Nearly everything converts better than social media

Marketing software company Optify released results from a recent survey measuring the effectiveness of different marketing tactics to drive action on the B2B customer websites.  The results were consistent with a lot of recent social media research: social media doesn’t drive sales as effectively as search or email.

Better with Twitter?

Their set-up was pretty simple: traffic to websites was segmented by referral source, and click-through (“conversion”) was determined for each segment.  Optify observed the following conversion rates:

email – 2.89%
paid search – 1.96%
direct traffic – 1.65%
social media – 1.22%

Email generated more than twice the number of conversions than social media.  It seems that businesses that are nurturing social media at the expense of a mailing list may be marketing quite inefficiently.

Another interesting finding: Optify claims that Twitter was nine times more effective in converting leads than either LinkedIn or Facebook.  This contrasts IBM’s finding in their “Black Friday 2012” report that Twitter had negligible effect on sales, but if it can be substantiated further would probably be welcome news to Twitter and the folks who love using it.  It would probably be horrible news to Facebook or LinkedIn, too (spoiler alert: it’s probably not true).

Take with a grain of salt, add asterisk

This paper isn’t definitive by any means.  It studies a sub-group of B2B businesses, measuring action by a click on a website.  The amalgamation doesn’t factor in which businesses that are participating in social media or paid search, which nullifies a lot of the points made in the study (particularly as it relates to percentage of referred traffic, which I don’t discuss in this post).  But I think the value of this research is to see that it substantiates findings of larger-scale studies such as Forrester’s “Purchase Path of Online Buyers” in a different cohort of businesses.

I’m not proposing this as an indictment for social media, but it casts further doubt on the value of devoting resources to social media at the expense of email generation.  And as businesses come to the realization that Facebook has become a pay-to-play platform, it suggests that paid search might be a more effective way to invest.

Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty

Writer and chief of miscellany at
I'm the guy that wrote the article you just read. Sorry for the typos.
  • Tweet4Ok

    Let’s just continue to spread these kind of messages – may be some day “marketers” will realize that on the core of Social Media is not “How to make the most money NOW” but “How to stay relevant in the future.

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks for your comment. I think your insight is spot on: there probably needs to be a different value or measure to social media than revenue, and I think that evolution will be a good thing. Speaking from my selfish, unfiltered perspective: I don’t want to be friendly with brands on Facebook or Twitter or Google Plus, I have a selfish motive to connect that has little to do with brands. I suspect that’s a pretty common feeling.

  • Steve Hughes

    Haha…just read study that LinkedIn dominates over other networks for leads….waiting for Study that determines most studies are worthless… :)

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks Steve – if I had to venture a guess I would have picked LinkedIn was most successful of the three. I’m not sure I buy into Twitter being a better lead generator – in fact if I were looking for qualified leads I would trust LinkedIn before the others – despite the Twitter love.

  • Eunice Coughlin

    I think that social media as a platform is more about building relationships than it is about sales conversions, per se, It’s about “know, like and trust” plus good content that results in a sale. I’ve got lots of anecdotal evidence that says it works but it’s hard to find a metric that will prove it.

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks Eunice! I share the same thought that there is more to social media than can be quantified. Thank you so much for reading and for your comment!

  • deb louison lavoy

    people coming in through social media are not necessarily ready to enter a sales process. They are likely people who would have no other knowledge or awareness of the product – but these people give businesses very significant credibility and voice in the market. Not all your interactions. So the stats above are not comparing apples to apples.

    • jimdougherty

      I think that’s a plausible explanation, Deb. I don’t think that this is an especially actionable study in a lot of respects. But I do think that at some point “credibility and voice in the market” has to be measured tangibly, especially when businesses are devoting resources to social in lieu of other marketing channels. Appreciate you reading and commenting. Great insight.

      • deb louison lavoy

        We need to review the data we have – just as you did. And we need to keep asking questions of that data. i it will be a while before we have hard evidence of this value I think because it is intangible. I suspect that value accrues to brand value, and the top of the funnel. I sketched out more of it here:

        • jimdougherty

          Thanks Deb – an interesting presentation and one that seems quite congruent with social CRM. Thanks for sharing!

  • Nick Kellet

    Social is where you find people to join your mailing lists. It’s your content and the experience you offer that builds trust that lets you engage with the via email

    The chicken and egg of email marketing.

