street retailers can enhance the shopping experience through added services, free gift wrapping, in-store events, a glamorous environment etc. They can even use data about the shoppers in store to “personalise” visits, either by encouraging customers to register and log into a store’s website, or even (as Burberry has been trialling with their “Smart Personalisation” scheme) by putting RFID tags in goods which can then provide a personalised in-store or after-store experience.

All in all, retailers don’t need to give up on showroomers. Instead they can use technology to drive more customers into their stores and convert them more effectively.

Mobile commerce – web or apps?

Mobile commerce is now around 10% of all online commerce in the UK – and growing. So it is obviously an important thing to get right. I am sometimes asked whether retail businesses are better off with a website that works well on a mobile device or with an mobile app that has been specially written to work on a particular type of phone.

It’s not an easy question to answer.

The first thing many people think of is the fact that, if you decide to go down the mobile app route, then you will need to create several different apps. Android and Apple’s iOS are battling it out and have a roughly equal share of the UK market. So you should certainly create at least two apps – one for Apple phones and one for Android phones – and more than two if you want to reach people with Windows and Blackberry phones.

In contrast, choose a mobile website and you just need to create a single version and (in theory at least) it will work on any type of smartphone. And that should be lot cheaper. A lot of people would say that the lower development cost is the only advantage of going with a mobile website and that the advantages of mobile apps outweigh that.

These advantages are mainly about the user experience. If you build an app you can take advantage of all those smart things that smartphones can deliver and users expect – like “pinching” content to change its size. And it’s undeniable that apps deliver complex data like video more rapidly that the mobile web does.

And you can (or at least should be able to) use a mobile app when you are in an area of no connectivity as apps can cache themselves on smartphones. This allows users to get access to your content even when they are not connected. That’s an important consideration even for smartphone users in the middle of London where data speeds can make web browsing on a mobile device tedious.

But that’s really where it stops. Some people argue that apps have better security. And in some ways they do – but as UK consumers are generally happy with the security of websites that’s hardly a factor.

Then there’s monetisation. Apple apps have a 30% higher conversion rate than mobile websites (they convert better than Android apps as well). But at a cost: Apple takes up to 30% of revenues. Build a mobile website and Apple doesn’t get a sniff of your money.

And there’s discoverability. Any successful e-commerce organisation will have developed profitable ways of using the web to tell people about its products – chiefly through search marketing. The opportunities to use search marketing to promote products in the Apple App Store and Google’s Play Store simply aren’t as sophisticated. So it is very easy for your app to remain hidden among the hundreds of thousands of other apps.

So which should a retailer choose: mobile website or mobile app? The ideal solution of course is to have both. But if that isn’t an option, then in my view a mobile website wins on development cost, discoverability and monetisation while apps win on the user experience. So the right choice will depend on what you want to achieve: for someone wishing to deliver a rich user experience (games, films etc) then the mobile app is probably the best option. But for a retailer wishing to offer access to goods to a mobile consumer then the mobile website is probably the way to go.

Of course there is always the “hybrid” option. But that is something for another time…

“Go to checkout” buttons

I have been working for a client recently helping to review their online checkout process. As part of the discussion, the client asked me “What colour should my Checkout button be?”

Of course the right answer is “Whatever works best for your audience” and the only way to know that is to test it – remembering that different audiences might respond to different designs and that seasonality may play a part as well.

As there was no definite “right answer” I could give our client, I thought I would trust to the wisdom of crowds and see what other people were doing. So I analysed the form of checkout buttons for the top 40 retail sites in the UK (as listed by digitalstrategyconsulting).

Colour

The first thing I looked at was colour. The results surprised me: Green came out way ahead of other colours, with Orange, Red and Blue being used by half as many retailers (Green 14, Orange 8, Red 7, Blue 6, Pink 2, Grey 2, Yellow 1). Personally, as an unreformed direct marketing practitioner, I like red although my user experience colleagues point out that this colour could have subconscious associations with mistakes, as error messages online are generally shown in red.

Shape

Next I looked at shape. No great surprises here. Half the buttons (20) were rectangles with rounded corners, and there were also a fair number (13) of what you might call “square rectangles”; ovals (where the end lines were curved for more than half their length) only accounted for 5 buttons.  Two buttons were odd shapes – Amazon’s is a combination of oval and rectangle, while the right side of the CineWorld button is an arrow shape.

Most of the buttons (29) had some form of 3D or “button” effect, often quite subtle. Generally this effect is a simple shading, often with the bottom of the button slightly darker than the top, although in 16 instances the 3D effect is achieved or supplemented by a shadow “under” the button, a line inside the outer edge, or by a stronger line on the bottom and right sides of the button.

Size varied widely. The largest button (Travel Republic) was around sixteen times as large as the smallest (Travelodge).

