There’s little doubt among seasoned B2B content marketers that strategy is the key to success. In fact, according to the 2019 B2B Content Marketing Report produced by Content Marketing Institute (CMI) and MarketingProfs, the most successful content marketers (65%) are far more likely to have a documented strategy than their less successful peers (14%).
The kicker? That same report revealed that just 27% of B2B marketers say their content marketing efforts are very or extremely successful in achieving their organization’s desired results. The next largest chunk, 51%, say their content marketing is only “moderately effective.”
What’s causing the disconnect? The report points to content marketing maturity: The more sophisticated your content marketing efforts become, the more success you’re likely to have.
From our perspective, one of the key things that’s holding marketers back from evolving and growing their level of sophistication is likely in the data—both figuratively and literally.
Every marketer has access to data, but many are often overwhelmed by it all and struggle to uncover meaningful insights to act on. Not too long ago, Forrester reported that companies only use 12% of the data they have at their disposal. Imagine what opportunities you could find hiding in that 82%. Furthermore, only 49% of marketers say they use data to enhance the customer experience.
So, we say that in order for you to level up your content marketing strategy, you need to let data and your analysis of said data lead the way. Here are our suggestions on how you can walk the talk and turn your data-informed content dreams into a reality.
#1 – Data-Informed Benchmarks and Goals
Simply put, there can be no strategy if there’s no end goal. Your objectives are the foundation of your strategy, guiding your decisions and tactical mix so you can drive results.
Your goals might be to increase organic traffic, audience engagement, or website conversions. However, to achieve success, these goals need to be measurable. And that’s where data and the insights you derive from it can help.
To set goals that are reality-based and measurable, analyze your current performance for each of the goals you want to set (e.g. MQLs, organic traffic, etc.). Take a look at the month-over-month and year-over-year results in each area to determine your current monthly and annual growth rates to establish a benchmark. Then make sure your goals and benchmarks are included in your documented content marketing strategy. Ultimately, this will allow you to make more informed, specific goals that are easy to track and, hopefully, achieve.
[bctt tweet=”Without an end-goal, there can be no strategy. @annieleuman #ContentMarketingStrategy” username=”toprank”]
#2 – Data-Informed Audience and Buyer Personas
The success of your content marketing efforts hinges on your ability to empathize and connect with your target audiences. To do that, the content you create needs to resonate. It needs to help your audience solve their problems or get their questions answered.
As a result, you absolutely want to use data insights to develop a more holistic picture of your target buyers—their interests, problems, behaviors, and preferences. Taking the time to do this can help you ensure your strategy is built on data, not gut feel or assumptions.
Get started on defining your target audience(s) by reviewing your company’s website and social analytics with metrics like demographics, interests, age, industry, and behavior. In addition, leverage search analytics. Buyers have questions they’re searching for every day—and you have the opportunity to be the best answer.
Lastly, ask your sales team for insight into the prospects and customers they talk to every day so you can more clearly define who your content needs to reach, what motivates them, where they’re active, what you hope to solve for them, and more. This qualitative data will complement the quantitative numbers you’ll find in Google Analytics (GA) and other data sources.
#3 – Data-Informed Content Mapping
The same CMI and MarketingProfs report revealed that 81% of B2B marketers believe the top benefit of a content strategy is that it makes it easier to determine which types of content to develop. Regardless of where buyers are in the funnel, a successful content strategy is able to provide a roadmap for content that will help move them through the funnel. And data can help you expertly map those pieces of content to the buyer journey.
How should you get started? Take a look at your current content performance in GA and on your social networks. What’s resonating with your audience and what are they ignoring? Which pages and blog posts are converting? What is it about them that converts? Are they videos or blog posts? Diving deep into your current content results and how they help move people through each stage of the buyer journey will help you determine which types of content are the most successful at each stage. This process will also reveal the topics that are most important as well. Together, this provides a clear content journey to include in your strategy.
In addition, data from your site’s in-site search engine can help reveal additional gaps and content opportunities. If your audience isn’t able to find what they’re looking for on your site, they’re going to try and search for it. And the in-site search report in GA reveals the topics they can’t find or questions they need answered.
[bctt tweet=”Regardless of where buyers are in the funnel, a successful #contentstrategy is able to provide a roadmap to help them on their journey. – @annieleuman” username=”toprank”]
#4 – Data-Informed Content Amplification
You know your goals. You know your audience. You know what to content topics and types resonates. But how are people going to find your message? You need to promote your content where your audience will see and engage with it. And data can help you determine where.
Take advantage of the acquisition reports in GA to see where your audience discovers your content. For example, if social is a big traffic driver for your site, you should include a social amplification plan in your strategy. Plus, you can build out this plan even further by analyzing which social networks bring in the biggest audience. Armed with this information, you can form a content marketing strategy that not only has the right audience and the right message, but also the right channels.
#5 – Data-Informed Optimization
Your content strategy provides a roadmap for success, but as needs change, you may need to take a detour occasionally. As you execute your strategy, you may see shifts in audience behavior or content performance that require you to make adjustments to your approach. And that’s a good thing. You’re adapting and evolving your strategy to meet the needs of your audience. But without routine data analysis, those moves are almost impossible to make.
