Thursday, July 22, 2010

5 social media lessons

Ontrack has entrenched itself in social media. We look at it now as essential as a fax machine was 15 years ago.
In addition to our creative services for broadcast and web, we are now offering customized Facebook and other social media portal welcome pages and video blogging. It just makes sense.

But social media is moving so fast it's difficult to keep a handle on it.

Our thanks to Ilya Vedrashko of Interpublic Group for these observations.

Here are five social-media learnings that grabbed our attention:

1. The Invisible Impact. If you find yourself measuring the value of referral sources for your campaign, consider their total impact via re-shares in addition to the direct traffic they send your way. Counting only the direct clicks from any site is likely to underestimate the site's total value; five out of six sites on our top referrers list sent almost as much traffic through re-shares as through direct clicks. It would make for an interesting follow-up experiment to see if this difference holds up for paid campaigns as well as for "organic" content. If it does, and this difference is measured, it would have important implications on how we plan media buys.

2. If It Doesn't Spread, It's Half-dead. Dr. Henry Jenkins once made this now-famous remark about the destiny of content in the age of social media: "If It Doesn't Spread, It's Dead." Having looked at the data, we can now say with a degree of confidence that you'll still get viewers if your link gets picked up by major online publications, but content that's designed to be spreadable can nearly double the referred traffic through re-shares.

3. Some Sites Are Read By More Active Spreaders Than Others. Some sites on our top list turned out to be a lot more spreadful (for lack of a better word) than others. Buzzfeed, in particular, sent more traffic -- twice as much! -- via re-shares than through direct clicks. In fact, the number one direct referrer, collegehumor.com, will come last if we re-rank the sites by "boost." These observations along with our understanding of the reasons behind the differences will influence the way we design online properties meant to encourage content sharing.

It would also be interesting to see if there is a difference in the length of pass-along chains between different sites. On average, the link traveled down two or three generations of users before the chain broke, and we've seen chains as long as seven users, but we couldn't produce a more precise analysis for a technical reason.

4. The Speed of Content Depends on the Medium Through Which It Travels. You know how the speed of sound depends on the medium through which it passes? It's like that with Twitter and Facebook, and probably other social networks. To repeat an observation made earlier: in our experiment, shared links had a much longer gestation period but also a longer shelf life on Facebook than on Twitter. For the entire January-May period, Facebook has referred 12,789 visitors, 83% of them after the first week. Twitter has referred 10,549 visitors altogether, 97% of them during the first week. This difference probably has to do with how people access the news feeds on these sites. On Twitter, the single stream of news quickly washes away older items. On Facebook, older news can still be the front-page material on the individual slower-moving walls. If you find yourself choosing between the two sites for your next campaign, be aware of this difference.

5. Don't Reach For the Off Switch. As the 404 errors on formerly popular viral branded destinations demonstrate, it might be tempting to kill the destination site some time after the traffic has peaked. I've argued elsewhere that abandoning old microsites in their Long Tail phase means leaving money on the table, and our experiment has demonstrated that not only do off-peak sites attract healthy traffic, these visitors can also be more valuable than the rush-hour crowd.

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