Save the Sanity of Your Analytics Team

Most of us have an analytics platform of choice; be it Omniture, Webtrends, Google Analytics, Coremetrics, or whatever. Most likely your Enterprise analytics solution is one of these. In reality though, we often find different stakeholders bringing their own metrics and analysis to the table – which can be a nightmare for your analytics team or person.

During my time at a major financial institution, our agency used analytics platform A, internally we used analytics platform B, our boss had a personal preference for platform C, and another business unit continued using a legacy platform D. Four different platforms! Four different sources of data! Four different points of view! How do you reconcile all of this data?

You can’t, or perhaps you can, but is it worth all the effort? It is next to impossible to reconcile web metrics from one platform to another. They are inherently different. Do you want your analytics team to explain why platform A came up with 34 conversions while platform B came up with 31? Honestly, this is an exercise in futility. You’d rather have your analytics team working on deeper, more meaningful stuff.

Do yourself a favour, and do your analytics team a favour and draw a line in the sand. You’ll need to convince your key stakeholders that for any given campaign, you’ll be using analytics platform X for your analysis. Your analytics team will thank you.

Now, the governance of certain aspects of your campaign will reside beyond your direct control. For example, your ad server for your banners, Facebook for your Facebook ads, Google for your remarketing, etc. In these situations, you’ll be dependent on external metrics, and some level of reconciliation between platforms is a must. I’m referring to situations that fall directly under your oversight. Say you’ve got a number of marketing initiatives that drive traffic to your corporate domain – this is where you should be using your platform of choice. While platform redundancy is an insurance policy against data loss or corruption, platforms should never be intermingled. Stick to your guns, build your insights based on your data, and don’t allow conflicting data points to cloud your analysis and divert your efforts.

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The wagon’s hitched, let’s get ready to ride…

Ok, so you’re ready to go social. You’ve done some due diligence upfront and it makes sense to your business. Regardless of which social network you’ve targeted, the 3 biggest universal factors for success are: content, content, and content. I’m talking timely, relevant, and compelling (eg., valuable or entertaining) content.

Content Development: Creating content is a resource-intensive exercise. You can’t just pull it out of your back pocket. To be effective, it needs to be well thought out. If you don’t have the means to outsource content to an external agency, look at developing a reliable pool of freelance writers, or leverage your internal SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) and share the task across various people. Have an editor or gatekeeper on hand to ensure consistency of message, tone, and to ensure that the information you share complies with any internal guidelines or policies you may have.

Plan in advance: A good practice is to build out a content schedule weeks in advance of your intended publishing timeframe. As an example, I work with an agency to develop a 30-day schedule for a Corporate Facebook page, for which we’ll brainstorm a general theme. Based on the theme, we’ll identify potential content headlines and slot them into a publishing calendar. With a general framework in place, the agency goes away to write the actual content; after which we’ll meet again for review and tweaking. We normally undertake 2-3 revisions to the framework and content pieces before locking it down.
Depending on the complexity of your organization, you may have to vet your content through various groups such as legal, compliance, communications, senior management, etc. Account for the approval process into your lead time. This is often a bottleneck within many firms, so engage each group and give them a heads up on what you’re doing and what your expectations are.

Frequency: Your social media platform will dictate the frequency of your content schedule. For example, with Facebook, best practice indicates that you update content at least once a day. For Twitter, it can be as high as 5-10 times a day. Be ready for this, and plan ahead. If you don’t update your presence regularly, it’ll become stale – and fast. Once users get a whiff of something stale, they’ll likely stay away.

Response Plan: Have a social media response plan in place before you go live. What the hell is that you say? It’s a plan to deal with negative comments. Communication in the social media world is very much two-way; think of it more like dialogue than communication. Some organizations simply aren’t prepared to handle a negative post. Don’t get caught with your pants down. If you react too slowly or with the wrong tone, the situation can quickly get out of hand.

The U.S. Air Force developed a now famous blog assessment flowchart that serves as a very useful and effective paradigm for managing online comments. Here’s the link.
The gist of the paradigm is this:  Categorize all online comments as good or bad. It’s up to you whether or not you want to respond to the good stuff. Focus your efforts on the bad stuff. Negative posts can be bucketed into a few key areas. If the comment is outrageous and irrelevant – remove it. If it is based on inaccurate information, step in and correct it diplomatically. If the comment is a genuine complaint, jump in quickly and offer to resolve it. My mantra has always been to “acknowledge publicly, resolve privately”. Connect with the user offline with an actual bonafide human-being, and take it from there.

Never remove negative comments or sentiments; unless they are completely irrelevant or fall within the realm of profanity or hate – rule of thumb; be as transparent as possible.

When dealing with negative sentiments, do yourself a favour and have a plan in place. Work with the appropriate entities in your organization and develop scenario-based responses. Have these at the ready and tweak them as needed. Look at these situations as an opportunity to turn them into a positive.

Believe me, you’ll be looked upon favourably if you respond quickly and with genuine sincerity. You’ll be surprised how far a personalized response can go.