So test your content ideas. Measure their performance. Optimize based on the initial results. And repeat. A/B testing tools like Google Optimize or Optimizely can help you make those important tests and monitor their results. Depending on what the data reveals went well and what failed, you can apply it to both your past and future content.
Where Will the Data Insights Lead Your Content Marketing Strategy?
Regardless of your content marketing maturity, data insights hold incredible power for unlocking opportunity and building a more successful content strategy.
Remember, the analysis piece has to happen in order to turn raw data into actionable insights. If you’re in the process of forming your content marketing strategy for 2019, let those insights lead your goals and benchmarks, target audiences, content mapping, and amplification plan. And keep reviewing your data on an ongoing basis to ensure your strategy evolves along with your audience’s needs.
Want some more help building your content strategy and want more data to back it up? SEO insights can help. Discover six SEO data insights that can help you form your content strategy.
If you’ve ever pitched anything to a journalist, you’re probably familiar with the sinking feeling that comes with a failed or unanswered email pitch. In my time working in PR, I’ve written countless emails to journalists. From the good (instant, enthusiastic responses), the bad (no replies after hammering away at my keyboard for hours on end), to the downright ugly (one response from a particularly disgruntled journalist simply read “Why would you do this?”), I’ve seen it all.
While this journey hasn’t always been plain sailing, I’ve learnt a lot about what works — and even more about what doesn’t. Here’s what this process has taught me.
Before you pitch to anyone, make sure you…
Do your research
Not knowing a journalist’s beat is tantamount to accidentally calling someone you’ve just met the wrong name. Journalists get bombarded with hundreds of emails every single day, so the least you can do is make sure you’re pitching a story that’s relevant to them. Do your due diligence to avoid starting off on the wrong foot. There are a handful of key questions you should always investigate first: Does this journalist still write for the same publication? Are they still covering this topic? Has their job title changed, and if so, will your content still be relevant to them? And do they tend to cover similar content, or was an article they wrote about something similar a one-off?
it’s been seven months since I moved out of the fashion & beauty dept, and yet a solid half of the PR pitches I get in my inbox are F&B-related. c’mon y’all.
— existential dread but with tinsel (@jameslokehale) May 22, 2018
Don’t pitch self-serving stories
No matter how well disguised you think your motives might be, any journalist worth their salt will see straight through your spiel, almost guaranteeing your message will be deleted before they’ve had a chance to consider it.
Don’t pitch a story that’s already been written
I know how tempting this can be. If they’ve already covered that, they must be interested in this, right? Not necessarily. If you go to a journalist with a story that’s too similar to something they’ve already covered, you’ll only end up looking like you haven’t done your research. That said, some topics do run on and on — but revisiting more niche stories can be overkill, so use your common sense to work out which category yours falls into.
When you publish a story on a specific topic, and then are flooded with PR pitches about that exact topic… I guess I get it, on the off chance of doing a follow-up or as an FYI. But for the most part, these pitches are irrelevant b/c I’m not going to do the same piece twice.
— Michelle Ruiz (@michelleruiz) March 19, 2018
When writing your pitch, you should always remember…
You need to make your subject line snappy so that dreaded ‘delete’ button doesn’t get hit before the email has even been opened. This doesn’t mean you should go to town with puns and wordplay — you need to summarise your story as concisely as possible. When introducing yourself, avoid spending too long explaining the intricacies of what you do. Journalists are only interested in the story, so get to it as quickly as possible.
Today in PR pitches. pic.twitter.com/pWoWwRI00e
— Wes Wolfe (@WesWolfeBN) July 2, 2018
Keep everything succinct
Journalists are some of the busiest people you’ll meet and therefore won’t want to sacrifice any more of their time than they have to. Make their lives easier by cutting the waffle. Get straight to the point, try to avoid dressing things up in cliches or complicated terminology, and do your best to keep your email just a few sentences long.
— Candace Taylor (@CandaceETaylor) August 15, 2018
Make it personal
You want people to remember you, but there’s a fine line between being fun and being annoying. Overly quirky ice breakers often have the adverse effect, so think twice before wasting your time penning a seemingly hilarious email like this only for it to be misunderstood. Instead, you should personalise your messages by explaining how your story relates to the recipients specific interests or topics they regularly write about.
PR pitch was already on shaky ground, what with the egregious use of the emoji and all, but come on already with this shit. pic.twitter.com/OYcLaoS4d0
— Anthony Crupi (@crupicrupicrupi) June 21, 2018
Proofread and spell check everything
When you’ve finished writing, go through your email with a fine-toothed comb, looking for any mistakes. Then reread it. And then a third time. Keep going until what you’ve written is a flawless, perfectly flowing pitch that is easy to digest and skim read. Typos are rarely forgivable, especially so when speaking to someone who writes for a living, so avoid falling at the final hurdle by spending time looking for errors before you hit ‘send’. If spelling and grammar aren’t your forte, find someone else who is more comfortable with words to proof read what you’ve written. At the very least, you can rely on an online tool such as Grammarly or HemingWay to improve your emails — and your chances of getting a reply from an interest journalist.
You ever get a PR pitch so badly written you consider responding with edits out of pure pity for the sender?
