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The Five Forces Driving Attribution: Media Measurement Comes of Age

May 27th, 2011

Advertisers are (finally) looking beyond the last click.  Here is an overview of the Five Forces that are driving adoption (also published by MediaPost in May 2011)

It’s been 3 years since measurement buzzwords “attribution” and “engagement mapping” emerged with great anticipation and excitement in online advertising.  The idea of looking across digital channels and beyond the last click to measure media throughout the funnel was thought to be the holy grail in online marketing.  Recognizing that “last-click wins” is insufficient for measuring the brand-building attributes of display media, brands, agencies and media vendors saw Attribution as the next big thing in digital advertising.

Yet as we entered 2011, very few marketers were using Attribution to measure and optimize online media spend.  Despite the universal desire for better measurement, most were still using old metrics (click-through rates, cost per click and direct cost per action) to analyze paid media.  Greg Papaleoni, who develops Analytics and Insights for Yahoo! Advertising Solutions, sums it up well: “While Full Funnel Attribution is the future of the ever-evolving digital media measurement landscape – it should be the present.  Those advertisers who embrace and implement this logic, methodology and technology sooner rather than later will enjoy a massive advantage over their competition.”

While adoption has been slow to date, this is changing quickly due to the convergence of numerous factors.  Borrowing on Michael Porter’s “Five Forces” model for analyzing industries, here is my take on the Five Forces that are driving digital media attribution (author note – I received permission from Professor Porter to adopt his model to this category):

1. The continuing shift of media budgets from traditional to digital.

While total U.S. media spend will grow only 3% in 2011, digital spend will grow 14%, surpassing Newspaper as the #2 medium.  Accounting for almost 30% of daily media consumption, Digital spend will continue to outpace all other channels for the foreseeable future.

2. The resurgence of display advertising

Per eMarketer, Display media spend will grow 14% in 2011, outpacing 10.5% growth in paid search.  While there are many reasons behind the growth (consumption of social, video and mobile content, better targeting capabilities, real-time bidding, richer formats, etc.) I believe the resurgence of display is driven by two primary factors:

  • The maturing of search: There are only so many searches every day, and most marketers have optimized their paid search efforts.  For the big advertisers, there are no more keywords to buy.  As one search exec was recently quoted “paid search inventory is maxed out.” Incremental dollars will have to go elsewhere.  Display is the obvious choice.
  • The return of branding:  As the economy recovers, marketers are re-investing in their brands.  During lean times, online dollars focused on harvesting existing demand (via search).  But with the improving economy, brand-building is once again a strategic priority.  In the digital realm, display media offers the most efficient, effective and scalable way to create awareness, consideration and preference for brands, products and services.

3. Increasing focus on accountability

While marketing budgets may have loosened, the focus on results has not.  As a result, marketers are keeping a very close eye on ROI from “brand-building” media.  With the ever-increasing need to show ROI, brands now want branding plus performance.  To properly measure brand-building media, we need to measure engagement, not clicks.

4. Evolution of web architecture

Recent forays by IBM and Oracle into the marketing arena signal a new wave in convergence of IT and Marketing.  As the IT behemoths push technology-based marketing solutions, CIOs are becoming more attentive to the needs of the marketing department.  The deployment of Data Management and Universal Tagging Platforms enable advanced analytics and media measurement that were off-limits to marketers in the past.  With this roadblock removed, the stage is set for new measurement tools to be deployed across their digital infrastructure.

5. The emergence of better Attribution solutions.

While early Attribution solutions were expensive and limited in capabilities (e.g. couldn’t attribute credit for organic conversions), a new breed of point-solution vendors (including my company Encore Media Metrics), are now offering more effective, flexible and affordable solutions.  For a very modest investment (as low as 1-2% of media spend), advertisers can now have a much more holistic and accurate view into the performance of each channel, vendor, format, placement and keyword.  These insights are enabling advertisers to optimize media budgets, yielding 20-40% gains in revenue.  The immediate return on investment in Attribution solutions may exceed 1-20x (100%-2,000%).

The Five Forces Driving Attribution are illustrated below:

Five Forces Driving Attribution

As our business objectives change, so must the manner in which we measure results.  As dollars continue to flow into digital, brands and their agencies must use more efficient, accurate and effective metrics for measuring media throughout the funnel.  The emergence of more advanced and affordable Attribution solutions, supported by growing support from IT departments is paving the way for Attribution to become a foundational component within the digital marketing ecosystem.

