Suppose you own a bakery. You have lots of loyal customers, but, like any business owner, you would like to have more. You create a free page on Facebook describing your business, and you update it frequently with news about special promotions or new product offerings. You encourage your customers to visit your page and become “fans” of it. When they do, you can send them automated updates, and they can visit your page with just one click from their Facebook accounts. To increase traffic to your page, you might decide to buy targeted ads on Facebook.
So far this approach is rather conventional. It is really no different from the way businesses have used the Internet for a number of years. But something else happens when people become fans of your Facebook page: the name of your business is added to their personal profile. Now all their Facebook friends see that they are fans of your business. Some of them become fans, and the process (you hope) just goes on and on. This is the essence of viral marketing: encouraging people to pass on a marketing message to others. If your message is appealing, it has the potential to spread exponentially throughout your community and beyond.
Facebook has actually taken the concept of viral marketing one step further. Suppose you decide to run a Facebook ad targeted to everyone in your local area. Suppose, also, that you have a Facebook page with 100 fans, and each one of those fans has 50 Facebook “friends.” When those friends see your ad, it will say something like this: “Sample our delicious baked goods. Your friend Adam Smith is a fan.”
Clearly the potential for viral marketing is enormous, but how do you measure its effectiveness? Earlier approaches to Internet marketing used some traditional methods of measuring how well an ad worked. For example, each ad might have a unique 800 phone number for responses. Or each ad might have a link to a coded discount coupon that customers could print out or use online. But these traditional methods don’t lend themselves to social media marketing.
Marketers have developed new approaches to measuring the effectiveness of a social media campaign. They measure such things as:
- Facebook fans and page views. Facebook offers a free tool called Insights that provides demographic and geographic data on your “fans,” as well as information on the number of visits your page receives and the number of page views.
- Del.icio.us. This strangely named site offers something called “social bookmarking.” People post bookmark lists on the site that are accessible to their friends. You can see how many people have added your site to their bookmark list and what key words they have used to “tag” your site.
- Number of Articles on Digg. If you use blogs or news articles to promote your business, people who like your content can forward it to Digg or other socials news sites. You can track how many of your articles have been submitted to these sites and how popular they are.
What is missing from these measurements is data on conversions (sales). As social media marketing matures, advertisers will keep looking for ways to measure results in terms of dollars rather than clicks.