— Paige Lavender (@paigelav) February 22, 2018
After you’ve sent your pitch, you should…
Find reasons to follow up
Don’t lay all your cards on the table in your first email. Perhaps you have a photograph of that new piece of tech your company is working on that you mentioned in your first email, or a video that adds a bit of colour to the story. Send across any additional material that’s relevant to your pitch, as this gives you a good excuse to get in touch again without sending a pestering email simply asking whether they are interested in your story.
I usually don’t complain about PR pitches. I know that people have a job to do. But this email, just received, is just…. pic.twitter.com/OFkumL5rna
— Mary Suh (@MaryMSuh) March 13, 2018
Answer any questions in a timely fashion
The longer you take to answer a journalist’s questions, the less likely the opportunity becomes, so don’t let this slide to the bottom of your to-do list. If it’s something that you can’t answer immediately, let them know you’re working on it and that you’ll be back in touch ASAP.
Try not to give up hope
PR is an art, not a science, so try not to beat yourself up if you don’t nail it first time round. It might not be the right fit for that particular journalist, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a better fit for someone else. Rewrite your pitch, try tackling the topic from a slightly different angle, or go back to the drawing board entirely armed with your learnings.
You know what they call a shortcut that actually saves time?
That was the wisdom my dad gave me the first time we went hiking together. Sometimes when you look at the map, it looks like there’s a better path. But the route is the route for a reason. Chasing a shortcut feels like making progress — but it might not get you to the trail’s end.
Marketers dig shortcuts. Or, as we call them, “hacks.” It makes sense: We’re usually overworked, understaffed, and expected to work wonders. A content marketing hack promises to cut a straight line through a tedious process, increasing efficiency and boosting results.
While some hacks can absolutely aid success, there are several instances in which you’re better off sticking to the route. Here are five shortcuts that will actually cost you time, resources, or reputation.
#1 – Shady Linkbuilding
Search algorithms consider how many backlinks your content has, right? So why not treat backlinking like another paid channel? There are plenty of entities that will help you out. Their tactics range from moderately shady (groups that exist only to share each other’s links) and incredibly shady (you pay them, they link you on tons of cloned spam sites).
But backlinks only work in your favor if they’re from reputable sites — and if your content is really worth linking to in the first place. If shady sites are linking to your content, that will actually hurt your ranking. And if Google finds out you’re engaging in shady linkbuilding, they might choose to penalize you further. Search engines are fiercely protective against any attempt to game the system.
Link building is possibly the only marketing function for which there isn’t a good paid alternative. It has to be organic, and you have to put in the work. The best way to get quality backlinks is to create amazing content.
Make stuff people will want to link to. Include influencers who will throw you a link. Do some outreach to reputable sites who would find the content relevant. It’s a drawn-out and tedious process, but it’s better than risking Google’s wrath. Plus, even if you don’t earn hundreds of backlinks, you’ll still have quality content to bring people in.
#2 – Copy/Paste Repurposing
As an agency, we’re bullish on repurposing content. It’s a good way to fill out your editorial calendar. It’s great for squeezing every drop of potential from an eBook, a blog post series, or an influencer submission. But proper repurposing takes a little time and effort. So why not just take some old stuff, paste it into a new blog, and call it good? Who’s going to remember that blog post from 2009, anyway?
Short answer: Google. Duplicate content is another ranking factor that can move you down in the SERP. Thoughtless repurposing can get you in trouble with your audience, too: If they catch on that you’re repurposing without updating (those “Call Me Maybe” references are a dead giveaway), you’ll lose credibility. And if you’re just slapping a new image on an old blog post to fill out the content calendar, odds are you haven’t considered whether the content is still relevant to your audience.
[bctt tweet=”If you’re just slapping a new image on an old blog post to fill out the #content calendar, odds are you haven’t considered whether the content is still relevant to your audience. @NiteWrites” username=”toprank”]
As with all content marketing, repurposing should start with strategy. Make sure the content you want to repurpose is still resonating with your target audience. Update it so it’s superfresh and hyper-relevant. You could even add some influencer quotes (original or curated), or transform the content into another medium entirely.
In short, repurposing is great for putting out content with less effort… but it still requires a little effort to truly rock it.
#3 – Uninspired Curation
Curation is another way to fill out an editorial calendar with low-effort, high-return content. That means list posts, news roundups, lists of stats — anything that’s primarily bringing in third-party content.
You can see uninspired curation posts everywhere. I won’t call anyone out specifically, but try a search for “[subject matter] stats” for one type. You’ll see dozens of articles all listing the same 20 statistics, most of which don’t cite their source (or they’ll cite another stats article as the source).
Lazy curation can also look like a news roundup with nothing but headlines and hyperlinks. Or a “x best books” that’s just a list of titles. Or a quotes roundup with content everyone’s seen a dozen times. There are lots of ways to go quick, easy, and dull.
What sets good curation apart from lazy curation is an intent to provide value. Lazy curation is all about filling blog space. The alternative is to understand your audience and actively seek out stuff they might have missed that would be useful to them.
[bctt tweet=”What sets good #curation apart from lazy curation is an intent to provide value. @NiteWrites #ContentMarketing” username=”toprank”]
Your curated content should also include your brand’s point of view. Anyone can compile a list of links. Stand out by bringing valuable editorial context that only you (and your brand) can provide.