Matt Miller, SVP of Strategy & Analytics at Performics, agrees, stating “Attribution is one of the top priorities for us and our advertisers.  Focus on attribution will only increase as advertisers build and implement strategies to maximize ROI across all digital channels.”

As always, comments are encouraged. And please feel free to share!

Steve Latham (@stevelatham)

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AdExchanger Q&A with Steve Latham, Encore CEO

April 12th, 2011

Encore’s CEO was recently interviewed by AdExchanger, a leading online marketing  news publisher, about the launch of Encore, the problems we solve and how we’re positioned.  You can read the article on AdExchanger or see the transcript below.  Enjoy and feel free free to share!

Encore Media Metrics Incorporating Attribution For Paid, Owned And Earned Media

Encore Media MetricsSteve Latham is CEO of Encore Media Metrics, an attribution technology company.

So, what problem are you solving with Encore?

We solve 2 problems for agencies and brands alike.  First, we provide advanced attribution and measurement, enabling them to see across channels and beyond the last click to measure performance of paid, owned and earned media.  While most marketers are aware of the need for attribution, very few are doing it.  Second, we allow them to offload the tedious, manual work of reporting and measurement, which is a loss-leader for most agencies.  They need good metrics, but it’s hard to justify the cost of large teams needed to manage all aspects of reporting.  We offer a cost-effective way to produce the insights they need to optimize budgets and maximize campaign ROI.  So to sum it up, we provide better reports and deeper insights in a way that saves them time and money.

I believe we’re hitting the market at a great time and that this will be the year Attribution goes mainstream for a few reasons.  First, paid search is maturing and expanding digital budgets will have to be deployed elsewhere (display, social, mobile, etc).  There are only so many searches every day and most companies have optimized their ppc campaigns.  The low hanging fruit in search has been picked; further gains will be in much smaller increments and will require buying short-tail terms that start conversations rather close them (hence the need for keyword attribution).  This is supported by the fact that Display will grow faster than search in 2011 and is expected to outpace it for coming years. Search is still the big dog, but display and other brand-building media are nipping at its heels.  If you believe Eric Schmidt’s prediction of a $200 billion global display market, we’re still very early in this game. Other factors driving Attribution are the increasing focus on accountability, the upgrading of web architecture (e.g. adoption of universal tags) and the emergence of affordable attribution solutions – such as ours.  These factors are converging to make 2011 a very exciting year for those of us in the attribution space.

What’s your view on the competitive set and where you’ve been and how would you say you differentiate?

To understand how we’re positioned, you must first understand how the Attribution marketplace is segmented. For starters, there are two different approaches to attribution: operational attribution and statistical or algorithmic modeling. Each approach has its place and I believe they are more complementary than competitive. Statistical modeling analyzes vast amounts of data to look for correlations that indicate how media channels (display, search, email, affiliate, etc.) work together to drive results. Modeling allows you to see which channels feed each other, and which mix should yield the best overall ROI.

In contrast, operational attribution creates detailed records for each visitor that enable you to see which ads were seen and clicked on, how the visitor found your site, what pages they viewed and what actions they took. You can then query the data to analyze engagement paths and assess the performance of each channel, vendor, keyword and placement. We believe operational attribution is the foundation for advanced analytics as it’s based on actual visitor data (vs. a black box) and provides much more granular insights into performance of all types of media. Once you have operational attribution, you can then do advanced modeling of that data to glean additional insights. But, operational attribution will provide 80-90% of the insight you need to optimize your spend.

Within the Operational segment, you then have to look at the extent of attribution: lower-funnel (click-based) vs. full-funnel (clicks and impressions). While click-based attribution is better than nothing, it doesn’t answer the question: “which media buys are creating demand?” The lower-funnel approach relies on clicks, which may be great for search, but insufficient for measuring the impact of display media. If you want a true picture of which ads are creating demand and which placements are satisfying demand, you need a full-funnel solution.

