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Social Media and Measuring Retail Sales

May 3, 2018

Social media has been prevalent worldwide for more than a decade, from the founding of Facebook in 2004 to the introduction of Instagram in 2010. And with the ever-growing presence of social media, advertising expenditure on social platforms has grown year after year. In 2017, social media ad spend made up 34.5% of total worldwide digital ad spend (Statista, 2018). But why are businesses spending so much of their budget on social media?

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We’ll detail how important social media marketing is to a retailer’s bottom-line, how to measure its success, and how to improve your social media marketing strategy to boost sales.

The importance of social media marketing for retailers

It’s important to understand that social media is much more than simply an advertising platform. It’s a place where you can establish your brand identity, engage with customers directly, monitor trends, discover consumer pain points, answer queries and, of course, announce product launches and promotions. Research from Accenture even shows that Generation Z are most likely to start pre-purchase research on social media, demonstrating the importance of these platforms at the early stages of your customers’ shopping journeys. And, in today’s world of discovering products on social, buying directly from these posts and ultimately sharing these purchasing experiences back on social (for better or worst), social media shopping is now a full-circle, end-to-end experience with many opportunities for your brand to make a lasting impression. All the more reason to ensure you have a well-crafted social plan to make a positive impact.

As one aspect of your overall marketing strategy, social media can be a great tool to increase reach, audience engagement, site traffic, lead generation, conversions and revenue. On the other hand, consumers derive benefits from a brands social presence that you won’t want to miss. Some of the top benefits consumers gain from your brands social accounts include:

  • To take advantage of promotions and sales
  • To hear about the latest products
  • To receive customer service
  • To browse entertaining content
  • To offer feedback and advice

Given the benefits on both sides of the transaction, a well-crafted social media presence can make a reasonable impact on your bottom line. With 57% of people saying they are more likely to buy from brands they follow on social media (Engage Hub, 2017), you’d be silly not to invest in social media marketing. If you’d like help navigating Instagram’s new shopping features, we have a blog to help you here.

Apart from the financial impact, social media marketing can be reasonably effective at building relationships with customers to lead to increased engagement, loyalty and affinity in the long-term. Often more difficult to measure, these relationship goals can be incredibly important to a retailer in the long-run opposed to the short-term success of increased site traffic and conversions. Brand loyalty and affinity can be a significant competitive advantage, but it requires a continued effort over an extended period of time.

So how do you know if you’re reaping the benefits of your social media activity? We explain how to measure your online social marketing and how to determine whether it’s successful in the next section.

How to measure the success of social media marketing

Most social media platforms come with built-in analytics tools to review the success of your social activity. However, these do not report on-site traffic, lead generation, or sales revenue – for this, you’ll need to have your Google Analytics account setup and tracking properly. Once you’re ready to track your results, you’ll need to determine social media goals that align with your overall business strategy.

For example, if your shop is focused on improving customer satisfaction, you could encourage customer feedback, track your brand’s mentions and measure the percentage of messages that are positive, neutral or negative. Or, if your brand is striving to sell more of a particular product in a given time period, then a social KPI related to conversions or site traffic of that specific product are going to be more relevant to determining the success of your social strategy than say, post likes. The results of your social activity are relatively meaningless if your KPIs are not aligned with your business objectives. This may be an intense process in itself, but once you have these established you can start digging into the data.

In case you’re not an expert on the metrics, we thought we’d help you get acquainted with some of the basic measurements you should know and what each term means:

Google Analytics Terms:

  • Users: number of individual visitors to your site
  • Sessions: number of grouped interactions that one person takes within a given time frame on your website; for example, a single session can contain multiple page views and interactions so long as the individual does not leave your site in between
  • Bounce Rate: percentage of visits in which a person leaves your website from the landing page without browsing any further
  • Conversion Rate: percentage of visits that result in a transaction
  • Transactions: number of individual purchase orders
  • Revenue: value of overall sales
  • Landing Page: webpage where people end up after they click your ad or social post.

Social Media Analytics Terms:

  • Reach: number of individual people who saw your posts
  • Engagement: number of interactions on your posts which can include likes, shares, comments, clicks, etc.
  • Click-through-rate (CTR): ratio of people who clicked on a specific link out of the total visitors who viewed your posts
  • Impressions: number of total views on your posts; this includes multiple views from the same person
  • Profile visits / views: number of times people viewed your profile rather than viewing your posts in their feed
  • Mentions: a tagged link to your social account that people use in their posts or comments.

Overall social media marketing performance

For a broad overview of your social media marketing performance, Google Analytics can provide you with insightful information on how social performs in comparison to your other online channels and how each social platform performs against each other. For the best comparative results, you’ll want to compare like-for-like. ie. year-on-year results provide a more accurate picture than month-on-month or week-on-week because more external factors will remain the same such as seasonality. That being said, let’s get started.


Under Acquisition > Social > Overview, you’ll see a similar view as the screenshot below that outlines how your social channels contribute to your bottom-line compared with your other online channels. This can be useful in determining how much of your marketing budget to allocate to social if your goals are strictly revenue based.