#4 – Single Drafting
It takes work to make sure your content is the best it can be. And look, I know how it goes: Sometimes the deadlines are looming, the creation process was slow, and you just want to click “Publish” on that first draft. It may not be perfect, but it’s something, right? Maybe you can glance over it once before you publish. You do good work; who needs an editor?
Based on some of the content I’ve read recently, publishing without editing is a new favorite content shortcut. But all those typos, awkward sentences, and trailing thoughts can hurt your credibility.
We believe every piece of content needs at least two pairs of eyes on it. Everything gets an edit. Even this blog post by a senior content writer. Ideally, you should write, edit, and have someone else QA before you publish. It’s as simple as that.
#5 – Shallow Influencer Marketing
We all know influencer marketing – working with industry experts and thought leaders to add value and credibility to your content – is a great way to increase amplification, connect with new audiences, and build valuable relationships.
The quick and easy way to do influencer marketing is use a tool to find influencers, pay them for content, then go your separate ways. Like the other shortcuts on this list, it’s quick, and it works – for a while. Until the budget runs out, or your audience gets jaded, or your influencer gets on someone else’s payroll.
Shallow influencer marketing is similar to a celebrity endorsement. There’s no relationship-building, no follow-up, no mutual excitement for the content you’re creating. Of course, some influencers want financial compensation, and that’s fine. But if you want truly effective influencer content, something has to be in it for them beyond the money.
We strive to cultivate relationships with people who are not only influential, but smart, fascinating, and doing cool stuff we want to share with our audience. Over time we have developed a community of influencers who we love working with, and who love working with us.
The True Danger of a Shortcut
All of the above shortcuts seem like they can save time or effort with just a little trade-off in quality. But those little compromises add up, and can actually hurt you in the long run. The real danger, however, is that chasing these shortcuts keeps you from optimizing, improving, and perfecting.
[bctt tweet=”Constantly chasing #contentmarketing shortcuts keeps you from optimizing, improving, and perfecting. – @NiteWrites” username=”toprank”]
Definitely keep an eye out for ways you can genuinely increase efficiency. Move faster and get better results over time. But remember that there’s no shortcut for doing it right and doing it well. There’s only the route.
There are no shortcuts in content marketing. But there are ways to increase productivity and efficiency in a strategic way. Check out these posts to find more inspiration:
- 16 Ways to Be More Efficient With Content Creation
- 5 Productivity Hacks to Bring Content Creation from Failing to Flying High
- 6 Quick & Dirty SEO Research Tips for B2B Content Planning
Of if you need help planning your route? Check out our content marketing services.
This post was written by Arpun Bhuhi and Tammy Yu. The two spent their summers interning in the London and Seattle office, respectively. Arpun and Tammy have chosen to continue their digital marketing journey as analysts at Distilled.
To aspiring digital marketers and SEOs, the Distilled digital marketing internship is a wonderful opportunity to learn, grow, and start your career. As interns, we had the chance to work for a company with a great work culture and learn from some of the best professionals in the industry! Aside from the greatest experience ever, here are our top 11 perks (we couldn’t agree on just 10!) of being a Distilled intern:
11. Throwback to Nintendo ‘64
Each of the offices includes a Nintendo ‘64. After work, you can often catch Distillers racing each other for first place on Mario Kart.
10. Casual attire
At Distilled, we pride ourselves in working smarter, not harder. That applies to office attire. Come in wearing what you feel most comfortable in and do great work!
9. Explore a new city
Distilled have smashed it when it comes to the location of the offices. You will find yourself either in the middle of London, New York or Seattle and you will never be short of things to do. The summer internship is three months long which is also the perfect amount of time to experience a new city and to see if the city is somewhere you want to pursue your career. Wherever you are placed remember to enjoy the experience – work hard, play hard.
8. Summer hours
During the summer, Distilled adopts “summer hours”. Essentially you work 9am – 6pm Monday through Thursday and Friday become a joyous, happy half day! You will be in either London, New York or Seattle so think about how much you could fit into the free afternoon. Everyone loves a sunny Friday afternoon to themselves!!
7. Party time!
Each office hosts their own summer party and bi-monthly parties. It might be an all-day event filled with breakfast, snacks, boating and/or an evening happy hour. The best thing is getting to know your colleagues outside of a work environment – and it’s paid for by Distilled!
6. Attend conferences and collect all the SWAG
With Distilled you will have the opportunity to attend digital marketing conferences, whether that is SearchLove, MozCon for the Seattle interns, or BrightonSEO for the London interns. This does depend upon when the dates fall. If you are lucky, this is a great time to widen your knowledge base, network with industry experts, understand Distilled’s role within the industry, and most importantly, collect the free swag.
5. Flexible hours
Need to come in late or leave early? Need to catch an early commuter bus that will force you to be in the office early? That’s totally fine! As long as you attend all your meetings, get your work done, and get your weekly hours in, work hours are pretty flexible.
4. Beer o’clock
Beer o’clock happens at 5 pm on the dot, every Friday without fail. All drinks are work sponsored including a range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages – fun for all! This is not only great for the obvious reason of beer on a Friday but also it is a perfect time to get to know your team, learn about the office and play some card games!
