Social media killed the marketing star

Ah, social media, should we love or despise thee?

Ever since social media marketing evolved as its own discipline, it has riled skeptical business owners everywhere. After spending countless hours developing their brands on Facebook, Twitter, and who knows what else, many are hard-pressed for real results.

Without knowing our social media ROI, we set out to make our fans love us a little bit more with each hashtagged tweet and beautifully filtered photo. We can’t say whether it’s working, but we can admit we’re all too afraid to let our profiles wither and die. So we soldier on like salmon charging upstream–except the salmon at least know where they’re going.

If you’re trying to sell your activities on social media, you need to track whether all those likes, comments, and shares, eventually translate to Benjamins in your pocket.

With the help of one tool, you can calculate exactly how much energy you should spend on social media.

Let’s say you’re running a holiday promotion. In addition to your website, an email blast, and the local newspaper, you craft your dubious yet obligatory posts for Facebook and Twitter.

Congratulations, you’re done with steps one and two of any marketing campaign: content creation (the promotion and its accompanying assets) and distribution (the channels). But to know if you’ve cultivated any fruits from your labor, you need step three: tracking and analysis.

How would you measure your ROI on all this work?

You might be thinking, “It’s simple, I’ll know whether I’ve made a return on my investment if sales rise.”

Wrong. You can’t establish that degree of causality between marketing and sales. (Don’t take it from me, someone way smarter said it on his podcast episode, “Does Marketing Pay Off?”.) Just because sales increase after you release some marketing materials into the ether, doesn’t mean marketing was solely (if at all) responsible.

To believe these delusions is as good as racing the Indy 500 blindfolded. And I’m a marketer!

Instead, every owner or manager should have Jerry Maguire’s “Show me the money” scene playing in his head on repeat. It’s not good marketing unless you can measure it.

Which brings me back to our hypothetical example: measuring your holiday promo campaign on social media.

The wise marketer in you turns immediately to Google Analytics for the answer. You access this report: Acquisition >> All Traffic >> Source/Medium

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You spot Facebook in your Top 5 traffic sources for the month and discover that it generated $200 worth of transactions. But not too fast now–that $200 comes from all your Facebook posts from the last month. Your job is to calculate the ROI on your holiday promo posts.

What you really need is a way to track the individual posts you create on different social media platforms. Then you can distinguish what traffic results from a particular holiday campaign as opposed to the rest of your profile’s content.

In fact, such a tool exists.

Never guess your ROI again

Open this link and meet your new best friend.

Where Google Analytics’ regular reports end, Google’s URL builder takes over. With as little as three fields of information, you’ll gain immensely more insight into your digital marketing activities.

Here’s how it works: start by entering the URL that you want people to visit after clicking on your post. In the case of the holiday promo campaign, that might be your home page, a landing page for a specific tour offering, or a page with your company’s list of special offers and coupons.

Now, you’re going to customize this URL by adding what are known as “UTM parameters,” but for our purposes let’s call them “tags.” In the URL builder link above, you’ll notice there are five possible tags but only the following three are required:

Campaign source: Where are you publicizing your campaign? In this case, the source would be Facebook but if you send out a monthly newsletter to your email subscribers, the source could be “November newsletter.”

Campaign medium: How are you conveying the information? It’s important to emphasize that the medium and the source are not the same. For example, on Facebook your medium could be a post, a photo, or a video.

Campaign name: What are you marketing? This should be the product, promo code, or initiative you’re publicizing. Easy peasy.

Optional fields

Now let’s say you’re creating multiple Facebook posts for your holiday campaign and you want to see which one drives the most traffic. Because they’re all for the same initiative and on the same platform, the campaign source, medium, and name will be identical in each instance.

No matter, simply enter something in the optional campaign content field to distinguish one from the other.

The last field, “campaign keyword,” doesn’t apply for social media scenarios. This tag should only be used when your initiative includes paid keywords. When you use AdWords, it automatically fills out this piece of information.

Custom URL best practices

Custom URLs are your new secret weapon, so it’s important to use them properly. If you want to keep your tracking efforts organized, follow these tips.

  1. Be clear: The simpler the tag, the better.
  2. Stick with lowercase: Google Analytics differentiates between “utm_source=Facebook” and “utm_source=facebook.” If you flip-flop, you’ll obscure your data. Keeping everything lowercase reduces the risk for error.
  3. Use dashes between words: The gist here is that dashes make for easy ready when it comes to your analytics reports. For more reasons why dashes make sense, this blog post will help.
  4. Don’t Repeat Yourself: As I mentioned above, your “source” tag shouldn’t mirror your “medium” tag or your “campaign” tag. Make sure you have three distinct terms in each field.
  5. Stay Consistent: The more custom URLs you create, the more campaigns you’ll see in your Google Analytics reports. Pretty soon all these tags might create an overwhelming web of words. Stay organized with a UTM spreadsheet (here’s an example) and a naming guide. These will not only keep you straight but also provide a standard for any staff working on marketing initiatives.

Remember that earlier Google Analytics report? Now it looks like this:

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You can see exactly how many transactions resulted from your holiday promo posts thanks to custom URLs. Calculating the ROI of your social media efforts just got a whole lot easier.

Live and die by your ROI

Another day, another dollar–and in a tour business, those count. It’s not enough to believe the conventional wisdom that social media marketing matters, you have to see the impact for yourself.

That goes for any kind of marketing too. It’s one thing to unwaveringly create and distribute your content, but if you can’t track the value of those efforts, it won’t be long before you hit a dead end.

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