The Search and Social Media Paradox

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Lee Odden, a recognized expert in the areas of search and social media, recently ran the 2010 Digital Marketing Poll  on the TopRank Online Marketing Blog.  The poll, presumably directed at marketers, asks: "What 3 online marketing channels & tactics will you emphasize in 2011?"

TopRank used Twitter to promote the poll--and did so on multiple occasions.  Presumably, a lot of people received notice of the poll:  @TopRank  has 6061 followers, the update was retweeted 262 times, "liked" by 45, and likely got additional visibility through other social sharing media*.

How Odden attracted responses

Odden followed all the recommended steps to motivate engagement:

  1. He posted the poll in a blog that attracts a highly targeted audience--online marketers interested in obtaining high search engine ranks.
  2. The post's topic is highly relevant to the target audience, a group whose success depends upon selecting cost-effective marketing tactics that will elevate their messages above the noise.
  3. The post is even more valuable because it promises timely data that is not readily available.
  4. Odden heightened readers' awareness of the challenges they face by asking questions such as "Are social media and content marketing the glue that brings multi-channel marketing together?", "Is 2011 finally the year for mobile?", and "Will companies focus on more holistic online marketing?"
  5. He also encouraged engagement by soliciting readers' advice on whether he focused on the right areas.
  6. He offered a "Top 10" list--something all the pundits recommend to engage interest--and delivered by providing a running tally of the poll's findings.
  7. Following best practice, Odden promoted the poll a number of times--which is an important factor in increasing response rates since not everyone responds the first time they get a post.

Calculating success: the response rate and conversion rate
Odden's stated goal was to get 200 respondents.  At first glance, this seems conservative; however, it is well in line with industry statistics.  Consider the following loose assumptions for demonstration purposes:

  • 6000 people received the initial tweet from TopRank when the blog was posted
  • Retweeters and Facebook followers average 10 followers (feel free to use your own numbers)
    • 2000 (262 x 10) received the post via retweet
    • 450 (45 x 10) received the post via Facebook
    • 500 saw the post on social bookmarking sites (again, my swag)
    • None of the indirect respondents forwarded the link
    • Twitter follower response rates (assumptions, once again)
      • 5% the first time TopRank tweeted the post
      • 2.5% the second time TopRank tweeted the post
      • 1.25% the third time TopRank tweeted the post
      • 1% response rate from indirect recipients

The logic underlying the assumptions

Most direct response campaigns, of which this is one, anticipate getting response rates of less than 1%, more if the list is as highly targeted as the @TopRank list is.  Direct marketing typically yield low response rates since most people only attend to messages that they see as relevant when they receive them.

Resending messages increases the number of responses because recipients' views of what is relevant depend on what they are doing at the time.  Nevertheless, each subsequent communication gets a significantly smaller response rate than the one preceding it.

Response rates, however, are not conversion rates.  Here the response rate would be the number of people who clicked through to the poll.  The conversion rate is the number that chose to participate in the poll.

The result of using best practices

Using these assumptions, TopRank would receive 1230 responses (plugged the above assumptions into Excel) and the 232 people that completed the poll would represent a 20% conversion rate of those responses.  That said, the assumptions are just guesses, so feel free to recalculate using your own inputs.

So what's my point?

What struck me about the response rate is that it is a clear demonstration of how difficult it is to convert others.  Odden is well-known, well-respected, offers high value, and in short, did everything right.  Yet, even he didn't draw enough responses to perform the cross-tabulations it would require to answer questions about the applicability of his information.

What does this mean for the rest of us who are trying to sell a product or a service?  Here are my thoughts.  We need to:

  • Do everything that Lee Odden did
  • Find a way to reach many more prospects, all of whom are ideally as qualified as Odden's are
  • We also need to articulate the value of our offer in a number of ways in an attempt to increase the percentage of our highly qualified prospects that will find the messages relevant
  • We need to communicate our messages more often than Odden did, which translates into running our campaigns over much longer periods.
  • Then, once we achieve the first conversion, we need to do it over again; since unlike Odden, we are selling a product or a service and require more interim conversions than Odden did.

The paradox of search and social media

In short, search and social media can help marketers identify more qualified prospects and accelerate the process, still it's as challenging as ever to achieve our goal: getting the most qualified prospects to "raise their hands" when they're ready to buy.  Everyone says that social media is the answer, but what if--no matter how trusted the source is--others still don't have time to attend to the message?

What are your thoughts about this analysis?  Is it on target?  Does it address the right questions?  Reach the right conclusion?  More important, what are your perspectives about where marketers should spend their resources to elevate their messages and accelerate conversions?

* Numbers on the day I wrote this post.

This post originally appeared on the BB Marketing Plus blog

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