3. Build your network
Networking is often regarded as one of the most important job advancing strategies. With connections across the globe, you are sure to make connections that will last beyond the duration of your internship. That connection might be your future mentor, your next “in” to your new adventure, or one that will give you the stellar reference to make your application stronger.
2. Nobody puts Baby in the corner
No one is ever physically placed in a corner, fear not! As an intern you are free to explore all areas of Distilled; you can delve into the deep sea of SEO, explore your creative side and help with Distilled’s own marketing.
1. Knowledge, knowledge, knowledge
Distilled loves knowledge, each and every Distiller is keen to learn more! It seems, when you first join, that everyone around you has an unlimited capacity of knowledge. You will hear words like “hreflang” and “canonical” flying around then panicky Google them. Everyone at Distilled is always happy to help you, happy to spend time explaining the broadest concept to the tiniest detail. Distilled also have their own online university platform called DistilledU so you will have the learning resources at your fingertips. You will learn so much in just your first week.
Interested in becoming a Distilled intern?
Justin O’Beirne has published another amazingly detailed analysis of Apple Maps and how it has developed compared to Google Maps. While I shall yield to Justin’s mastery of all things geospatial, I feel like he kind of punted on his analysis of Apple Maps’ business listings data.
O’Beirne observes that Apple Maps has few business listings for Markleeville, CA and then claims “all of the businesses shown on Apple’s Markleeville map seem to be coming from Yelp, Apple’s primary place data provider.”
While only Apple and Yelp know for sure, I am fairly certain Yelp is not Apple Map’s “primary place data provider.” I imagine Yelp is Apple’s primary U.S. business review provider, and perhaps has a significant role in helping Apple verify a business is in a specific place with specific data, but there are several other business listings data providers that likely are providing the “primary” place data to Apple, not the least of which includes Acxiom, Factual, Neustar Localeze and TomTom. These companies likely have significantly larger POI datasets than Yelp, while Yelp likely has the lead in newly created businesses in its popular categories. Clear Channel Broadcasting may also be a provider, although it is unclear what data it is exactly providing Apple.
In his analysis of Apple’s lack of businesses in Markleeville, O’Beirne claims that “Apple Maps doesn’t have some of the businesses and places Google has.” This is possibly true, but not based on the data O’Beirne shows. Here’s his comparison of what Apple and Google show for a section of Markleeville:
I think O’Beirne is confusing that Apple Maps is not displaying the businesses in this view v. actually having them. Each of the highlighted businesses on Google Maps are on Apple Maps, they just don’t appear in the default view of this section:
I believe a lot of the Markleeville business data (surprisingly) comes from Factual, not Yelp.
O’Beirne also makes a point about a discrepancy between Apple Maps and Yelp re a single listing as evidence of a larger problem. O’Beirne states “there’s a place on Apple’s map with no Yelp listing at all: the “Alpine County District Attorney”. Even stranger, it appears to be a garage:” Then he shows the following the Apple Maps listing next to an image of a garage at the same location from Bing Maps:
The problem actually is that Apple Maps has the Alpine County DA location correct, but it also has a dupe listing in the wrong place:
I am not going to claim that Apple Maps has fewer dupe listings than Google Maps, but given the amount of crap we deal with for clients on Google Maps on a daily basis, I wouldn’t be surprised if this were the case. Regardless, the really odd thing is that had O’Beirne checked Google Maps, he would have seen its address for the Alpine County District Attorney’s office is 100% wrong:
I am not trying to dispute O’Beirne’s take that Apple Maps still has a long way to go and it may never get to feature parity with Google Maps, but maybe Apple Maps is not in as bad shape as he thinks.
This year, Hootsuite announced that 3.196 billion people are now active social media users. That is 42% of all the people on earth. In the UK, that percentage climbs to 66% and it’s 71% in the US. Even with recent data protection scandals, platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Wechat, and Pinterest are a huge part of daily life.
This kind of impressive cut through makes it more likely that we can use social media to find our audience, but that doesn’t mean that everyone on the platform is desperate to hear from us. In reality, when we use social media as businesses we’re competing for what might be a very small, very niche, but very valuable cross-section of a network. This means that whenever we do social media marketing, we need a strategy, and to have a successful social media marketing strategy it’s vital to know how we compare to our competitors, what we’re doing well and what threats we should be worrying about.
Without effective social media competitor analysis we’re working in the dark. Unfortunately, a lot of the time when we compare social media communities we keep coming back to the same metrics which aren’t always as informative as we might like. Fear not! Here’s a guide to find the social media stats which really tell us which competitors to watch out for and why.
What are we trying to achieve with social media?
One of the biggest problems with creating a social media strategy is the subjectivity of social can make it incredibly hard to get solid, reliable performance data that can tell us what to do next. If we want to get actionable information about how we compare to competitors, it’s important for us to start with why we’re on the platforms to begin with (we’ll use these agreed facts in later sections). If we agree that;
- The value of a social media competitor analysis is to help us perform better on social
- The value of social is to help us achieve the business objectives that we set out in the first place.
Then we can agree that the numbers we look at in a social media competitor analysis must be defined by what we actually need the networks to achieve (even if it takes a while for engagement to become page views).