Analytics: Success metrics, KPIs, whatever you want to call them, define them upfront.  There are a myriad of figures one can report on. Here are some basic ones:

  • # of likes or fans
  • # of contributors
  • # of positive customer mentions
  • # of posts
  • # of page views

Jeremiah Owyang, of the Altimeter Group, has put a number of more sophisticated social media metrics together in this whitepaper. An example of one of these is Audience Engagement, calculated by taking visitor comments, shares, and link backs divided by total views. I’ve typically calculated a variant of this ratio by modifying the numerator such that absolute comments are replaced exclusively by positive comments. I juxtapose this with the original definition to delineate between positive and overall engagement (the latter of which, can of course encompass both negative and positive sentiment).

Another metric I’ve found useful, and one that I developed having been in customer service for a number of years, is Call Volume Reduction. Part of my mandate at the time was to reduce operational costs and one way we could do this was by reducing the number of inbound calls to our call centre. We had estimated the cost of an agent handling a call to be about $5/call. The cost of emails was roughly $3/email, and problem resolution via Twitter was in the neighbourhood of $1/tweet. Call Volume Reduction is defined as the number of questions or issues resolved online, divided by the total number of questions/issues posted online plus total inbound call centre volume (for a specified time range – eg., 30 days).

If your goal is to drive people to your site, use your analytics software to determine the percentage of traffic from social media sources, and where possible, report on how many of these visitors completed a key conversion event.

Ok, I think that’s it for now.

So, to summarize, success begins and ends with content, so plan out your topics, publishing schedules and response plans well enough in advance. Get your analytics in order, and you’ll be in a great place to get started.

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To Facebook or Not to Facebook

A question I get asked all the time from businesses; big and small, is should we be on Facebook? It’s a very important question to be sure, but one that can’t be answered prudently if the nature of the business is not understood. I’m dismayed by the number of “marketers” on the Web who blindly encourage businesses to go social. While Facebook, as an example, may ultimately be the right play for your business; it doesn’t hurt to do some due diligence up front. It could potentially save you a lot of effort, resources, grief and embarrassment.

Here are a few pointers that may be of value.

First things first. Understand 4 key ground rules. Rule #1: Don’t use social media to hard sell your wares. People aren’t interested in being sold to. If this is your sole purpose, they’ll head for the hills.
Rule #2: Social Media is about relationships. The instructions are clearly marked on the box – ie, be social! Engage your audience (see Rule #3 for some ways to do this); listen to them; respond to them where necessary. Show them you care.

Rule #3: People follow businesses on the social landscape because they want something – whether its information or freebies. Give them something – sneak peak into new upcoming products; special deals/promotions; the opportunity to contribute ideas and feedback; share stories and experiences with like-minded consumers; customer service and support.

Rule #4: Don’t expect results over night. Sales will not magically appear just because you have a social media presence. You need to be patient. Nurture your social media relationships and perhaps over time, maybe, you’ll be able to see the fruits of your labour…check out these stats. It’s kind of like fishing. Set your bait carefully; set anchor in the perfect place; and with patience and vigilance you might be rewarded.

If you don’t think you can abide by the rules of the road; don’t bother getting in the car and steer clear of social media.

When you think you’re ready, do some planning. Be as elaborate and detailed as you want.

Here are my humble suggestions.

1) Define your social media goals. Here are 4 of the most common objectives companies pursue online: brand awareness, thought leadership, customer service, and recruitment. Do these align with the objectives of your organization? If so, sounds like a great place to start. We’ll come back to these later.

2) Define who your target audience is. A useful exercise is to create user profiles based on demographic information such as age, level of education, income, occupation, etc. Include psychographic details if you can. Things like lifestyle (eg., empty-nester, new parents, world travellers, etc.), values, beliefs, attitudes, buying motivation, how they use or consume your product or service, etc.
Why are profiles important? Once you know who your users are, you’ll gain insight into what they want. And if you can deliver what they want, they’ll follow you. Getting to do this is half the battle.

For one of my clients in the Banking industry, we developed a number of user profiles based primarily on age range and lifestyle. Here’s an example:

Gen-Y Banking profile

  • Age: 18-29
  • Characteristics:
    • Extremely tech-savvy.
    • Low levels of brand loyalty.
    • Needs: 24/7 mobile and online access to account information. Real-time, anytime, and any device.
  • Bank selection criteria:
    • Low fee accounts and credit cards
    • Upfront, transparent fee structure
    • Mobile apps
    • Quality of Customer Service
  • Behaviours:
    • Heavy online shoppers
    • Highly influenced by friends and family
    • Heavy online researchers – value online reviews, blogs, online forums, etc.
    • When treated well, can be extremely loyal – consuming multiple services with tendency to share experiences and recommend services

3) Once you know who your audience is; what they want; and what you want to accomplish, you’re in a good place.

Identify the what and who first, and the how will follow. In other words, identify “what” your organization wants to accomplish; “who” needs to be targeted; and the platform, the “how”, will become evident.

Let’s look at a couple of examples to illustrate.

