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Adobe: Online Marketers Selling Social Traffic Short

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Posted March 23, 2012 By Pedro Hernandez     Feedback

Shifting to a first-click attribution measurement model could raise the value of social media outreach efforts by up to 94 percent, according to an Adobe study.

Social media efforts can be a tricky proposition. And measuring their effectiveness is even trickier. When it comes to measuring the impact of social media, Web marketers are undervaluing the value of the traffic that's sent their way through services like Facebook and Twitter by half, according to an Adobe study That spells trouble for businesses whose fortunes hinge on determining how -- and where -- to effectively reach their customers.

Adobe surveyed social media analytics experts and analyzed 1.7 billion visits to more than 225 U.S. travel, retail and media websites for the company's latest report, "Why marketers aren't giving social the credit it deserves" (PDF). In it, Adobe argues that despite devoting more of their marketing budgets to social initiatives, businesses are finding it tough to arrive at a clear understanding of the effect of Facebook wall posts, Tweets and Pinnings.

Worse, their social efforts are going largely uncredited.

The problem: A battle between first- and last-click attribution. To understand, it helps to know what constitutes first- and last click-attribution. First-click attribution credits a desired behavior like an online purchase or sign-up -- a "conversion" in Web marketing speak -- to the "first click" that initiates the process, regardless of the steps, ads or links along the way. Last-click attribution credits a conversion to the final step or "last click" before a conversion, typically a paid search ad or email newsletter link that takes a user directly to an offer.

Stuck on that Last Click

According to Adobe Digital Index, the software maker's Web marketing and e-commerce research arm, most online marketing analyses continue to use last-click attribution, a holdover from a pre-social Web. And it‘s understandable, because last clicks are relatively easy to track.

"This study shows that marketers tend to default to traditional direct measurement models," said Adobe's Aseem Chandra, vice president of product and industry marketing for the Digital Marketing Business division.

Yet this gives social media initiatives the short end of the stick, says Adobe. Why? Because social networks rarely pave such a direct path to a marketer’s goals. Last-click attribution discounts how social media builds awareness and promotes customer engagement long before online visitors fork over their credit card numbers.

The report suggests switching to a first-click model, which provides a more accurate benchmark of social media's impact by weighing the originating click -- typically from a Tweet or Facebook update -- more heavily. With these new insights in hand, social media's value in terms of revenue per visitor increases by up to 94 percent for travel sites, 88 percent for retailers and 22 percent for media companies.

"As an industry, digital marketers have been quick to add social media to the marketing mix, but have perhaps not considered new and better ways to measure this complex channel," Chandra said, adding, "Better measurement of social marketing will lead to better ROI."

Using first-click attribution also helps businesses focus and measure their social efforts more effectively. In an analysis of eight major social media sites, Facebook brings in $1.28 in revenue per visitor using first-click attribution versus 67 cents for last-click attribution, a 91 percent increase. For Tumblr, the difference is an even more pronounced 785 percent (18 cents versus 2 cents).

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of IT-related websites and as the Green IT curator for GigaOM Pro. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.

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