Recently on the Buffer blog, Kevan Lee confessed, “We’ve Lost Nearly Half of Our Social Referral Traffic in the Last 12 Months.”
That’s a big admission, and one that attracted plenty of attention. At last count, his post earned thousands of social shares and 372 comments. Clearly, Kevan’s concern struck a chord among readers. They eagerly offered all kinds of advice for increasing traffic and tips for improving performance.
I read Kevan’s post with a different perspective. It was a great article and I applaud his candor, but what captured my interest was the question he didn’t ask.
What’s the Right Question?
Certainly losing social traffic can be a cause for concern, but what’s most critical to social media success is not how many clicks it drives. It’s whether you’re accomplishing your business goals.
While their approach to social media has matured considerably, I still see many business leaders caught up in the numbers. They want to win the popularity contest that swirls around social media. They crave “likes” as a benchmark for perceived success. (Even Twitter is giving up “Favorite” in favor of “Like.”)
Asking why your referral traffic is down, or why “Likes” are declining is really the wrong question. It values quantity over quality. It ignores strategy. It assume that all social referrals are equal.
What You Should Be Tracking
Social media without strategy is simply a hobby, and a time-consuming one at that.
It’s vanity to expect likes and shares and comments without delivering something meaningful to people who matter to your business. It’s a waste of resources to pursue traffic and referrals without being clear on what you hope to accomplish.
I’m not suggesting that Buffer doesn’t have a clear social strategy. Kevan didn’t mention it in his post, so I don’t know if they have clear goals for their social network activity, or what they might be. Is Buffer, like many others, seeking traffic for the sake of racking up social points?
Start with Strategy
Whenever I meet with a client who is worried about social media, I always guide them back to their business strategy, asking, “Why social media?”
In the purest sense, social media is a tool connect with people. Whether they’re prospects, buyers, stakeholders, investors or users, it’s essential to understand who you’re trying to reach and why.
Once you know that, you can decide if social is the best way to reach them. If it is, make informed decisions about which social networks to use, and what to share. Do you need to focus on creating original content? Curating relevant posts? Cultivating community? Engaging prospects and helping them along their customer journey?
These choices will be shaped by our objectives, adding meaning and intention to your social activity.
With a strategy in place, you have the framework to measure results. Once you know what you’re trying to accomplish, it’s a lot easier to know if you’re doing it!
Even with a great strategy, things change. Every business is dynamic. As market environment evolves, the nature of your metrics will shift. What was an exceptional result last year could look mediocre this year.
For example, a successful new business enjoys a much more dramatic growth curve than a more established one. Adding of $5M in revenue to a base of $10M is 50% revenue growth. The same gain for an established $50 million business is only 10%. The same math holds for social media fans and followers.
Likewise, audiences respond differently when a value proposition is brand new than they do once a company is well-known. While familiarity can create excitement, sometimes the novelty wears off, making it harder to attract attention from people who think they know you.
In the case of Buffer, the decline in social referrals to their blog could be a by-product of their success. As their customer base expands and more people subscribe to their blog, social referrals may decline as a result. After all, do you need to click on a link to a blog post you’re already seen?
There could be many other reason for the decline, and this is where a holistic view become essential.
Whatever you’re measuring, whether it’s social referrals, subscriber growth, customer lifetime value, or some other metric, the context is critical. Metrics don’t work in a vacuum. Their meaning is relative, answering the question, “Compared to what?”
Are you benchmarking against competitors, past performance or a desired future state? It’s likely your goal, viewed in context, is a moving target. Metrics need to move in tandem with the world in which your business lives.
Revisit metrics regularly to make sure they reflect the reality of your current environment. Just as your adjust your strategy, adapting to internal changes and market shifts, metrics should also be updated to fit the context of your circumstances.
Remember the End
Finally, maintain your focus on what matters most: business performance.
Are you trying to increase awareness, capture leads, build a mailing list?
All of these things have no value if they don’t contribute to the bottom line. They’re not ends in themselves.
What about building a following, creating a brand, engaging customers? As a business, these activities must drive growth or improve profitability in order to be worthwhile.
(Yes, I can hear the branders out there protesting that, “It’s not that simple!” As a veteran brand marketer, I know some things are more abstract and take longer to bear fruit, but eventually your efforts must move the needle to create value.)
So when you start to nice that social shares are declining or traffic is dropping off, step back and take a deep breath. Ask a these five key questions:
- How do these things impact my business?
- What’s the context of the shift I see?
- What’s going on in the market overall?
- Is this really a problem, or simply a symptom?
- Do I need to take action, or adjust my expectations?
The answers will illuminate your path, giving you the direction your need to stop chasing “Likes” and move forward and keep growing.
Cat photo by Andreas Krappweis on FreeImages.com