Now to the original question: how are we positioned vs. our competitors? While I can’t speak for our competitors, I can say we differentiate in a few ways: 1) we incorporate attribution from social media (even in the absence of referring clicks), allowing us to provide attribution for paid, owned and earned media, 2) we have a flexible approach that is designed to accommodate varying needs of agencies and brands (no long-term commitments, pay for what you use, etc.), and 3) we are affordable for most marketers. If a client spends between $50,000 and $5 million per month in online media, they can afford our solution.

Is scale of ad spend critical to Encore’s services – attribution, media mix modeling?

If you’re asking is Attribution is only suited for the biggest advertisers, the answer is no. It really doesn’t matter how much you spend; you still need to look across channels and beyond the last click to optimize your mix. Even if you’re only spending $50,000 a month, a small incremental investment can yield a dramatic improvement in Return on Spend. Any advertiser who is buying more than just search is going to benefit from Attribution.

What’s your view on the “view‑through conversion”?

View-throughs are good for ad networks seeking to optimize their media placement, but they are limited in what they offer advertisers.  If you are buying display media from 5-6 vendors, you’re likely to get some view-throughs from each buy.  While view-throughs tell you if an ad was seen they don’t tell you which ads were the most effective (and cost-effective) in creating demand, or how each media buy influenced results from paid or natural search.  You can’t analyze recency or frequency and you can’t tell the order in which ads were viewed.  You need more details to truly understand which placements created demand, the role they played in the engagement path, and how to attribute credit within the channel.  Yes, you need a full-funnel attribution solution.

What’s the difference between attribution modeling and media‑mix modeling?

In the context of measuring the impact of digital media, they’re effectively the same thing.  But for most marketers, media‑mix modeling encompasses all channels, including TV, print, radio and other traditional media.  Within that context, operational attribution should play an important role in providing the inputs that go into such a model.  We can provide a much more accurate and richer set of data inputs that will enable the global media mix model to produce more relevant and insightful outputs.  As mentioned earlier, it shouldn’t be “either / or” when evaluating operational vs. algorithmic attribution.  They can work in concert quite well.

What do you see out there as the most difficult channel to provide the sort of service you’re providing today?

Within digital media, Social is definitely the hardest to measure.  First, referring clicks are not good indicators as very few actually click-through from social sites to the brand’s web site (see “Connecting the Dots”).  But beyond clicks, how do you attribute credit back to people who are watching your You Tube channel, viewing comments on your Facebook page or reading a blog about you?  It’s hard because you can’t cookie browsers on 3rd party social media sites.  While Facebook now allows marketers to set cookies via iframes on company pages, very few are doing it.

Some try to do social attribution via correlation or looking at directional trends, where a social mentions drove a spike in traffic and a lift in conversions.  But this approach is, in technical terms, “squishy.”  For most, social attribution is a future goal more than a near term objective.

But since you asked, I should mention that we offer a unique solution to the social media attribution problem. We use a patent-pending tool that allows us to identify which visitors or purchasers have engaged with the brand in social media, regardless of whether or not they clicked through to the site.   Through this, we can draw a direct line between online conversions and the social interactions that preceded them.  We think it’s pretty cool and we’re seeing a lot of interest from brands, agencies and media vendors.

Do you see social media attribution as an opportunity?

It’s definitely something we see as a differentiator but it should be viewed as part of our solution for two reasons: 1) social should be integrated with other channels from a measurement perspective, and 2) it’s hard to make a ton of money on social media measurement.  A brand may spend $500-$1,000 to measure social interaction, but they’re not likely to spend more on the tool than they do on their social media marketing efforts.  You also don’t want to be a one-trick pony in the digital landscape.  Things move too quickly and one player (e.g. Google) can make render your product obsolete overnight.  So we see it as a differentiator and a conversation starter more than a standalone offering.

What is Encore’s target market?

We serve brands and agencies who are seeking to create demand and/or drive sales through paid, owned and earned digital media.  While we can accommodate budgets as low as $50k per month, our sweet spot is campaigns with budgets of $100,000 to $2 million per month.

In general, Attribution tends to be more appropriate for considered purchases, e.g. financial, auto, travel, health care, luxury goods and anything B-to-B.  The longer the sales cycle and the bigger the ticket, the more you need Attribution.

We work with brands, agencies and trading desks of all sizes, even those with internal ad ops teams.  Even if they have a bench, they still need better tools to produce the insights their planners and customers demand.

