If you want to connect people, sell stories not social media shares

If you want to connect people, sell stories not social media shares

Content marketing may be a timeless concept, but its role within the digital media ecosystem is brand new. It’s known that blog posts, infographics, and videos are critical tools for building long-term customer relationships, but it’s also hard to connect ROI and effort.

When it comes to content, purchases and transactions tend to happen over the long-term. Unlike other forms of marketing like search campaigns on AdWords and homepage takeover ads on mainstream media sites, your audiences won’t be looking at ads—they’ll be reading helpful, entertaining, and engaging educational materials from your company.

Success, here, looks different from an immediate transaction, and as a content marketing leader, you need to focus on metrics that illuminate the full buyer journey. Most likely, you’re already tracking these data points to quantify reach and engagement. What you need to do is give your metrics a human story. Here’s how:

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What you’re tracking: visitors, impressions, and clicks
How to adapt this metric: make your audience the star of your KPIs

When it comes to success in marketing, brand managers often focus on impressions and clicks. While these metrics are important to track—and often, the only data points available to monitor—there’s an opportunity for marketers to stretch their data analysis perspectives further.

At the end of the day, you’re trying to reach people. When you stop thinking of clicks as clicks and visits as visits, you prioritize the humanity and empathy that are mission-critical to your program’s success.

When explaining the success of your content marketing metrics, try incorporating the following sentences to frame your analysis:

  • X people saw my blog posts, and y people made it through from start to finish
  • X people saw my sponsored content ad, and y people clicked on them — yielding a click-through rate of Z percent
  • X people read our branded content per day, week, or month

A content marketing program, at its heart, is much like a magazine in that you’re building a subscriber case, sharing interesting industry insights, and building a community around your organization. Your data, as a result, needs a strong people-focus to exemplify this vision.

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What you’re tracking: offer conversions
How to adapt this metric: track goal completions per day, week, or month

It’s common for companies to measure content marketing success by completed resource conversions: webinar plays, ebook downloads, offer completions, free trial demos, and newsletter sign-ups are signs of audiences wanting to engage further with your organization.

At the end of the day, content needs to provide more than a one-off brand visibility boost. You need to build a scalable, replicable, and measurable marketing engine. In addition to monitoring total resource conversions, you’ll also want to monitor performance by day.

The concept of influence plays a key role when it comes to conversion. Ideally, companies can look at how content consumption influences a person’s ability to complete an action. For instance, someone may read 10 blog posts before feeling comfortable enough to fill out a form. From this perspective, you can examine the relationship between specific pieces of content, buyer journeys, and conversions to determine what the optimal flow might be.

In the beginning, when you’ve first launched your content marketing programs and distribution campaigns, you may notice some fluctuations. Take a look at the days that have been especially high performing, and think about the actions that you or the rest of your marketing team took to achieve those benchmarks. Replicate what you think might work again until you’ve achieved a steady day-by-day pattern.

What you’re tracking: social shares
How to adapt this metric: quantify the value of earned media

There’s a debate in the marketing world: we’re divided over whether social media shares are valuable to track. Some business leaders refer to these data points as “vanity metrics” and a distraction from core revenue KPIs.

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This perspective isn’t right or wrong, per se. It’s in the eye of the beholder.

Different parts of your organization will prioritize or devalue social sharing metrics. Your finance team, for instance, is unlikely to be reporting social media KPIs to investors and shareholders. To your CMO, however, these metrics are invaluable—they’re directly tied to two aspects of your marketing strategy:

  1. Earned media: Social shares translate into word-of-mouth at scale and stretch paid budgets further. These metrics can potentially reduce your costs per acquisition (CPAs) by extending your paid campaigns’ reach and visibility further.
  2. Brand value: Study after study reveals that buyers value recommendations from friends and family above any other forms of marketing. Social shares reflect that audiences are trusting, respecting, engaging—and most importantly, recommending your company’s content to their own personal circles.

Social shares aren’t vanity metrics. They’re representations of engagement that span multiple stages of your company’s conversion funnel. Sales result from a series of complex micro-interactions, and you need to leverage multiple data points to ensure that audiences are staying engaged for the long-term. Social shares present an important part of this larger story.

What you’re tracking: organic traffic
How to adapt this metric: monitor changes in traffic composition over time

Sponsored content campaigns represent one piece of your overall traffic pie. You’ll also be generating visibility and engagement through a range of other channels including social media, search, and direct traffic—all feedback loops that funnel into your company’s bigger marketing picture.

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One of the trends you’ll want to watch is how this traffic composition changes over time. You may find, for instance, that your paid acquisition efforts are correlating with higher organic traffic overall due to new audiences discovering and sharing your content. In this case, you will want to increase your paid traffic investment to generate more earned media.

Final thoughts

Content marketing, at its heart, is an audience-building strategy that increases brand reach, engagement, loyalty and affinity. That’s why your metrics need to speak to these values too. It’s easy to get caught up in the language of PPC and marketing, but you shouldn’t let this jargon stand in the way of the human-to-human relationships that you’re aiming to build.

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Image credit: Shutterstock

This post first appeared on Taboola.

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