Social media attribution models: how you can supercharge your social media marketing success

Social media attribution models: Supercharge your marketing success

October 8, 2021
Kyra Goodman

Want to see exactly where your followers are turning into customers? Then you need to get on board with social attribution.

Do you know what inspired your customers to convert? Was it that social ad you’ve been running or an Instagram Live broadcast you hosted? Perhaps they saw a post shared by a friend or even a social media influencer? If you don’t know the answer to this question, you need to tap into the power of social media attribution. By using attribution models, your brand can figure out which social media platform, social media campaign or piece of content is most successful in driving action from your audience. The stats reveal that it takes the average customer six interactions with a brand before they make a purchase. So, it’s your job to identify which touchpoints are most effective in inspiring conversion. Without an attribution model, you’ve got no way of accurately tracking your social media marketing success and conversions. Essentially, you’ll be relying on vanity metrics (such as likes and follows) and not digging deeper into what interactions are driving meaningful results for your business. Ready to make the most of your social media efforts and build a social media strategy based on conversion-driving content? Let’s dive into social attribution models and how to make these models work for your business.

What are attribution models?

Before we go any further, let’s walk you through exactly what attribution models are and how they can help you supercharge your social media marketing efforts. Attribution models are a fancy marketing term for assigning value to different interactions users have with your brand. It’s all about identifying what touchpoint has led the customer to make a purchase. And the truth is that there could be a range of different touchpoints that persuaded this customer to convert. These models are helpful for businesses of all sizes for a range of reasons. Most importantly, they give you an insight into where your customers are coming from and what marketing activity is most effective in driving users from discovery to conversion. So how do attribution models work? Typically, they work backwards from the point of conversion and track what interactions were most influential in inspiring customers to purchase, sign up or take action. And it’s less complicated to use attribution modelling than you might think. Depending on which model you use and how you set it up, it can be as easy as reviewing your tracking links or referral sources for website traffic.

Why are attribution models important?

You’re not posting content to social media for the heck of it. With attribution models, you can easily hold your efforts accountable for sales and conversions. Essentially, this modelling gives you the data to prove what is and isn’t working on social networks. It gives you a clear picture of your customer journeys and identifies which touchpoints are inspiring conversion and which need improvement. Plus, attribution modelling can be helpful when refining your social media strategy. With data about which post formats, channels and messages are the best conversion drivers, you can pivot your strategy to drive a stronger impact from your content marketing activity. When we talk about the social media marketing funnel, attribution models come into play at the awareness and consideration stage. These models allow you to track which interactions were most successful at moving customers to the point of conversion. And attribution models go beyond simply identifying whether LinkedIn, Instagram or TikTok are most effective in driving conversions. They actually break things down by what type of post, what asset and even how often your customer interacted with your content before converting. With this data by your side, you’ll be able to track whether your social campaigns are performing or not and what kind of content you should focus on next time.

Exploring different marketing attribution models

Think there’s just one way to use attribution modelling? Think again. There are actually three broad categories of attribution models to choose from. And to help you understand what different attribution models exist and how they work, let’s use an example: Meet Hannah. She’s been thinking about buying a new linen bedding set but hasn’t been actively searching for which brand to buy from. She saw a friend share and tag a brand in their latest Instagram post. Hannah scrolled through the brand’s Instagram Feed and had a quick browse of their online store. The next day, she was served an Instagram Ad from the brand and noticed they were having a sale. At that point, she decided to make a purchase. So, let’s look at the three key types of attribution models you need to consider.

The first-touch attribution model

As the name would suggest, this model credits how the customer first heard about your brand as the key driver for conversions. In the example above, this model would focus on that first Instagram post that Hannah saw from a friend as the driver for conversion (a.k.a. the first click). This first-touch model is based on the idea that the final sale or conversion wouldn’t have happened without that first interaction with your brand. First-touch attribute models are very easy to use, but there are key drawbacks to consider, too. One of the biggest drawbacks of this model is accuracy. As you’re only focusing on the first step in the buyer journey, you only see part of the picture and it can be difficult to accurately attribute whether that first touchpoint was really what led to a conversion down the line. Plus, this model ignores the impact of all the other stages and touchpoints in your marketing funnel. Chances are, they played an important role in priming your buyer to convert, too. So, when should you consider a first-touch attribution model? These models are best used for campaigns that are focused on top of the marketing funnel activity and if you’re wanting to optimize and refine your lead generation process.

The last-touch attribution model

On the flip side, a last-touch model credits the very last interaction the customer had before making the final purchase, right at the bottom of the marketing funnel. In our example, this model would prioritise the final Instagram ad Hannah was served as the driver for conversion. That means a last-touch attribution model is helpful if you’re only focused on tracking conversion-based metrics (such as sign-ups, downloads and sales).Again, this model is relatively simple to track and is often the default attribution model used by many brands. That’s because it’s pretty straightforward to identify the last touchpoint driving your sales and conversion traffic. However, there are still drawbacks to this model as it ignores the previous interactions that came before the last click attribution. That means this model isn’t the best option if you’re trying to track the impact of every step in your marketing funnel. In a nutshell, using this model means you’re only getting a small glimpse into your entire marketing efforts and ignoring the full picture.

