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By Thomas Baekdal - April 2011

Don't Trust Your Social Referral Data

Yesterday, ForeSee Result came out with a study about the social impact on websites. What they found was two interesting numbers.

Less than 1% of website visits, on average, come directly from a social media URL. This finding suggests that the direct impact of social media is minimal, but also that the true value of social media cannot be quantified only by examining the traffic coming directly from a social media URL.
While only 1% of site visitors come from a social media URL, 18% of site visitors report being influenced by social media to visit a website. These numbers represent benchmark averages; individual companies show a wide range of direct and indirect influence.

There are, however, three very big problems with this study.

1: You cannot trust social referral data!

Everyone who have been working with social media analysis knows that social referral data is largely inaccurate. The reason is that a lot of your social data is going to show up as "direct visits".

Earlier today I did a little test, just to show you how bad it is. This is what your analytics will tell you when people click a link, to your website, from Twitter and Facebook.

It it shows up correctly if people click the link on (via the browser). But if you are using Twitter via an app, the click will appear as a "direct visit."

Twitterific is the only Twitter app that maintains your social referral information.

Facebook is better, as they are always including referral data. Unless you are clicking on links via 3rd party Facebook apps.

And, if you are using newsreaders - like Flipboard - your activity will show up as "direct" too.

The one percent ForeSee Results found is only a small part of the total social traffic.

Note: I wrote about this problem back in May, 2010 in "Incorrect Social Referrer Statistics."

2: People who do not embrace social, won't get social results

It is obvious really. You have to embrace social media, in order to get a result. Finding what all companies do on average is completely useless.

Averages usually means, "what nobody is doing!"

What you need is to know the results based on the social activity. What is the effect of social media for companies who do it well? And, what is the effect for companies who don't?

3: Who freaking cares about social links?

There is a myth on the web, that social media is just about driving traffic to your website. I have been arguing against this idea - lately in the article "No, Facebook is not Killing Your Website. New user behavior is!"

The point is not to get people to come to your website! Bringing people to your website is not a goal. The goal is to create a return of investment.

This means that the point of Twitter is not to get people to click. The point is to get people to feel!

You need change how people think about you and your brands. Social media is about changing emotions. And you use that positive energy to create a direct conversion to sale. Direct meaning that you remove any unnecessary steps - including forcing people to go to your website.

I love the quote from Prinz Pinakatt, Coca-Cola's Interactive Marketing Manager,

In some cases some of our campaigns won't need a site. In most cases, these will still exist as it's the most obvious destination for a consumer, but it might only be a page linking to YouTube encouraging people to join the community there.
We would like to place our activities and brands where people are, rather than dragging them to our platform.

Your social channels don't exist to get people to "another marketing platform" - like your website. In fact, the purpose of your website should be to bring people to your social channels.

They are measuring the wrong thing! Bring people together!


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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