How does pricing work? Do you charge on according to media spend or is it a per seat?

We price our solution as a technology (vs. a flat % of media spend) that is tiered based on the scope and scale of the campaign.  In general, we charge a fixed fee that covers the planning, production and client services, along with a cpm-based fee that covers the cost of data capture, storage and analysis.  The fee as a percentage of the media budget will vary significantly.  If you’re buying premium placement media at $10cpm, our fees are tiny.  If on the other hand you’re going for scale (e.g. $2cpm), the fee will be slightly higher as a percentage of spend.  But in either scenario, we’re very affordable and the ROI is hard to beat.

What sort of milestones would you like the company to have accomplished?

My primary goal for 2011 is for Encore to become widely known as a leading provider of measurement, attribution and reporting services.  If there is a discussion about Attribution, I want us to be one of the solutions that are always mentioned.  Our value proposition (better reports, deeper insights, affordable and adaptable) is hard to beat, and we look forward to proving it to leading brands and agencies.

Follow Steve Latham (@stevelatham), Encore Media Metrics (@EncoreMetrics) and (@adexchanger) on Twitter.


Attribution 101: Full Funnel Media Measurement

March 17th, 2011

The What, Why and How of Online Media Attribution
[if you like presentations, view “Attribution 101” on slideshare]

Anyone who has ever bought (or sold) display ads is painfully aware of the need for new metrics for online media.  While “last-click wins” may work for paid search, it fails miserably in measuring the impact of display and other media at the top of the funnel.  Hence, the need for full-funnel Attribution, which allocates credit for “assists” in the customer engagement cycle.

By attributing credit to contributing impressions and clicks that precede subsequent visits and conversions, marketers can have a much more accurate and holistic view into the performance of each channel and vendor.  While most interactive marketers are familiar with Attribution, many are still trying to understand what it is and how it works.

The Need for New Metrics

While digital is the most measurable medium, the “one-size fits all” approach to online media measurement needs to be re-evaluated.  While click-through rates (CTRs), cost per click (CPC), direct conversion rates and cost per action (CPA) may be applicable for search and other “bottom-of-the-funnel” media, these metrics are not appropriate or insightful for measuring performance at the top of the funnel, where demand is created.

Display ads can be very effective in achieving their objectives (driving awareness) without any clicks or direct conversions.  A recent Media Math study showed that 80% of post-impression conversions are the result of viewing display ads without clicking and only 20% of conversions are the result of a click.  In other words, for every conversion that follows a click on a display ad, there are four (4) post-impression conversions without clicks.  The upshot: we need better tools and methodologies for measuring the performance of media at the top of the funnel.  This is where attribution comes into the picture.

Defining Attribution

Attribution is the art and science of allocating credit to all interactions that play a supporting role in the customer engagement process.  In other words, it’s the act of giving credit for assists.  Rather than viewing results from each digital channel in its own silo (a la traditional web analytics platforms), Attribution requires you to take a holistic approach to analyzing how each touch-point contributes to the overall goal (visits, conversions, etc.).

With the resurgence of display advertising, Attribution is becoming increasingly important for optimizing media budgets.  As shown in the Google trends chart below show, searches for “online attribution” have increased 150% over the past 36 months.

Approaches to Attribution

Generally speaking, there are two types of Attribution: Operational and Algorithmic / Media Mix Modeling.

  • Operational attribution consists of creating detailed records of every impression, click, visit and action for each visitor to your site, regardless of the source or channel (e.g. display, paid search, natural search, direct navigation, email, social, affiliate, etc.).  Data is then organized and reported in such a way that visitor paths and media placements can be effectively (and efficiently) analyzed.  By understanding which paid, owned and earned media placements are driving the most effective engagement, you can optimize spend and marketing efforts to boost ROI.
  • Media-Mix / Algorithmic Modeling consists of analyzing impression data, search data, email data and web log files to statistically correlate patterns and trends to fine tune campaigns.  This “black box” approach is useful but it depends entirely on the hard-coded assumptions and calculations in the model.

We believe operational attribution is the foundation for advanced measurement and analysis of media.  The operational approach of giving credit for assists is intuitive, logical and easy to understand.  Once the operational attribution model is defined, algorithmic modeling can be used to further optimize the media mix.

