Does Social Media Drive Conversions?

A little while ago, an acquaintance expressed concern that social did not really work for the brand in terms of conversions. At first sight, it might appear to be the case. However, what’s required is a deeper look to understand how channels work together to deliver assists or drive conversions.

How Is Conversion Reported and Why Is It Important To Understand Attribution?
The standard Conversions report uses the last-click model to account for conversions. Making marketing mix decisions based on last click models could become problematic if the budgets are skewed towards particular channels.
I couldn’t find a simpler and better analogy than this lightning of a goal scored by a certain Real Madrid player in the Copa Del Rey 2014 final against Barcelona.
Watch this clip for the first 30 sec (or more…) and answer the question:
Who scored the winning goal for Real Madrid in this match?

Easy one. Gareth Bale!
Now what if the question was tweaked to:
Which Real Madrid players helped score the winning goal in the dying minutes of the final?
Yep, you’ll get a very different answer….

Messi’s cross gets intercepted by Carvajal. He heads it off to Isco, who does a short pass to Coentrao. Coentrao sees Bale and send off a through ball. Bale gets the ball and makes the run of his life to score and probably justify the heavy investment in him by Real Madrid.
Think about your marketing efforts for a bit. You could almost replace the player names with channel names (and investment with your marketing budget) and have a similar scenario where a standard last-click conversion report always paints channel X as the hero. The truth is that convincing people takes time (and sessions). This is the same reason why return visitors almost always have a much higher conversion rate. When you look at the complete effort required in making that conversion happen, you would agree that the assisting channels are not too shabby after all (in the case of soccer, making a defender/midfielder’s job not so thankless…).

Understanding channel contribution is all the more important for “soft” channels such as social due to the possible disconnect in timing between the brand’s content and the customer’s needs. A first time visitor to the site who lands via social media might not be willing to make a purchase immediately, but could agree to sign up for a newsletter and probably convert at a later stage in the future.

Exploring Channel Funneling
A good starting point in understanding social (or any other channel) attribution is the Assisted Conversions Report in Google Analytics under Conversions > Multi-Channel Funnels. For each of the channels listed, the key columns to look at are Assisted Conversions (all assists except last click), Last Click Conversions and the ratio of these two metrics.
Assisted / Last Interaction Conversions Ratio helps explain the importance of the social channel.
·         A ratio of higher than 1 implies that social as a channel helps more with assists than actual conversions based on last click.
·         A ratio of 1 means that social equally serves in assists and last click conversion.
·         A ratio of below 1 is when social directly drives your sales than assists.
Knowing this piece of information is perhaps the starting point of deciding how much credit to give to your channels. Attribution modeling is a topic on its own and has been beautifully explained by Avinash Kaushik in this post. The key is in deciding the level of importance to give to the interactions that take place via different channels on the path to conversion.

If you’re not working in analytics, walk up to your friendly analyst and start a conversation around this topic. Hopefully, you will find some nuggets of gold related to social channel that will help in appreciating the true value of social at your brand. The truth is that social can serve differently for brands but the only way is to start digging out such data to help make more informed decisions. 
What are your thoughts on this topic? Does social media truly work for your brand?