Proving the ROI of social media marketing has long been a difficult, if not impossible, task for many marketers. So you got 1,000 Likes - how does that convert to sales? So you've managed to up your total Instagram hearts - what does that mean for the bottom line? Because the connection between social interactions and conversions is often indirect, it can be difficult to accurately pinpoint how your efforts are paying off - a task made even more complex by the modern purchase journey, which often involves consumers moving between several devices before they buy.
But it is possible to connect the dots. Smart companies are evolving their data collection processes to better link people's online personas to their offline actions - that's why stores are so keen to get you to sign-up for loyalty schemes, that's why e-mail addresses are so valuable to retailers. Once they have your digital 'fingerprint', they can trace it back, they can target you with ads, they can record your purchase history. Such efforts are the next evolution of social media marketing - because despite the huge rise in online shopping, 85% of consumers still prefer to shop in-store, and a massive 90% of retail sales still take place in a physical location.
And of course, given its position as a leader on the digital marketing field, Facebook is leading the way. The Social Network introduced 'Conversion Lift' metrics last year, which enable advertisers track how their Facebook ads have impacted in-store sales by incorporating point-of-sale information from the advertiser and matching that against Facebook's database.
And today, Facebook's taken the next step in their efforts to improve the transparency of Facebook ad performance, with the introduction of a set of new advertising tools that will better enable The Social Network to track consumers' offline actions, then link them back to their Facebook activity.
Here's how they work.
The first new addition is a new metric called 'Shop Visits'. Exactly as it sounds, shop visits will track visitors to your store then match those people against Facebook's system to tell you which of them saw your Facebook ads.
As per the announcement:
"Advertisers can use shop visits reporting to:
- See how many people come to their shop after seeing a Facebook campaign.
- Optimize advert creative, delivery and targeting based on shop visits.
- Analyze results across shops and regions to plan and optimize future campaigns."
How can Facebook track your real-world actions? Shop Visits is built on aggregated and anonymized data from people with Facebook location services enabled on their phone. Google uses a similar system for their 'popular times' metric in search results.
Of course, you have to have location services turned on, which not everyone does. But a lot of people do - if you want to use Google Maps or Snapchat geofilters or any range of other location-relative tools, you'll need location services on, and most people don't give it a second thought.
And Facebook's already seen good results from the new option in testing:
"French retailer E.Leclerc was able to reach 1.5 million people within 10 kilometres of their shops and found that approximately 12% of clicks on their advert were followed by a visit to a shop within seven days."
That's extremely valuable data - while there'll be some concerns about privacy and tracking people's movements, the benefits for advertisers are clear.
Offline Conversions API
The second addition is Facebook's new 'Offline Conversions API'.
"The offline conversions API allows businesses to match transaction data from their customer database or point-of-sale system to adverts reporting, helping them better understand the effectiveness of their adverts in real time."
Essentially, Facebook is partnering with point-of-sale systems providers to be able to link up data direct from your cash register to your Facebook ad efforts.
As noted by TechCrunch:
"...this new Offline Conversions API lets Facebook jack directly into cash registers and ecommerce sales software to pull real-time results about transactions both in-store and online, plus demographic insights to improve future ad campaigns."
Advertisers will be able to work with partners like IBM, Index, Invoca, Lightspeed, LiveRamp, Marketo and Square, or with Facebook directly to utilize this new capability.
It's a big step for Facebook's data tracking efforts and will, again, go a long way towards helping provide definitive links between your online efforts and offline results.
And the last update is Facebook's new shop locator options that will be built into the platform's Local Awareness Ads.
As you can see, the new option enables advertisers to connect users to a map which highlights their location within Facebook itself, making it easier for users to take in all the relevant info in one place.
The option could be particularly helpful for location-based ads - you could advertise your lunch special to all users within a certain radius, with a map right there, making it as easy as possible for users to find your store. It'll also be helpful for businesses with multiple physical locations (as shown in the video).
As noted, ROI is obviously a critical concern for social media marketers, and the platforms know that the more data they can provide on this front, the better off they'll be. As social media marketing and social selling evolves, one of the key considerations will be in proving those links between your online efforts and bottom line results - the marketers that are focused on this task, and are able to provide clear links, will be the ones who truly succeed.
As always, it's important to focus on the metrics that drive real results, not vanity numbers. These new offerings from Facebook will make that task a little bit easier.