Facebook’s most recent news feed update was met with dismay by many in social media marketing circles. Assessment of the announcement that the network will increasingly focus on content posted by friends rather than Pages has been decried, quite rightly, as another nail in the coffin of organic reach.
But the fact is that organic reach died a long time ago. If you’re still spending time dodging algorithm updates in search of that elusive non-paid exposure, then we desperately need to talk!
Reach itself is a metric that creates debate. Some will have you believe that gaining reach across social media is all-important; others that it’s nothing more than vanity. The truth is probably somewhere in-between.
There are plenty of metrics that definitely fall into the ‘vanity’ camp. Numbers of fans/followers and impressions spring to mind immediately. Others like reach, interactions, engagement rates, media clicks and video views are normally stated as proxies for social media success when, really, they’re nothing more than measures of content effectiveness.
But there’s one social media ‘vanity metric’ that stands above all others and yet is often lumped in with everything else and/or overlooked completely: shares.
Before we come to that though, and to add some context, let’s take a look at what some of these metrics actually tell you.
A couple of weeks ago I spoke at the FutureComms conference in London about what really matters in social media measurement. As part of that talk, I presented the ‘4R Framework’ of social media measurement; intended as a process that can be adapted by any brand or organisation to measure the true effectiveness of what they’re doing on social media.
The 4R Framework doesn’t ignore so-called vanity metrics, but instead places them in context with other more meaningful measures. Rather than dismissing their value, it is designed to position such content marketing metrics as enablers of bigger and better things.
The key to measuring them is to understand where they fit into your overall business funnel, split into four distinct sections in this model. It’s important to understand what each stage represents.
Reach is simply a measure of visibility. It tells you who has been exposed to your content, and nothing more. If I tweet something and that tweet appears on the screens of 5% of my 5000 followers, I have a reach of 250 people. But that doesn’t mean they’ve acted upon that tweet or even read it. Is it important to measure the visibility of your social media content? Yes. But without the context of anything else it’s largely meaningless.
A step on from being exposed to your content, response measures whether a user was aware of seeing that content. For this we look for signs that someone interacted with it in some way, whether that be clicks, views, likes, replies and all manner of ‘soft’ social media metrics.
These metrics are all measures of content marketing. They bear no relation to your business goals and, for that reason, are often described as vanity metrics. So do they have any value?
Absolutely they do. If you work in the world of content marketing, you need to evaluate what content is working and to be able to measure your efforts. Engagement rates are vital if you want to do that effectively and you shouldn’t listen to anyone who says they’re not important. But…don’t overplay them. Understand that they’re measuring content, not social media effectiveness in a larger sense.
In my experience, many brands and organisations don’t get to stage three. Resonance looks at whether people are actually interested in your content and beyond that your communications messages, products and services.
It moves a step on from the passive action of hitting a like button and looks at signals of interest, like website visits, downloads, and recommendations. We’ll come back to this in just a moment
This is where the hard business metrics come in. Most marketers start on the left of the 4R Model with Reach and Response and have long given up before they reach Return.
But what if you started on the right with Return? What if you set goals against what you really want to achieve?
What if you know exactly WHY you’re marketing on social media?
I know that’s a crazy idea */sarcasm* but by flipping the direction of the evaluation model, you empower yourself to set a goal against each of the other stages – Resonance then Response then Reach – that enables the next one to be met. It places all of your metrics in context with one another.
This is a simplistic view, but illustrates the process in action:
The Importance of Shares
As I have previously stated, shares, retweets and regrams stand above all other social media metrics. They represent perhaps the most valuable pure content marketing achievement and, for this reason, in the 4R Model they are separated out into the resonance stage. And yet they are normally integrated within ‘interactions’ and engagement rates.
At FutureComms, I stood on stage and told 250 people that they needed to start to pay more attention to sharing behaviour. Here’s why.
First, on a basic level those networks using algorithms love them. In Facebook’s latest update it said: “We encourage Pages to post things that their audience are likely to share with their friends.”
“Share with their friends.”
Facebook wants to show you content that is popular among the people you care about most. And as a Page, if you want your content to be visible beyond simply paying for that visibility, you need to get people sharing that content. Not liking, not commenting: sharing.
Second, and further to this, shares increase viral reach which (if the content is effective) increases awareness and engagement. If you’re aiming to increase share of voice as one of your secondary marketing goals, then you need to activate sharing behaviour. In his excellent book The Content Code, Mark Schaefer refers to this as ‘content that moves’.
The Power of Recommendation
Third, and more importantly, 70% of consumers state they are more likely to make a purchase based on a friend’s social media updates. So sharing is of primary benefit for brands.
Fourth, sharing can be viewed as a proxy for emotional resonance and deeper engagement. In the 4R Model, the goal is to move people along from the left to the right towards the conversion funnel that occurs at the business end of the process.
A share, as opposed to a like or a comment, illustrates that content has resonated on a more meaningful level with an individual. It is a good proxy for the quality of that content and its effectiveness in generating an emotional response. People only share things that they believe in, in some manner or another.
During Euro2016, Adidas opted to measures shares as the best gauge of its social media performance during the tournament for this exact reason.
And finally, by focusing on shares you are directly addressing one of the key challenges of social media marketing; engaging people on a very human level that benefits users emotionally.
Only 0.5% of Facebook users who see something will share it. On Twitter, less than 0.4% of the links the average user sees are retweeted. Sharing is a conservative action that is reserved only for special content. Likes and comment are passive, but a share says something about the person doing so – and people are very aware of this when they choose to do so.
People share things for one of a number of reasons, all linked to emotion. Content that is shared tends to generate one of a number of emotions: happiness, anger, shock, sadness, pride…
Look at Facebook’s relatively new ‘reaction’ buttons. Coincidence? Don’t you believe it.
And there’s a huge element of vanity in sharing activity too. Psychologically speaking, people share because they want to look cool or clever or funny or helpful. It’s an egocentric action.
So there you have it. Sharing may be classed as a vanity metric by some, but placed in context with other social media metrics, with the psychological aspects of what it represents and with the potential impact on more important business measures, shares form an important part of the link between content marketing and hard business results.
What are your thoughts on shares and on the 4R Model?
If you’d like to discuss implementing the 4R Framework in your own organisation, please contact me for a chat.