Channel Level Attribution

Channel level attribution addresses the relative roles of each media channel in driving traffic and conversions.  Attribution requires an algorithm that attributes partial credit to display impressions and clicks that precede visits and conversions.  The weighting of impressions relative to clicks will vary based on the type of ad, format, placement and other issues.  For example, highly-targeted rich media placements should have higher weighting than Run-of-network animated .gifs.  Weightings should be customizable for each vendor and placement.

The channel attribution report below shows the relative impact (last click vs. attributed) of each channel: direct navigation, natural search, referring sites, email, paid search, display advertising and 3rd party email.  As shown, attributable credit for display ads may be 50-400% higher than a last-click report would show. It should also be noted that paid search generally sees a net increase in attributable actions as short-tail keywords often play contributing roles in the customer engagement process.

After attributing credit for actions for each channel, spend data can be imported to show the adjusted cost per action for each channel, as shown below. As illustrated, we typically see a 30-80% decrease in attributable cost per action (CPA) for Display, and a slight drop in CPA for paid search (resulting from keyword assists)

Attribution chart

Vendor Level Attribution

Looking beyond channel level, we use the same approach to assess the performance of each media buy.  Shown below is a sample report showing the cost per action for each media vendor, both last-click and attributable.  As shown, some media buys can appear to be very poor performers on a last-click basis, but are in fact very effective for creating demand that is subsequently satisfied through other channels.


Keyword Attribution

Short-tail keywords (category terms, product terms, etc.) often play “assist” roles in the customer engagement process.  Just as it’s important to know which display ads precede visits and conversions, assist keywords should also be identified.  In many cases, assist keywords may perform poorly on a last-click basis, but perform very well in an attribution report.

The Business Case for Attribution

Attribution is more than just a buzzword – it is an essential part of campaign measurement and a requirement for optimizing media spend.  As illustrated below, moving “loser” budgets to the “winning” vendors can produce a dramatic improvement in revenue and return on spend.

Beyond the improvement in media efficiency and ROS, the economic benefits also accrue to:

  • Media planners: save wasted time and energy trying to replace ostensibly “bad” buys that are actually quite effective
  • Ad Ops and analytics teams who are tasked with aggregating silos of data into massive .xls workbooks (attribution vendors will do this for you)
  • Media vendors whose ads are actually engaging customers and creating demand that is satisfied through other channels.

As an industry, we have to do better.  We can’t use yesterday’s tools to measure tomorrow’s media. Attribution should no longer be an aspirational goal, but rather a key part of your 2011 digital marketing strategy.  The economic returns are compelling and there are numerous vendors (including us!) who would be happy to assist you in taking a more holistic approach to digital media measurement and optimization.

As always, comments are encouraged.  And please feel free to share!


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Media Attribution Demystified

March 4th, 2011

Attribution is quickly becoming a hot-topic among brands, agencies, publishers, networks and DSPs.  Fueled by the resurgence in Display Advertising, there is a new pressure to measure the impact of video, rich media and banner ads in a way that is appropriate and insightful.  While we all intuitively realize that traditional metrics for measuring online ad performance (click-through rates, cost per click, direct conversion rates, direct cost per conversion, etc.) may work well for search, but not for media at the top of the funnel.  To properly measuring performance of display media, we need a new approach.  And while everyone agrees Attribution is the answer, not everyone agrees on how to go about it.

While most think Attribution is only for those with big budgets, there are many affordable ways to attribute credit to each media channel while learning how to optimize your digital media mix.   In the presentation below, we define attribution, discuss the differences between Operational Attribution and Media Mix Modeling, and provide some tips on how you can determine what is working and what is not, even without an Attribution solution.

The following presentation “Media Attribution and Measurement” was recently presented at the 2011 Online Marketing Summit.  It was written for marketers of all levels, but preferably those who are scratching their heads trying to answer the following questions:

1. What is Attribution?
2. How do we do it?
3. What should I expect to find?

Media Attribution and Measurement – OMS 2011  

I hope you find this to be informative and insightful.  If you like it, share it!
Steve Latham, Founder and ceo

ROI Measurement for Online Marketers

January 10th, 2011

Throughout 2010, I had the pleasure of speaking to audiences in Washington DC, Atlanta, Austin, Dallas, San Diego, San Jose (California and Costa Rica!) and Houston on one of my favorite topics: measuring results from online marketing.  While I’ve been speaking about measuring impact and quantifying ROI for years, it was clear that marketers are increasingly shifting their focus to measurement and accountability.