Wording

The wording on the buttons varied unexpectedly. Only one retailer used the word “Trolley” and only one used the word “Checkout”. The most common wording was “Add to basket” which was used in ten cases together with one “Add to shopping basket. Many (but not all) clothes retailers used “Add to Bag” or “…myBag” (eight instances). Travel sites (seven of them) used “Book”, “Book now” or “Continue booking”. Only six sites used phrases with “Buy” in them and two used “Pay” or “Payment”. “Add for delivery (2), “Confirm tickets” and “Get started” (a nice call to action for a service I think) made up the rest.

Only nine sites used capital letters (sensible as capitals are harder to read than lower case); most (21) used lower case letters with the initial letter a capital, although 12 sites had an initial capital on a second or third word as well.

In 17 cases the wording was supplemented by an icon (an arrow, a trolley or a shopping basket) and these were fairly evenly distributed on the right or left of the wording.

What does this mean?

What can we conclude from all this? Probably nothing! As I said above, what works for one audience may not work for another. (And at least one site, Asda, seems to recognise this by having different buttons for different parts of the site, although I ignored that for the purpose of this analysis).

But, if you wanted to follow the most popular conventions, then your “Go to check out” button would be a green rectangle with rounded edges, darker at the bottom, containing the words “Add to basket”.

And one final point: whatever design you chose please do make sure you differentiate it clearly from any other buttons on the page.

The dirty dozen of e-commerce

At the User Experience conference in Brighton yesterday Harry Brignull ( http://www.90percentofeverything.com/) was talking about underhand online design tricks some of which he has started to list at darkpatterns.org .

Well, I won’t pretend that I agreed with all his examples – some, such as preventing people from comparing prices easily, seem to be legitimate standard marketing practices while others, like intertia marketing, are commonplace, if aggressive, tools.

But he came up with some interesting examples in his talk and, importantly, suggested that it would be beneficial to agree a set of best practice guidelines that “ethical” websites could follow. Perhaps some form of kitemark could then be awarded to sites that comply with the guidelines.

It’s a good thought. There are certainly some dodgy practices out there and while many of them are I believe counter productive in the medium term, others will have the effect of fooling some people into doing things they don’t want to do.

I think it is possible to exclude “black hat” SEO practices from a list of underhand practices because Google is perfectly able to police this itself. And “black hat” social media marketing is generally going to backfire so again it is probably sensible to take out social media practices out of a list of ethical practices in order to get as simple a list as possible.

But there are other areas of web marketing – in particular e-commerce – where a set of best practice guidelines might well be helpful.

Obviously , in addition to any list of ethical guidelines, any online retailer needs to comply with existing laws and regulations. But these don’t always work well online. For instance the CAP code (http://bcap.org.uk/The-Codes/CAP-Code.aspx)  applies to corporate websites does start to address unethical online sales practices. But it only addresses content as opposed to structure and functionality and could potentially allow unethical marketing practices to be given the green light.

So here is my first attempt at a “dirty dozen” set of underhand marketing techniques that reputable companies should probably steer clear of.

  1. In any form designed to collect personal data for first-party of third-party marketing, all data collection options should work in the same way: all should either be “opt in” or “opt out” and making the choice should always either involve ticking a check box or leaving a check box unticked. That way users don’t get confused.
  2.  Only personal data relevant to the task in hand should be collected in a mandatory field. To be honest this is good practice from a marketing perspective anyway – but some companies are tempted to trawl for as much data as they can get
  3. It should be simple to unsubscribe from emails – the unsubscribe process should take the form of a single “unsubscribe” click or a simple email; the unsubscribe link or the email address should be published visibly on any email generated as a result of the personal data that has been collected
  4. All costs for buying a product should be stated upfront and not only on the checkout page; these should include taxes, obligatory insurance and post and packing. Again this is simply good marketing practice and companies who hide this data may well be shooting themselves in the foot
  5. Details of the carrier that will be used to deliver products together with an indication of delivery time should be given up front as issues around delivery can affect people’s decisions
  6. A  customer service telephone number should be given on all ecommerce pages including check out pages. Again this is no more than a sensible sales technique
  7. The name of the company providing the service or selling the products and a physical address should be provided on all ecommerce websites, as part of the “contact us” page
  8. It should be simple to cancel a purchase after it has been bought (but before it has been shipped or downloaded); the cancellation process should be online and  take no more clicks and data input fields as the purchase process
  9. “Recommended” products or services should never be added into a shopping basket without the purchaser actively requesting this
  10. Information about how to return products should be easily available on the website before and after a purchase is made and this information should include details of the returns address, any data required when the package is returned, and any other requirements such as postage
  11. Misleading input field prompts and options  should be avoided. For example, where the question is “Do you want to buy insurance” it would be confusing to have a prompt in the data field which says “Input your country of residence”, a list of countries of residence in the drop down options, and a single “No thanks” as an option hidden within the list of countries of residence.
  12. Where an online retailer also has offline retail outlets, the specifications and quality of any product sold online should be the same as the specifications and quality of the same product when sold offline