The social media revolution is here, and it's changed the way we perceive marketing forever. Advertising is being replaced with relationship marketing. The focus is shifting from conversions to customer retention. Word of mouth is becoming more valuable than mere awareness. And our metrics have been revolutionized as we switch from discussions of ROI to...Facebook "likes." Wait, what was that last part?
The Facebook like is the ultimate vanity metric. It does not represent a sale, a subscription, or a conversion of any kind. I would even hazard a guess that it's not a very good indication of how much people actually like your content. But, more importantly, it doesn't correlate with user engagement.
Facebook Likes Correlate Negatively With Repeat Visits
Yes, you read that right. In a buried post from 2011, FastCompany reported on a study conducted by researcher Dan Zarella. Zarella was trying to prove that engagement on Facebook lead to expanded reach. The shocking result: he actually discovered the opposite.
Oddly enough, Zarella discovered a weak negative correlation between user feedback and the number of impressions a Facebook post saw. That's right. A post with more likes and comments would, on average, actually attract fewer views.
This bizarre quirk is difficult to explain, and I won't even hazard a guess at why it works this way. There's certainly an argument to say that the comments and "likes" ought to be more important than the number of impressions anyway, and I would be inclined to agree. But it was Zarella's second discovery that really got my brain spinning.
There was also a weak negative correlation between user feedback and repeat visits.
Again, you read that right. If a post had a large number of Facebook likes and comments, the next post actually saw slightly fewer impressions on average.
My suspicion is that this is not a cause and effect relationship. I strongly doubt that these "user engagement metrics" actually cause fewer repeat impressions. It's more likely a quirk of Facebook's algorithm (and over the past 2 years it's entirely possible it's changed). Still, it's obvious from these results that likes, and even comments, are meaningless if what you really care about are repeat visits.
If you want to measure repeat visits, measure repeat visits.
How to Measure Repeat Visits and Referrals From Facebook
None of this is meant to discourage the use of Facebook, a powerful tool that sends high quality traffic to your site. It is meant to discourage the use of Facebook's vanity metrics. Here's how to track the effectiveness of your Facebook efforts with metrics that matter.
- Go to Google's URL Builder
- Enter the page you're going to share into the "Website URL" field
- Enter "Facebook Efforts" into the "Campaign Source" field, or something similar. This will separate your own Facebook posts from other Facebook traffic in Google Analytics.
- "Campaign Name" is up to you.
- Click "Generate URL," copy the URL, and share it on Facebook.
The great thing about this is that it doesn't matter whether the traffic is coming from Facebook likes, shares, comments, if the link was copied to the address bar, or even if the link was copied to a blog or website. As long as it's a copy of the same link, you can attribute the traffic directly to your post on Facebook.
Keep in mind that "Facebook Efforts" will be a separate traffic source from Facebook. It will not show up in the "Social" section of Analytics. I would advice going to the top left corner of Analytics and setting up an Advanced Segment that pools together all Facebook traffic. (This is actually a good idea anyway, since mobile Facebook traffic is typically separated from desktop traffic as a traffic source.)
If you want to track the number of people who are actually returning to your site, here's one way to do it.
- From the top left corner of Analytics, go to Advanced Segments
- Click +New Custom Segment
- Name the segment "Facebook Returning"
- Set it up to say Include Source Containing facebook.com. Click "Add 'Or" Statement" and do the same for apps.facebook.com, m.facebook.com, and "Facebook Efforts" or whatever you named your custom traffic source.
- Below "and," set it up to say Include Visitor Type Containing Returning Visitor.
Now save the advanced segment and make sure it's active in the top left corner of Analytics. Now just go to "Audience" and "Overview" in the left sidebar. You'll see a message that says "100 people visited this site" or something to that effect. This is the number of unique Facebook visitors who returned to your site at least once during your selected date range.
For more detailed information, you can go to "Behavior" and then "Frequency & Recency." You'll be able to see how often of your returning Facebook visitors came to your site during your selected date range. This is far more valuable information than the number of "likes" you're getting.
Of course, none of these metrics can tell you how many of your direct visitors are actually the result of impressions on Facebook. But that's a conversation for another day.
How do you measure the success of your Facebook campaigns?
Image credit: Martin Fisch