When I asked attendees what they were hoping to gain from the session, one DC marketer said only half-jokingly “to justify my existence”.  I remembered it because it was funny, but also because it’s true.  Marketing budgets are still very tight, and every dollar that is spent has to be justified.  Consequently, there is an increasing focus on measuring results and demonstrating an acceptable ROI.  This not only requires  knowledge and tools, but also the ability to translate online metrics into business results that are understood by the c-level.

My presentation Closing the Gap on ROI Measurement addresses these issues in today’s context, where results matter.  The contents include:

  • How “above the line” and “below the line” are merging – digital goes through the line
  • Challenges faced by marketers today
  • How to translate online metrics into business results
  • Roadmap for Measurement Success
  • Online Surveys
  • Attribution Analysis
  • ROI Methodology
  • Case Studies to demonstrate each concept

As always, comments are welcome.  And feel free to share!

Steve Latham


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Measuring ROI: a Primer for Online Marketers

December 15th, 2010

As marketing dollars have become more scarce, the importance of measuring ROI and building a business case to support investment has become paramount.  For those seeking to better understand this subject, here’s a “simple” methodology for quantifying value.  In this case, we’ll look at ROS (return on spend = expected revenue divided by cost of online media) and ROI (expected net present value divided by total investment) from online campaigns.  If you find it to be of value, or if you have additional questions, please comment below.

Steps to Calculating Value

1. Determine the Value metric (Revenue, Margin, NPV) of a customer.
Some companies look at value of a transaction, annual revenue per customer or lifetime value (profit) of a customer.  Some assign higher values for new customers vs. a new sale to an existing customer. You need to determine what is best for your organization (hint: choose the metric that is most used by your executives).  For this example, let’s assume your average sale is $1,000 and that the lifetime value of a customer is $5,000.

2.  Assign conversion rates to approximate close rates.
Let’s assume 3% of site visitors request more information (inquiries) and that 30% of inquiries complete a purchase.  If you’ve done online campaigns before, you should have a basis for inquiry rates.  Hopefully your VP-Sales know how many leads convert to a transaction. If 3% of visitors become leads, and 30% of leads are closed, 0.9% of visitors will become customers.

3. Determine what your cost or investment will be.
Let’s assume you will spend $10,000 in online advertising (display, search, email, etc.) this month.

4. Do the math to calculate ROS and ROI:
Assuming your efforts drive 2,000 incremental visitors to your site (cost: $5 each) you should see 60 new leads (3% conversion rate) and 18 new customers (30% close rate) worth $18,000 in revenue or $1.80 direct ROS ($1.80 in revenue for every $1 spent).

The Net Present Value of the 18 customers is $90,000 ($5,000 each) yielding a Return On Investment of 900%.

If you present these types of results to your CFO, you’ll quickly find a lot of interest (and dollars) in online marketing.

Another Metric: Value per Engagement
Another way to measure results is calculating value per engagement (visit, inquiry, etc.).  In the example above, each visit is worth $9 in revenue ($18,000 divided by 2,000 visits), whereas each inquiry is worth $300 ($18k divided by 60), compared to a cost per visit of $5 and a cost per inquiry of $166.67.

Remember Your Margins
While revenue is an easy metric to measure, margins are much more important.  Assuming your gross margin is 60%, you are making profit as long as your cost per visit is less than $5.40 or cost per inquiry is less than $180.

Caveat Emptor!
Please use good judgment when applying these methodologies to your own business. Again, these are not a panacea for every situation.  But hopefully, they will give you some building blocks for quantifying the impact of your interactive marketing program.  If you have specific questions, please leave them here.  I can’t promise I’ll know the answer, but I’ll do my best to help you figure it out.  Happy number crunching!

Please feel free to COMMENT, SHARE with others and SUBSCRIBE to our blog. We look forward to your feedback!

Steve Latham, founder and ceo



November 30th, 2010

social mediaSuccess begins with a plan. Yet when it comes to social media, most dive in without a thorough understanding of objectives, platforms, tactics, requirements, responsibilities and metrics for measuring performance.