Example 1: Say one of your organization’s key goals is recruitment; and say you want specifically to hire new grads. There is ample evidence to show that new grads (typically people in their mid 20’s) are Twitter literate. Twitter is an ideal tool for recruitment, as many organizations are already aware. Why is this so? 140 characters is ample space to show a position title, location, and a link. Easy to write – it’s the perfect delivery mechanism. From the job seeker’s perspective, it’s easily scannable; and an ideal tool to receive concise, regular updates. In this case, Twitter nearly perfectly meets the needs of all parties.

Let’s look at another example.

Example 2: Say your organization offers financial planning solutions, and you’ve identified individuals who are close to retirement as a viable target audience. How can you reach this specific group? how can you engage and compel them to follow your brand online? With a little bit of research, one can find evidence that shows people aged 45-55; those nearing retirement, do substantial research online for products and services. Further research reveals that one of the most common topics Canadians research online is financial advice. A viable strategy for this organization would be “thought leadership”; that is, sharing knowledge and insight with the purpose of positioning oneself as a subject matter expert or thought leader. What the hell does that mean? In practical terms, this organization could leverage the knowledge of its financial experts and share their insights and strategies for preparing and saving for retirement – Information that would be of value to their target audience. Ok, so what’s the platform? I would argue that a Blog would be the perfect vehicle. Is it a social media platform? Some would say yes, others would argue no. My answer is, if it reels in the fish, does it really matter?

So you may have noticed that I mentioned research a few times in the preceding examples. This is where a social media expert could come in handy. Folks like myself have done enough work, research, and demographic profiling to understand what will likely have traction and what won’t.

By now, you’re probably wondering “What’s the ROI?” ROI in the Social Media universe is not all about sales. Wha? Yes, the sales are important – but there are other things to consider. Don’t think exclusively about making $$ – you can save $$ too. Going Social can be a cost effective proposition when you compare it against traditional offline tactics in areas such as customer service, building brand awareness, recruitment, and lead generation.

Something to keep in mind is that once you go social, it’s a commitment – don’t give it 50% effort because it’ll show.

In a future post, I’ll talk a little bit about some key tactical things to consider before you go social.

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Banner Ads – Lessons Learned

eMarketer recently did a study on US Online Ad Spend with projections to 2015, forecasting banner ad spend to grow from $7.61B in 2011 to $11.73B by 2015. While this seems to be a positive trend, much of the interest in banner ads lies in the fact that it’s downright cheap due to ever-growing inventory. Despite its popularity, Marketers should be careful in assessing its usefulness and purpose.

I was recently part of a digital campaign for a large financial services firm designed to promote an innovative online lead generation tool. Our primary marketing channels were paid search, and banner ads (on non-social media platforms).

The success metric we allocated to both channels was total number of generated leads.

As the campaign progressed, we generated strong lead numbers from paid search, with conversion just south of 1% and cost per lead coming in within our target range.

Our banner CTRs were in the neighbourhood of .06%; lower than our anticipated target of 0.1%. (a baseline which we determined was reasonable based on research of industry averages).

Initial reactions were that copy and creative were not compelling enough, so we re-designed our assets; from leaderboard to big box, static to flash, going through the standard rounds with creative and usability experts.

With the new banners in play for several weeks, the results were marginally better.

Based on the anemic overall performance, we chose to go dark on ad buys for the next couple of weeks to determine the impact on leads. During this dark period, we noticed no significant drop in leads. To some within the team, this was enough justification to pull the ads altogether. Why not? In terms of the success metric we defined for banner ads, it failed to produce.

I noticed however, a substantial drop in overall traffic to our campaign landing page – nearly 45%! While the audience from banner ads failed to convert, we were losing a substantial number of eyeballs to a key part of the site.

We needed to allocate a different success metric to banner ads – that of traffic. And of course this made sense in hindsight. After some discussion, we hypothesized that people who clicked on our banner ads were likely high in the sales funnel given that direct traffic volumes were strong and conversions low. Couple that with an overall time on page well above our site’s average, and with a respectably low bounce rate. We characterized this audience as either conducting product research or having a peripheral interest in a financial solution.

While people using search can be anywhere in the Sales Funnel, through keyword targeting and heavy upfront research on our part, we were able to capture a proportion of the population closer to the bottom of the Funnel and more likely to convert.

From our perspective, there were really only two types of people on the Web – those in the product research phase and those that were ready to buy, and at the time, we were only concerned with the latter. While our ultimate goal was to increase leads, we felt this was too short-sighted an approach and one that needed to be expanded to consider a longer time horizon – effectively targeting those higher up the funnel.

To that end, we re-instated our media buy and took a more concentrated approach to being visible within contextually relevant, high-volume portals. While our campaign targeted those that were not likely to convert immediately, we were satisfied with the notion that we could at least plant a branded seed in their minds.

So what is the ROI on being a seed of an idea?

Interestingly enough, this was also a time when we were considering the concept of re-marketing – a compelling, and slightly controversial strategy designed to market to and capture users who have previously visited a company’s web property but failed to convert. Alas, I’ll leave this discussion for another day.

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