Analytics for Social & Viral Marketing

Social and viral marketing are all about knowing your audience, especially that most infectious segment of your target that you’re considering your seed vector, and the best way to learn about them is through analytics. I’ve been thinking about analytics for viral marketing for a few days and then I saw a post on Social Media Explorer about analytics for bloggers, which sparked me to write this post. There are 3 stages of usage for analytics in the viral marketing process: research, growth and evaluation. And one sort of theoretical one: testing.

Research

When you’re planning your viral campaign, you should first focus on researching your target audience as I suggested in my checklist. This means not only understanding the demographics, preferences and behaviors of the entire group you’d like to reach but also identifying that segment of your target that shares content the most frequently and with the most people, this will be your seed vector. Typically these people are early adopters who are savvy social media users and you’ll be aiming to seed your content in a place where they’re very likely to see it.

Say you want to reach an older, more affluent female audience rather than the typically young-techy-male demographic that frequents sites like Digg. Head on over to Quantcast and look at the data on some sites like Kirtsy, Sugarloving, BlogHer, and StumbleUpon. You’ll see that of these sites, Kirtsy best matches your target audience. Quantcast also gives you some great content preference data indicating which category of sites Kirtsy users tend to like:

Fashion/Cosmetics
Parenting
Bridal
Baby
Fragrances/Cosmetics
Jewlery/Luxury Goods
Home/Family
Kids
Politics & Commentary
Travel

To expand your list of target seed sites beyond Kirtsy, you can then jump into Google’s Ad Planner and find sites with audiences that match Kirtsy’s. Here you’ll find sites like CoolMomPicks, and The Pioneer Woman. You’ll notice that for some sites (including The Pioneer Woman), Quantcast even offers links to other sites that share the same audience which you can use to further expand your seeding site list.

Now you know where to put your content so that it will be seen by the most social-media-savvy members of your target demographic and you know which types of content they prefer viewing.

Growth

Lots of sites use Google Analytics, its a great tool and unbeatable for the price, but there is a reporting delay of a few hours so it doesn’t do much good in those critical hours right after you launch your campaign. To help manage and accelerate the seeding and growth phases of your campaign, you’ll need some sort of real-time-analytics.

I use and like Clicky’s spy feature (affiliate link). Using a real-time spy like this allows you to see where your traffic is coming from, right now, so if your campaign does begin to go viral and users start reposting it and sharing it across the web, you’ll be among the first to know. If your most recent blog post started getting a little popular on Digg and you noticed in the spy that it also began drawing traffic from Mixx, you could give the story a little exposure on Mixx too (perhaps by Tweeting about it or adding a Mixx button to your post).

Real-time-analytics and acceleration like this is an important paradigm to understand in social and viral marketing. You can’t just go and shove your content everywhere they’ll take it, real growth and contagiousness is organic. It is better to carefully and effectively seed your content in a few choice places and then let the savvy and prolific audiences exposed to it in those places spread it further. When they do begin spreading it, make sure you’re there and ready to pour gas on the fire.

Evaluation

Once you see that the growth of your campaign has started to plateau or slow down, it is time to leverage your analytics for evaluation. This is the stage where you compare your metrics to the goals and KPI you set before you began the campaign. Was the goal of this to get more links to your site? Check your inbound link count. Was it to generate blogger buzz? Do some blog searches for your campaign on sites like Technorati and Google Blogsearch. Were you trying to drive traffic to your site? Look at your Google Analytics reports. Were video views your goal? Click the Statistics & Data tab on Youtube and see how well you did.

Beyond simple traffic metrics, there are some more advanced systems available that allow you to measure the number of times your content was shared, some platforms (including emails and press releases) will tell you the number of times people used the send-to-a-friend functionality. I’ve also played around with a concept idea that can measure how many times your link was sent (via any online communication method, IM, email, Facebook, etc) and viewed as well as develop a viral family tree of sorts showing which seeds led to the greatest eventual growth. I may release some version of this in the future, and I know there are similar proprietary solutions available that do almost similar things.

Testing

The more advanced tracking and family tree tracing system I mentioned above leads into a possible use for analytics in viral marketing that I have not seen actually developed yet. It is theoretically possible to develop a split or multivariate testing suite that tests content not against conversions or even engagement metrics (time on site, page views per visit) but against actual content sharing. This way we could test which words, images and designs lead to the content being shared the most and actually begin to quantify ‘virality’. Has anyone seen anything like this working in the wild yet?

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