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You can also determine which areas each social platform excels in, for example, if you go to Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels and click on ‘Social’ you’ll see something similar to the screenshot below which shows that Facebook brings in the most revenue, Pinterest brings in the most users and sessions, and Linkedin has the best eCommerce conversion rate. Depending on your business goals, you might consider investing more time and money in your Linkedin to exploit its 3.93% conversion rate or you might want to leave it as it is and invest in improving your Instagram strategy.

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Landing Pages

Another useful top level measurement to review is under Acquisition > Social > Landing Pages – here you can see which web pages have the most sessions out of all the links you’ve shared on your social accounts. Whilst the URLs have been blurred here, you’ll have a similar view to the screenshot below.

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Google Analytics is a great tool for reviewing overall social channel performance and how it relates to your website, but for the best analysis you’ll want to combine this data with the individual analytics you can find on each social media platforms analytics tool. With this combined data, you’ll be able to make informed inferences that tell you more about the performance of your social posts based on the situational circumstances in which they were published. For example, all promotional or competition posts typically outperform all other posts, so it’s best to exclude them when figuring out which platforms or posts are your top performers. We’ll detail how to measure your social media marketing’s performance on a deeper level in the next section.

Individual social media marketing performance

Using the individual analytics tools for each social platform, you can measure which platforms are your top social performers based on reach, impressions, engagement and mentions. These measurements are often referred to as ‘vanity metrics’ due to their superficial results, so make sure you’re analysing them inline with your business goals.

For example, rather than using total impressions as a performance indicator, you could analyse the spikes in your impression results to see what happened to make those days or posts stand out – whether it’s content or schedule related. Or, if developing a positive brand reputation is one of your business objectives, you could set quarterly benchmarks to increase the number of positive mentions by 20%.

Reviewing your results is one thing, but putting that data into context is the key to effectively measuring your social media marketing performance. Now that you know how to measure your performance, let’s discuss how you can maximise your social ROI and boost sales.

How to improve your social media marketing strategy to boost sales

After you’ve thoroughly analysed the results of your social media marketing activity, you can begin tweaking your strategy to exploit areas where your tactics are effective and to rethink areas that need improvement.

The key here is to look for patterns – do you receive the most clicks on posts that include questions, do you have the most impressions on Tuesdays, does your revenue peak in the evenings? These patterns can inform your content strategy and posting schedule to boost sales and maximise your social media marketing performance.

However, if you need a little help figuring out how you can improve your social strategy, we’ve listed a few strategies that could boost your brand’s sales.

  1. Strike a balance with your content

Social media is meant for socialising, so you’ll quickly irritate your followers if every single post is trying to sell them something. Although it sounds counter-intuitive, a good rule of thumb is to follow the 80 / 20 rule, 80% of your posts offer entertaining, engaging, social content and the other 20% offer promotions or product information. According the 2016 Nielsen Social Media Report, 46% of people who unfollowed a brand said it was because they were sent too many messages, and 24% said it was because they were sent irrelevant messages. Make sure your social content is varied with messaging that resonates with your audience to keep them engaged and interested. For a bit of inspiration, have a look at Madewell and Vans to see how to balance your social content without sacrificing yours sales opportunities.

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  1. Reach out to new potential customers

Don’t be afraid to jump on a relevant trending hashtag and start conversations with potential customers. A simple way to do this is to follow the weather; for example, when your local region gets an unexpected snow storm or a long-awaited heatwave, jump on the trend by offering your brand and it’s products as a solution to the unpredictable weather. A standout example of being relevant and creative on social media is the Oreo Superbowl tweet of 2016. To explore the top trending hashtags of the day, you can visit sites like Hashtagify to find relevant topics for your brand to engage with.

  1. Post user-generated content

This includes everything from text reviews to visual imagery. It’s an effective way to establish trust with potential customers and to develop a rapport with your existing customers by providing them with a voice and acknowledging their appreciation for you brand. A good example of what you can achieve with user-generated content, is Daniel Wellington’s hashtag #DWPickoftheDay where they choose one of their followers’ photos to share on their account. If you’re struggling to find high-quality fan photos, you might try running a limited time only competition where followers can submit their customer photos to enter for a chance to win an appropriately sized prize.

  1. Provide customers with value

A lot easier said than done, but it’s important to provide value to your social followers – this can be in the form of entertainment, tips or solicited advice. You can ask your followers what they want from you directly with a Q&A ‘power hour’ or put a bit of budget behind a well-crafted infographic or short video for something educational and entertaining. By adding value to your customers lives, they’ll be more likely to think of your brand first the next time they’re shopping.

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Social media marketing can be an effective channel for your retail business if you take the necessary steps to create engaging content, measure your performance and improve your strategy at consistent intervals. But, if you’re having trouble getting the most out of your social media marketing, contact us today to find out how we can help.

Written by Andy

Andy is Venture Stream’s Chief Operating Officer and has over 15 years’ experience in ecommerce consultancy, design and retail marketing.

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