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Multi-touch attribution models

There’s a whole stack of other models that offer more detailed information about every stage of your marketing funnel. However, these multi-touch models are a lot more challenging to use and require a stack of tools and expertise to use effectively. Let’s run you through the most common multi-attribution models your brand could consider:

  • Linear multi-touch model: this model gives equal credit to every interaction along the customer journey. While this approach does provide more detail than the previous models, it assumes that every touchpoint has an equal impact on the customer's decision to convert (which is likely untrue).
  • The biggest challenge here is that this model doesn't distinguish between different touchpoints in the journey and assigns each the same level of importance.
  • This model can be helpful for small marketing teams working in businesses with long sales cycles. While not perfect, it will help you fill in the gaps left by the first- and last-touch models.
  • U-shaped model: this model gives 40% weighting to the first touch, 40% to the last touch and 20% to every interaction in between. In this method, the first and final interaction is seen as the most important, but it still factors in the other interactions as well.
  • Usually, this method works well for brands with short sales cycles and low price-point products where customers don’t often spend too much time considering the final purchase.
  • However, there are cases where the first and last interactions aren’t the most important to the conversion, meaning there can be issues with accuracy.
  • Algorithmic model: this method assigns a different weighting to different touchpoints and is customised to fit the needs of each business. It’s the most accurate attribution model but is also the most difficult to set up and execute. In many cases, you’ll need to work with a data analyst to get it right.

Ultimately, selecting the right attribution model is all about matching your campaign goals to your internal resourcing. While algorithmic models are by far the most accurate, they’re tricky to get right unless you have the budget and in-house expertise to execute them correctly.

How does attribution work in social media?

So, how does this modelling work on social media? Let’s run you through four practical steps your brand can take to start holding your social media marketing efforts accountable for conversions.

Step one: set your social media goals

Just like any marketing campaign, the best place to start is to clearly define what goals and objectives you want to track. These goals and metrics will act as the base of your attribution model and will help you determine if you're reaching your goals or not. Some of the most common social media goals you’ll want to set and track include:

  • Email sign ups
  • Trials and demo registrations
  • Purchases
  • App downloads
  • Submitting a contact form enquiry

But before you set your goals, it’s important to remember that attribution models are focused on conversions, not vanity metrics (like followers or likes). So, steer clear of setting goals around follower growth or engagement for this step.

Step two: get your UTM tagging in place

Have you heard of a thing called UTM tagging before? If not, here’s a quick explainer. Urchin Tracking Modules (UTM) are a way to tag your URLs to track exactly which marketing channels and campaigns are driving direct traffic to your website. They typically add extra copy to the end of your links that spell out the source, medium and campaigns of your web traffic. This is an important setup step as it’ll help you measure your results and help you attribute your social media marketing activity to the right posts, formats or social media channels. To create UTM tagged URLs, you can use this handy URL builder from Google Analytics. Simply paste in your URL, and list out your campaign source (such as google, newsletter etc.), your campaign medium (such as bio link, Facebook Ad etc.) and your campaign name. With these tagged URLs set up, you’ll be able to review these results in your Google Analytics reports. To go a step further, you can even set up goals in Google Analytics to track how many users are converting from different UTM URLs. Want to set up Google Analytics goals tracking? Here’s a simple explainer of how to do it:

  • Open your Google Analytics account and go to Acquisition > Social > Conversions.
  • At this step, click ‘Set Up Goals’ to create a new goal in Google Analytics.
  • Look at your desired outcome (website traffic, sales etc.) and add in either the value or destination page you want to track.
  • Make sure to use your custom UTM tagged URL here so you know every conversion has come from one specific source.

With this level of tracking in place, you can score granular data on where to credit your website traffic, rather than just the broad bucket of “social media” activity.

Step three: shorten your URLs

Once you’ve got your UTM tagging in place, it’s best practice to use a link shortening tool like Bitly to name each of your URLs (and remove all the unnecessary tagging information).This will ensure your customers don’t notice these UTM tags and keep your social links short and engaging. You’ll also be able to see real-time stats on how many users have clicked these links on the Bitly dashboard for a quick way to get started with social attribution.Plus, If you opt for a paid plan on Bitly, you can even customise the names of each URL to reflect your business or campaign name. These branded elements can help to give a personalised touch to your social links, too.

Step four: run surveys

One of the easier ways to start attributing your success to social media is to add one simple question to your lead generation forms.On your email sign up or enquiry forms, adding the question “how did you hear about us?” allows you to easily see where your conversions are coming from.List out a range of marketing channels you’re using to track which is delivering the best results, such as:

  • Instagram
  • Facebook
  • TikTok
  • LinkedIn
  • Friends or family
  • Google search
  • Other

This tactic will give you an idea of which marketing efforts are driving conversions and which attribution model might be the best fit for your business.So, there you have it. When it comes to attribution models, these can be powerful tools to help you refine your social media marketing strategy. The better you understand what inspires your customers to convert, the more likely you are to focus your efforts in the right places.Again, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to attribution models. By learning the pros and cons of each model, you’ll be in the best position to select the right model for your business and campaign needs.

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