With that in mind, here are the most common aims I think we try to achieve through social media, ordered roughly from high commitment on the part of our audience, to low. When we are comparing social networks we need to make sure we have an idea of how the numbers we look at can contribute to at least one of the items below (and how efficiently).
- Sales (this can include donations or affiliate marketing as well as traditional sales)
- Support (event attendance etc. paid event attendance being included in sales)
- Site visits (essentially ad sales, visits to websites that don’t run on ads can be considered a step towards a sale)
- Impressions/staying front of mind (this is also a prerequisite for each of the above).
Why we should stop talking about raw follower counts
We often hear social media accounts evaluated and compared based on raw follower counts. If we agree we should look at numbers that are defined by our key goals I have some reasons why I don’t think we should talk about follower counts as much as we do.
“Followers” is a static number trying to represent a dynamic situation
When we compare social communities we don’t care how effective they were in 2012. The only reason we care about how effective they were over the last six months is because it’s a better predictor of how much of the available audience attention, and conversions they’ll take up over the next six months. What’s more, as social networks grow, and implement or update sharing algorithms, the goal posts are moving, so what happened a few years ago becomes even less relevant to the present.
Unfortunately, raw follower count includes none of that context, it’s just a pile of people who have expressed an interest at some point. Trying to judge how successful a community will be based on follower count is like trying to guess the weather at the top of a large hill based solely on its height – if it gets really big you can probably guess it’ll be colder or windier, but you’re having to ignore a whole bunch of far more relevant factors.
Follower buying can also really throw off these numbers. If you want to check competitors for follower buying you may be able to find some signs by checking for sudden, unusual changes in follower numbers (see “What we should look at instead”) or try exporting all their followers with a service like Export Tweet and check for a large number of accounts with short lifespans, low follower numbers or matching follower numbers.
An “impression” is required for every other social goal
I’m going to move on to what other numbers we should look at in the next section, but we have to agree that in order for anyone to do anything you want with your content, they have to have come into contact with it in some way.
Because of the nature of social networks we can also agree the number of impressions is unlikely to exactly match the follower number, even in a perfect system – some people who aren’t following will see your content, some people who are following won’t. So we’ve started to decouple “follows” from “impressions” – the most basic unit of social media interaction.
Next we can agree – if an account stops producing effective content, or stops producing content altogether, follower count will make no difference. A page that posts nothing will not have people viewing its nonexistent posts. So follower count isn’t sufficient for impressions and impressions are necessary for any other kind of success.
Depending on the kind of social network, the way in which content spreads though it will change. Which means follower count can be less decisive than other systems in different ways. We’ll look at each format below in isolation, where a network relies on more than one means (for instance hashtags and shares) the effect is compounded rather than cancelled out.
Discovery driven by hashtags
Ignoring other amplification mechanisms (which we’ll discuss below), follower count can be much less relevant in comparison to the ability to cut through hashtags. The end result of either a large, active following or content effectively cutting through a hashtag (or both) will be shown in the engagement metrics on the content itself, we have those numbers, so why rely on follows?
Discovery driven by shares and interaction
The combined followings or networks of everyone who follows you (even at relatively small numbers) can easily outweigh your audience or the audience of your competitors. Engagement or shares (whatever mechanism the platform uses to spread data via users) becomes a better predictor of how far content will reach, and we have those numbers, so why rely on follows?
If you’re interested in analysing your followers or competitor followers to find out how many followers those followers have and compare those numbers, services like Export Tweet will let you export a CSV of all the followers of an account, complete with their account creation date and follower number. Also, if you have to look into raw follower numbers this can be a way of checking for fake followers.
Discovery guided by algorithms
In this case, content won’t be shown to the entire following, the platform will start by showing it to a small subsection to gather data about how successful the post is. A successful post is likely to be seen by most of the following and probably users that don’t follow that account too, a less successful post will not be shown to much more than the testing group. Key feedback the platforms will use to gauge post success is engagement and, as we’ve said, we have those numbers, why rely on follows?
This particular scenario is interesting because having a very large audience of mostly disengaged followers can actually harm reach – when the platform tests your content with your audience, it’s less lightly to be seen by the engaged subset, early post success metrics are likely to fare worse so the content will look less worthy of being shared more widely by the platform. This can mean that tactics like buying followers, or running short-term competitions just to boost follower count without a strategy for how to continually engage those followers, can backfire.
I’m not saying follower count has no impact at all
A large number of follows does give an advantage, and make it more likely that content is widely seen. The fact is that in most cases, engagement metrics usually tell us if posts were widely seen, so they are a much more accurate way to get a snapshot of current effectiveness. Engagement numbers are also far closer to the business objectives we laid out above so I’ll say again, why rely on follows?
At most I’d only ever want to use follower count to prioritise the first networks to investigate – as far as I’m concerned it isn’t a source of the actionable insights we said we wanted.
What we should look at instead
In many ways, engagement-based numbers are the best to look at if we want to put together a fair and informative comparison including accounts we don’t own.
Engagement numbers are publicly visible on almost every social network (ignoring private-message platforms), meaning we aren’t having to work with estimates. What’s more, engagement is content-specific and requires some level of deliberate action on behalf of the user, meaning they can be a much better gauge of how many people have actually seen and absorbed a message, rather than glancing at something flying past their screen at roughly the top speed of a Honda Civic.
