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Social Search and Social ROI, Part 2: Cracking the Link Equity Code in Terms of Social Influence

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Attribution. That’s the word marketing analysts use when they develop models that tie tactics to specific events such as conversions. Within social media marketing, attribution is an emerging science. Web specialist James Mathewson, author of Audience, Relevance, and Search: Targeting Web Audiences with Relevant Content, explains how combining social and search strategies enables site owners to attribute subject matter expert (SME) influence to conversions and leads.
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Some analysts like to cite social referral data as a way to demonstrate ROI. But social media mentions are fleeting. Similar to advertising campaigns, graphs of social media referrals over time tend to feature a lot of peaks and valleys. The more you invest in social content, the shorter the valleys. A lot of investment can increase the cadence of your posts and shorten the valleys. But the minute you reduce your investments, the valleys return.

What makes social content a sustainable business model is its influence on search. High organic search rankings provide long, high plateaus in referrals. And organic referrals are prequalified to be interested in your messages and engage in your content.

In last month’s article, I pointed the way towards demonstrating the ROI of social engagement by tying it to search. Social is the primary way we gain link equity, which in turn leads to search ranking. From search ranking, you can track referrals, engagements, conversions, and leads.

That’s the theory anyway. In practice, it can be difficult to measure how social affects search. Many of the social sites where your subject matter experts (SMEs) post their tweets and other posts put the no-follow attribute on their links. So you will not get much direct link juice from tweets or posts. But they will be passed around and shared virally. Those who pick them up and post them on their sites do typically pass link juice. It’s just hard to track when this happens, hence the term viral.

Introducing social features—such as Facebook likes and shares and Twitter follows—into your sites helps the SMEs you support gain social influence. This will tend to lead to more link sharing, and more link equity for their content. Of course, this means the content they write both on and off your site should not be mere anonymous hype about your company and its offerings. It should be the kind of content that entices social sharing by offering fresh insights in a conversational way. It goes without saying that it should be bylined and contain the avatars or other visual cues that help users identify your SMEs in social settings.

These social features can also be measured. They display how many people tweeted or liked an article or blog post. You can, of course, measure how many fans or followers your SMEs have. And you can develop metrics based on these measurements, akin to Twitter Klout, which gauge their social influence. But this is when the math gets fuzzy. You can roughly measure your SMEs social influence. You can measure the page rank, referrals, bounces and engagements on the content they create. Connecting those measurements is still a matter of correlation, not causation.

Measuring Social Influence with PostRank

In our book Audience, Relevance, and Search: Targeting Web Audiences with Relevant Content, the co-authors and I spend a half-page promoting PostRank, an effective way to measure the social influence of content. The basic theory is that levels of content engagement range from passive reading, to liking, to commenting, to sharing, to contributing. Contributing is the highest form of engagement. Whether these activities happen on or off your site, the affects to brand strength and other business objectives are measurable.

As Marshall Kirkpatrick explains in ReadWriteWeb:

    Here's what PostRank does: you plug in any RSS feed to the system and it scores each post in that feed by the relative number of comments, inbound links, mentions on Twitter, saves on Delicious and other social media metrics. It's magic, it's gold and it's all too often unappreciated.

PostRank gives you a means of measuring each piece of your content against other pieces in your collections, or against some benchmark that you set. In this way, PostRank helps you to correlate social influence to the business objectives you care about.

As the same article from ReadWriteWeb points out, PostRank was recently purchased by Google. Most analysts predict that the company will cease operating independently, but its tool will be folded into Google Analytics. This is good news for subscribers of that service, as you will likely have a dashboard that helps you correlate the social influence of your content with its search effectiveness.

As we shall see, having a clear view of the number of times your content gets liked, shared, tweeted, +1ed, added to Delicious, and all the other ways it is promoted socially is an increasingly important metric to pay attention to. It might even lead to the kind of hard-dollar ROI social media marketers need.

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