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4/7/2011
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Social Media Influences Website Traffic Indirectly

Almost 20% of visits to company sites are prompted by social media, whereas less than 1% come via direct links, according to ForeSee study.

Top 20 Apps For Managing Social Media
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Top 20 Apps For Managing Social Media
Although a new study suggests social media has very little direct impact on most website traffic, social networking sites do influence consumers' interest in visiting companies' URLs.

In fact, fewer than 1% of website visits came from a link to a social media page, according to research released Thursday by ForeSee Results. However, 18% of website visitors said social media content--such as a Tweet or a friend's comment on Facebook--prompted them to stop by the URL, the study found. These are benchmark averages, with some individual companies seeing vastly different results in both direct and indirect influence percentages, ForeSee cautioned.

"We ask people, 'What influenced your visit to this website?,' and then we give them a list of choices. We ask about primary, secondary, and tertiary influences so we are able to get a good sense of what kinds of marketing activities have the most impact. If someone "likes" Best Buy on Facebook and sees that there is a sale on TVs and then types www.bestbuy.com into their browser and clicks through a Google ad, Best Buy will register that as an SEO win rather than a social media win," said Larry Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee, in an interview. "We feel it's very important to have behavioral data--like where they came from--in addition to attitudinal data--what influenced them, what satisfies them, etc."

The study results should sound a cautionary tone for brands that solely track direct links from social media, he said. Companies have been able to count Facebook fans and Tweets, but it has been difficult for them to measure a tangible return on investment, said Freed. Indeed, 61% of companies said they did a poor or very poor job of measuring their social media ROI, according to a report by Internet Retailer.

Given the often circuitous nature of social media, enterprises can be missing vital information about the value of their social media investments if they do not consider indirect interactions, said Freed.

"What's interesting to me isn't even really the 1% or the 18%--it's the gap, it's the fact that if you are measuring only referring URLs, you are getting a picture that is incomplete at best and misleading at worst," he said.

By linking those visitors who were influenced--directly or indirectly--by social media to their spending, brands can quantify their social networking investments on sales, thereby creating a hard-number ROI.

In some cases, the results can be well worth the expenditure, said Freed. ForeSee Results, which provides customer-satisfaction measurement services, has some clients that enjoy millions more in revenue as a direct result of social media, he said. In other cases, the results have been less positive or dramatic, said Freed.

"We have some clients who are finding that tens of millions of dollars of revenue are heavily influenced by social media. These also tend to be the clients who have better social campaigns because they are actually actively measuring their customers' experience with their social activities, not just throwing stuff out there and hoping it sticks," he said. "When you measure, you can manage and improve. We have others who find that social media has very little value. But the point is that you really don't know what benefits it has or doesn't have if you aren't measuring."

Dell Outlet, for example, used Twitter to generate millions of dollars for the computer manufacturer, while Procter & Gamble determined its BeingGirl.com website was more effective at driving sales than TV advertising, said Augie Ray, social media marketing analyst at Forrester, in a blog. No matter the payoff, however, businesses must invest in some components of social media, just as they first bought into the Internet, he said.

"We used to ask about the a ROI of the Web; now we just invest in the Web, regardless of how much ROI can be validated in the short run--we just know it's necessary," Ray wrote. "Some aspects of social media will work the same way, while others will require (and prove) short-term ROI. But in the end, creating loyalty, awareness and purchase intent always pays off in the end."

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