What business goal does this relate to?
Impressions. As mentioned above, engagements require the content to be on-screen and for the user to have recognised it at some level. Because engagements are like opt-in impressions, we can judge comparative success at staying front of mind. We could also use it as a sign that our audience is likely to take further action, like visiting our site or attending an event, depending on how you interpret the numbers (as long as it’s consistent). It’s fuzzy, but in a lot of ways less fuzzy than follows (due to removal from actual business goals) and actual impressions (due to lack of data). What’s more, the inaccuracy of this data leans towards only counting users who cared about the content, so it’s something I’m happy to live with.
That being said, when you’re comparing your own community to itself over time (and not worrying about competitors) impressions itself is still a good metric to use – most social platforms will give you that number and it can give you a fuller idea of your funnel (we’ll cover impressions more below).
What numbers should you use?
As with follower change and impressions (which I discuss below), we need to control for varying follower base and posts-per-day. I’d recommend:
- Engagements per (post*follower) (where you multiply total follower count by total updates posted)
- Engagements per post
- Total engagements per post.
The first number should help you compare how well a follower base is being engaged, the second should give an idea of return on investment, and the third is to avoid being totally thrown off by tiny communities which might not actually be moving the needle for business objectives.
It’s worth checking the Facebook and Twitter ad reporting (relatively new additions to each platform) to see if the page is spending money promoting that content.
What tools should you use?
The platforms themselves are an option for gathering engagement numbers, which is one of the reasons this kind of check is ideal. This can be as simple as scrolling through competitor timelines and making notes of what engagement they’ve received. Unfortunately, sometimes this is time-consuming and many platforms take steps to block scraping of elements. However, I’ve found some success with scraping engagement numbers from Facebook and Twitter and I’ve included my selectors in case you do manage to use a tool like Agenty or Artoo.js to help automate this.
|Number||Shares||Likes||Comments||Additional comments||All visible posts|
|Number||Interactions||All visible posts|
Facebook Insights is another great source of information because it’ll give you some direct comparisons between your page and others. It’s not quite the level of granularity we’d like but it’s easy, free, and direct, so gift horses and all that.
NapoleonCat – I don’t work for this company but they have a 14-day free trial and their reports offer exactly the kind of information I’d be looking for, for both managed profiles, and ones you are watching. That includes daily raw engagement numbers, and calculated engagement rate and SII their “Social Interaction Index” which claims to account for differing audience size, allowing direct comparison between communities.
The hitch is that Twitter and Instagram only start collecting information from when you add them to the account, so if you want to collect data over time you’ll need to pay the premium fees. On the other hand, their support team has confirmed that they’re perfectly happy with you upgrading for a month, grabbing the stats you need, removing your payment card for a few months (losing access in the process) and repeating six months later for another snapshot.
Socialblade – offers some engagement rate metrics for platforms like Instagram and Twitter. It doesn’t require you to log in but the data isn’t over time so your information is only as good as your dedication to recording it.
Fanpage Karma does an impressive job of trying to give you actionable information about what is engaging. For instance, it’ll give you a scatter chart of engagement for other pages, colour coded by post type. Unfortunately, anything more than a small number of posts can make that visualisation incredibly noisy and hard to read. The engagement-by-post-type charts are easier to read but sacrifice some of that granularity (honestly I don’t think there is a visualisation that has engagement number and post type over time that isn’t noisy).
It’ll also let you compare multiple pages in the same kind of visualisation where the dots still show number of engagement but are colour coded by page instead of post type, patterns can be a bit easier to divine with that one but the same tension can arise.
If you’re tracking these stats for your own content Twitter analytics and Instagram Insights are great, direct, sources of information. Any profile can view Twitter analytics, but you’ll need an Instagram business profile to look at the Instagram data. At the very least, each can be a quick way of gathering stats about your own contents’ impressions and engagement numbers, so you don’t have to manually collect numbers.
If you have to include a follower metric…
If you have to include a follower metric, I’d advise focusing on something far more representative of recent activity. Rather than total or raw number of follows, we can use recent change in followers.
While I still think this is a bit too close to raw followers for my liking, there’s one important difference – this can give you more of an idea of what’s happening now. A big growth in followers could mean a network is creating better content, it could also mean they’ve recently bought a bunch of followers, either way, we know they’re paying attention.
What business goal does this relate to?
Some people might use this number to correlate with impressions, but as I said we can use other numbers to more accurately track that. This number (along with raw post frequency) is one means of gauging effort put into a social network, and so can inform your idea of how efficient that network is, when you are looking at the other metrics.
These numbers are also likely closer to what senior managers are expecting so they can be a nice way to begin to refocus.
What number should you use?
We need to account for differing community histories, a way to do this is to consider both:
- Raw followers gained over a recent period
- Followers gained over a recent period as a proportion of total current followers.
We can use these two numbers to get an idea of how quickly networks are growing at the moment. The ideal would be to graph these numbers over time, that way we can see if follower growth has recently spiked, particularly in comparison to other accounts of similar focus or size.
Once we’ve identified times where an account has achieved significant change in growth, we can start to examine activity around that time.
