August 19, 2018

Social Media Marketing: Numbers Can’t Tell the Whole Story

With social media marketing, numbers get thrown around a lot. How many visitors did you get to a particular post? How many visitors were sent from which social media sites? How many inbound links were gained? While these are some of the reasons that most of us are involved in social media marketing, it’s easy to get distracted by the numbers an lose focus of what you’re really trying to accomplish.

Ways that numbers can be deceiving:

1 – Visitors from social media can’t accurately be compared to other types of traffic sources

Getting 1,000 visitors from StumbleUpon is much different than getting 1,000 visitors from search engines. It’s also different than getting 1,000 visitors from online advertising. It’s very difficult to compare social media traffic stats to other sources because it is so much different. The standard answer is that social media traffic is less valuable than other types of traffic, but this isn’t always the case. Niche social media sites can send highly-targeted visitors, and there are plenty of other traffic sources that aren’t the highest quality. Try to avoid comparing apples to oranges.

2 – Visitors from one social media site can’t be compared to another

Each social media site has it’s own unique audience. It’s very difficult to compare the the traffic you get from two different social media sites. Digg may send 20,000 visitors to a post, but the 1,000 you received from a niche social media site may have been more valuable. Because each site is different, try not to judge one audience simply because it doesn’t compare favorably to another social media site in terms of numbers.

3 – Social media can be manipulated

Social media marketing sometimes blurs the line between optimizing a site for social media and manipulating the results. A website that draws huge numbers of traffic to genuinely high quality content will have better long-term results than one that gains an advantage in order to send traffic to content that isn’t of the highest quality. Essentially, manipulating the results may produce impressive numbers, but the results will be disappointing if the content isn’t worth the attention that it got.

4 – Return on investment is difficult to calculate

With other types of marketing and advertising, return on investment is going to determine the success of the campaign and future efforts will be built around these results. With social media it’s difficult, if not impossible, to calculate ROI accurately. There are so many elements that are involved with social media marketing that don’t produce results that can be measured with specific numbers.

5 – You can’t rely on traffic from social media

If you have 50,000 visitors from social media to your blog in one month, the next month you could have 200 or you could have 200,000. It simply is not consistent and predictable. This can make it difficult for selling or buying ads if the site relies heavily on social media. One big month unfortunately doesn’t mean that the blog has turned the corner and that traffic will be lasting. It may or it may not. Of course, if you learn throughout the process, your chances will be much better of maintaining or improving traffic levels.

6 – CPM can be thrown off

If you are trying to calculate the value of your visitors, this can greatly vary depending on what percentage of your visitors are from social media. Visitors that come from social media tend to ignore advertisements, so your click-through rates on AdSense will be lower.

7 – Subscriber numbers may be inflated

If you reach a larger number of visitors in a day with a site like Digg or StumbleUpon, you may see that the next day your subscriber count experienced a big jump. Frequently, it will drop a bit the next day. I’ve learned through experience to expect a percentage of those new subscribers to be gone quickly. This doesn’t always happen, but it can be very disappointing if you’re not prepared for it.

8 – Numbers can’t show impact

Just because a post receives a lot of traffic through social media doesn’t mean that anything has really been accomplished. Hopefully it does have an impact, but visitors alone do not mean much if they never come back, they don’t subscribe, they don’t click on an ad, etc,

What Does This Mean?

1 – You need to know what you want to get out of social media

If you’re using social media to gain exposure and grow your blog, you need to know specifically what it is that you want to accomplish. Without a plan you’ll be left with nothing but some number that really don’t mean anything.

2 – Don’t rely too heavily on social media traffic

Because it’s not consistent, you shouldn’t rely too much on social media. I’m all for optimizing your website or blog for social media and doing what you can to help your chances, but sometimes it just won’t happen. Focus on building diversity in traffic.

3 – Keep trying to improve the results and effectiveness

The learning curve with social media marketing is pretty sharp. By that I mean that you can quickly learn a lot of things that you can immediately put into practice to improve your results. Analyze your results and find the methods that work the best for you in terms of achieving your goals.

4 – Don’t be too quick to judge

Because the numbers can be so deceiving, don’t judge a particular social media site or method of marketing before you’ve given it a fair chance. Don’t give up on a specific social media site because you didn’t become popular the first week you were using the site.

What’s Your Opinion?

How do you feel about the numbers that are involved with social media? Do you agree that they can be very misleading? Why or why not?

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About Steven Snell

Steven is a web designer, blogger, and freelance writer.


  1. I’ve noticed the same thing about subscriber numbers jumping when I get a traffic spike from social media. I find that things normally drop a bit and then stabilize by a week afterward.

    I’m guessing that it varies a bit depending on the blog and what sorts of visitors the social media is sending.

  2. The longer I’m on social media the more I believe that it’s about long term reputation building. My numbers dwindle and I don’t care that much anymore. Me rep is completely different than just a year ago when I was a nobody. Now industry leaders read my blog.

  3. Tad,
    That’s a very good point. I think branding yourself is one of the best things you can do through social media.

  4. Steven,
    Firstly, have to commend you on something that was probably done on purpose. I read your guest post on problogger, and landed over continue reading on Social media and networking. As a reader I was definitely more engaged with your content because I had just finished reading an article on the same topic vein, it defo kept me on page.

    Secondly, I think Social media content tends to be linkbaity by nature, and for that reason – doesn’t instil long term subscribers, who want something with more depth. It does however come to the fore when you have a piece of content that will attract links from around the web – it gets it in front of other bloggers eyes.

  5. Great post, but I wonder why you didn’t include Technorati ranking? I must admit that I pay more attention to Technorati than I probably should, since its ranking system seems to have a few flaws in it, but it’s still seen as an important data point in analyzing blogs.

  6. Paul,
    Thanks for clicking through from ProBlogger, and yes it was intentional to have this type of post on the front page when visitors arrived from that post.

    I think you’re right in your analysis, but I do think it’s very possible to gain subscribers through social media. I’ve used that method very much on my primary blog, although conversion rates are certainly lower than some other types of visitors.

    I don’t really think of Technorati as social media. To me it’s more of a search engine and they also rank blogs. I actually think they’re system is not too bad. I used to pay more attention to it, but not so much anymore.

  7. Your article is very informative and useful. Glad I found it. Cheers.

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