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks Nick – I think so long as a business is happy with a value proposition that’s great. I don’t think most businesses view it this way, yet. I think if businesses considered social media as a tool for an integrated strategy they might be able to better capitalize on the channels that are more reliable converters. Great point!

  • Ric Dragon

    I’m feeling the need to bang the beer stein on the table. Sorry if I make a mess…

    In our experience, effective social media marketing works in conjunction with other marketing. It also creates value across a whole spectrum of business value, the least of which is sales.

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks Ric, I think that’s the perfect counterpoint and one that I probably should have made more mention of. A lot of studies are showing that social media is enhancing multidimensional marketing efforts even if it’s difficult to isolate the extent that social is contributing. What I like about this study was that everyone came to one website from some channel and had the opportunity to perpetuate the sales process. Saying the shortstop isn’t your most effective pitcher doesn’t mean that the shortstop is unnecessary.

  • Kelly Smith

    There is too much going on in this study to say definitively that anything is accurate in any degree. There are some products that sell very well on Social Media and others that couldn’t ever sell using this platform. Social media can also be useful in ways that other marketing methods could never accomplish and that must be taken into consideration. The whole “top of mind awareness” issues can be a tremendous benefit that social media does very well and in some cases works much better than traditional advertising because it is connected with people that they have a “relationship” with. Its one thing to hear an ad on the radio while driving and think “Oh, that is something I could really use” and then forget about it by the time you get home. Its an entirely different thing to have someone suggest something online and be able to instantly act on it to make a decision.

    As far advanced as we have become over the past few years, I still feel we are in the infancy stage of what is going to happen with the entire online experience. There are SO many options nowadays that the real trick will be able to hold someones attention for more than 1 nano second, long enough for them to actually click the “Buy Now” button and someone actually sell something. Its going to get harder and harder the farther down the road we go.

    • jimdougherty

      Good points all Kelly – thanks for reading and for your thoughtful comment!

  • Mark_Q_Jones

    Depends what you call “Social Media” we get lots of traffic from LinkedIn Groups and Discussion Forums. Facebook is not so goo, nor twitter tbh, but LinkedIn = GREAT!

    • jimdougherty

      Great point, Mark – social media encompasses an amalgam of different services, so it’s not so precise to say that they all perform the same sets of tasks of perform them equally well. And all businesses are different. Great points!

  • Stuartr Clarke

    I think that Social Media has it place in building relationships and measure it’s success purely on conversion does not give a realistic view. We also need to consider that Social Media and email marketing should compliment each other. Is a prospect more likely to open your email if they are a LinkedIn connection or Twitter follower? I think the answer is yes. Building followers can amplify the message from your email marketing campaigns. if a prospect follows your twitter feed and takes-up an offer from an email they have opened because they follow you, this is converted against email marketing when the original interest comes from Social Media.

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks Stuart – I think your insight is quite pragmatic and may speak to @ricdragon:disqus ‘s point about social’s place in campaigns across multiple channels. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Marc Ensign

    I think the problem is more the vehicle and less the driver. If you are a crummy driver, it really doesn’t matter what type of car you have, eventually you are going to find yourself careening off of a cliff.

    Social media is an incredibly valuable tool. The problem is that most people suck at it. They are so concerned with ROI that they open a Twitter account, spend two days following the likes of Ashton Kutcher and then get all bent out of shape when it doesn’t amount to the flurry of sales they felt they were owed.

    Social media is all about building relationships. That’s it. And there is no return on investment to be measured when it comes to building relationships. If you don’t believe me, ask your wife what the ROI is on your marriage and let me know how it goes!

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks Marc! The problem I have with saying that there is no return on investment in social media is that it wouldn’t be prudent for businesses to invest in these channels. I see this study as helpful to determine how businesses use social media, but not as an indictment of social’s value. It is valuable – as is my marriage… although knowing my wife she could probably come up with some sort of model to measure return on our marriage, and then establish KPIs to make sure that I am retaining my value!

  • Paul Profitt

    Hi Jim, I have reached the stage where I no longer have any faith in any online survey, or traffic stats on anything. And words cannot express how much I hate Facebook at this moment in time.

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks Paul! I agree that online surveys and studies should be greeted with apprehension, but try to focus in on studies that seem to be pretty sound and have a takeaway. I agree with you that Facebook is disappointing, but I think they still offer quite a value proposition for the typical user, so if you can get into the pay-to-play mindset, Facebook may be able to do something for you. Appreciate your insight and comment!