What tools should you use?
NapoleonCat (I promise I’m not getting paid for this) can give you historic follower growth data for accounts you don’t own, although unfortunately it only reports Twitter follower growth since the point an account starts being monitored (other networks seem to backdate).
Socialblade offers historic follower stats for accounts you don’t own, the first time anyone searches for stats on an account, that account will be added to Socialblade’s watchlist and it’ll start gathering stats from that point. If you’re lucky, someone will already have checked, otherwise you can have a look now and check back later.
It can be harder to get a comparison of impressions for content, but it’s one of our most foundational business objectives – a way to stay front of mind and ideally build towards sales. Everything we’ve covered in terms of Follower numbers is a step removed from actual impression numbers so it’s worth comparing actual impression numbers for recent content where we can.
What business goal does this relate to?
Impressions, but as impressions are the minimum bar to clear for all of our other business goals, this can also be considered top of the funnel for other things.
What numbers should you use?
- Impressions per (post*follower) (where you multiply total follower count by total updates posted)
- Impressions per post
- Total impressions per account/all impressions for competitor accounts during that same period
Once you have collected impression numbers from a range of accounts on the same platform which are targeting the same audiences, we can sum them together and compare total impressions per account against total impressions overall to get a very rough share of voice estimate. This number will be heavily impacted by users who view content from one account again and again, but as those users are likely to be the most engaged, it’s a bias we can live with. Again, comparing this over time can give us an idea of trajectory and growth.
Some accounts may try to drive up key metrics by posting a huge number of times a day, there’s definitely a law of diminishing returns so as with engagements I’d also get an average per-post impression number to gauge comparative economy.
As this is post-specific, I would also recommend breaking this numbers down by post type (whether that be “meme”, “blog post”, or “video”) to spot trends in effectiveness.
What tools should you use?
Fanpage Karma again goes out of its way to give you means of slicing this data. Just like with engagement you can show impressions by post type for one Facebook page, or compare multiple at the same time. It can result in the same information overload but I definitely can’t fault the platform for a lack of granularity. Unlike with engagement, the platform will pretty much only give you impression data for Facebook and unfortunately sometimes it’s patchy (see the SEMrush and Moz graph below).
It’ll also give YouTube view information, as well as giving you a breakdown of video views and interactions based on when the video was posted, it also offers cumulative figures which show how the performance of a video improved over time.
Tweetreach will give estimated reach for hashtags and keywords, by searching for a specific enough phrase, you can get an idea of reach for individual tweets, or a number of related tweets if you’re smart about it.
This is specifically people sharing a page of your site on a social network. It may help us flesh out some of the impressions metrics we’ve been dancing around, particularly in terms of content from your site or competitors’ being shared by site visitors rather than an official account.
What business goal does this relate to?
Impressions, site visits generating ad revenue
What numbers should you use?
To control for volume of content created by different sites, I would look at both total number of shares and shares per blog post, for example, during the same time period. It could also be valuable information to sum total follower count of the accounts that shared the content, to weight shares by reach, but that could be a huge task and also opens us up to the problems of follower count.
What tools should you use?
Buzzsumo will let you search for shared content by domain, and will let you dig in to which accounts shared a particular item. It can give a slightly imbalanced picture because it’s just looking for shares of your website content (so don’t expect the figures to include particularly successful social-only content for example) but it’s an excellent tool to get a quick understanding of what content is doing how well, and for who.
This can be difficult information to gather but given its potential value to our business goals it’s worth getting this information where we can.
What business goal does this relate to?
Site visits generating ad revenue, event attendance, sales, depending on where the link is pointing.
In my experience it’s usually much harder to get users to click away from a social media platform than it is to get them to take any action within the same platform. Sharing links can also cause a drop in engagement, often because the primary purpose of the content isn’t to encourage engagement – success with a user often won’t be visible at all on the platform.
What numbers should you use?
- Clicks per (link post*follower) (where you multiply total follower count by total updates posted)
- Clicks per link post
- Total link clicks
What tools should you use?
Understandably this is fairly locked-down, Fanpage Karma again goes out of its way to get you the data you need, and does offer to plot posts against link clicks in one of those scatter graphs we love. I’ve reached out to them for information on how they collect this data, will update when I hear back. As with impression data, click data can sometimes be patchy – the platform seems to miss data consistently across metrics.
Outside of that, the best trick I’ve found is by taking advantage of link shortener tracking. For example, anyone who uses free service Bit.ly to shorten their links can also get access to link click stats over time. The thing is, those stats aren’t password protected, anyone can access them just by copying the Bit.ly link and putting a + sign at the end before following the link.
Here are the stats for a link Donald Trump recently shared in a tweet.
Go forth and analyse
Hopefully, some of the metrics and processes I’ve included above prove helpful when you’re next directing your social media strategy. I would never argue that every single one of these numbers should be included in every competitor analysis, and there are a whole host of over factors to include in determining the efficacy of a community, for instance; does the traffic you send convert in the way you want?
That being said, I think these numbers are a great place to start working out what will make the difference, and will hopefully get us away from that frequent focus on follower numbers. If there are any numbers you think I’ve missed or any tips and tricks you know of that you particularly like, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.