Most marketers also fail to understand the pitfalls and shortcomings that can prevent them from achieving their social media marketing goals, including:

  • content that is overly promotional
  • content that is not engaging or relevant to target audiences
  • a one-way outbound approach to communicating (it’s all about me!)
  • failing to build a network (without reach, there is no ROI)
  • one-off isolated efforts vs. an integrated approach

What most lack is a comprehensive social media strategy.  To address this growing need, I developed a new presentation to help marketers understand the opportunities, challenges and pitfalls of social media marketing while providing an operational framework for developing a social media strategy.

My presentation “Social Media Strategy” addresses the following:

  • 5 point business case for social media
  • 7 common pitfalls of social media (and steps to avoid them)
  • 10 point outline for a social media strategy

This presentation provides the information you need to craft a social media strategy.  If you find it valuable, please feel free to comment below and share with others.  Enjoy and good luck with your social media strategy!

Steve Latham
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Related posts and presentations
Business Case for Social Media
New Media Toolkit
Social Media: Shiny Object or Killer App?

New Media Toolkit (updated!)

September 15th, 2010

toolkit1The online media landscape is in a constant state of change, and with the growing list of opportunities to use digital media as a marketing channel, the tools are evolving quickly.  Below is my New Media Toolkit – a list of online apps, services and vendors that I’ve found to be of great value.  It is by no means comprehensive, but if you need help today, these are great places to start!

Competitive Intelligence Tools

  • Quantcast is an outstanding resource for assessing visitor demographics and user interests for your site and competitors’ sites.
  • is one of my favorites for analyzing comparative site traffic and levels of engagement over time.
  • should be mentioned as well.  While I don’t trust the data for site traffic (see Can You Trust Competitive Site Data?), it is the only free estimate that shows the number of page views per visit.  Since Compete no longer offers this for free, Alexa is still useful.

Search Engine Marketing Tools

  • Google Estimator allows you to forecast ad inventory, cost per click and projected media spend for a given set of keywords and geographic market.  While this is better than nothing, the results may vary significantly from reality for a variety of reasons.  Use with caution.
  • Google Ad Preview allows you to see how search results appear in different parts of the World
  • Search Status Toolbar from Quirk: one plug-in allows you to see keyword density, no-follow links, page rank, inbound links and other great tools (referred to me by Catfish Comstock)
  • Google Trends and Google Insights are valuable tools for seeing trends in keyword searches. This is one of the best ways to measure changes in demand due to cyclical or seasonal factors.

Social Networking Sites

  • Facebook: join me and 600 million of my extended friends. Just don’t freak out when your mother sends you a friend request (love you mom!)
  • LinkedIn – if you are in business and you are not on LinkedIn, you are missing the boat. Seriously.
  • Twitter – before you say no, take a test drive.  It’s a great way to promote your content and you may even have fun doing it.
  • Slideshare – best described as “You Tube for Powerpoint” slideshare is the #1 place to post your presentations and demonstrate thought leadership.  It also happens to have some powerful Google juice; several of my presentations have top rankings (e.g. “Social Media Business Case“). To see how it works check out my Social Media Strategy preso.

Social Bookmarking and News Sites

  • While there are many social bookmarking sites, I prefer and PropellerStumbleupon is also worth exploring. I tried using Newsvine but they suspended me for linking to my own blog (now that’s an interesting policy…).
  • In terms of online marketing news, I like the eMarketer, Online Media Daily (MediaPost), AdExchanger and IAB SmartBrief newsletters
  • There are many social media news sites, but if you have time for only one, subscribe to Mashable for the latest in social media news and other cool things of interest.

Social Media Tools
No media toolkit would be complete without recommending some tools to help you manage social media activities. Here are a few for your Tweeting and Posting pleasure:

  • URL Shortening: allows you to truncate links and track click-throughs. Nice way to curate content.
  • Post / Tweet Aggregators:  Over the past 12 months I have used numerous post / tweet management tools including, Twitterrific, TweetDeck and TweetLater.  But I now use and recommend Hootsuite for several reasons: 1) ability to post to multiple profiles on Twitter, Facebook, Facebook Fan pages and LinkedIn, 2) scheduling capabilities, 3) great stats, 4) intuitive interface and 5) good iPhone app.  I also use Twitter Selective Status Facebook app as it allows you to selectively update Facebook status when tweeting old-school style (using simply by adding #fb at the end of the tweet.
  • Another aggregator (a must have!) is Nutshell Mail. It is a very useful app that aggregates updates from Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. and sends them to you in an email.  If you are blocked from accessing social networking sites at work, this will help. I also LOVE that it allows me to Unfollow with one click from the email.  It’s easier and faster to Unfollow from Nutshell than it is from Twitter.
  • Social Media Bookmark aggregator: Onlywire is a decent plug-in that allows you to share once and post across most social bookmarking sites.  If you have a blog you can use it for free (just add some code to your blog).  Or you have to pay $2.99 per month.
  • Blog Monitoring: several vendors offer solid toolsets.  The more robust and comprehensive, the more expensive, ranging from SM2 and Addictomatic (both are free) to the not-so-free social media monitoring tools BuzzMetrics and Radian6.

Twitter Tools

  • is Twitter’s native search engine; use it to find out how much you or your competitors are being discussed on Twitter. Using tools like Hootsuite you can now access Search.Twitter through the dashboards.
  • For charts showing how many users are following you (or your competitors) over time check out TwitterCounter.
  • If you are trying to keep your ratio of Following to Followers in check, use FriendorFollow to find out which of those you are following are not returning the favor.
  • If you are seeking to find influencers on Twitter (users with lots o’ followers), TweepSearch is a great place to start.
  • MrTweet connects you with others on Twitter based on interests and industries
  • Twitpic allows you to upload pics with your tweets (and we all like pictures!)
  • Everythingtwitter is well… I guess the names says it all

Call Tracking Tools

Your web site should use dedicated numbers that allow you to track the source of inbound calls.  Two vendors we’ve used are Voice Star and Mongoose Metrics.  Both allow you to track the source and duration of inbound calls at a relatively low price.

Campaign and Social Media Measurement

If you’re seeking to answers on how to measure the impact of online media (Paid, Owned and Earned) you should visit us at  All we do is media measurement and attribution; and we do it very well.

Miscellaneous Wrapping this up, I’ll recommend Wordle as a fun, yet practical, app you can use.  Wordle creates wordclouds in a variety of formats. Here’s one I created using the copy from this blog pos5. Enjoy!

Picture 4

Again, this is not intended to be the all-encompassing New Media Toolkit, and I’m sure there are many great tools that were overlooked.  That said, I hope these are helpful in becoming a more prolific online marketer.  Please feel free to COMMENT, SHARE with others and SUBSCRIBE to our blog. We look forward to your feedback!

Steve Latham (follow me on Twitter)

Spur Interactive TwitterContact-us3c



Twitter Best Practices for Social Media Marketers (Updated 2010)

August 7th, 2010

twitter birdFor 2+ years I’ve been advising clients on how to use Twitter as a marketing platform.  Surprisingly, it seems that most brand marketers still don’t get it.  With the goal of doing my part to help the industry master this channel, I’m sharing my best practices for Twitter Marketing.  While these may not be comprehensive, they will provide you with 90% of what you need to be proficient at building your brand via Twitter.  In order of priority – here is my list. Enjoy!

Twitter Best Practices for Social Media Marketing (according to @stevelatham)

1. Brand Your Profile
Before you start tweeting, make sure your profile is appropriately branded.  Update your profile, including a tight summary of who you are and how you distinguish yourself.  Include your URL and use a pic that can be identified when viewing a stream on a mobile device.  You can now find personalized Twitter backgrounds for cheap so there’s no excuse not to have one (see ours here).

2.  Provide Interesting and Engaging Content
While Tweeting is easy, it’s important that you do it right, starting with a solid content strategy.  Content recommendations include:

  • Based on approved content guidelines, create Tweets that are engaging and relevant to target audiences.  It should be easy for potential followers to see that your tweets are valuable and worth reading.
  • Introduce your content.  People often provide links to articles without any explanation as to why it might be relevant to the reader.  I always try to provide my take on whatever it is I’m linking to.  I’d recommend you do the same.
  • Write tweets that will be shared.  Rather than simply posting links, introduce links with compelling copy that encourage clicks.
  • Allow time to pass between each tweet (at least 15 minutes) for several reasons: 1) no one likes to have their dashboard of tweets dominated by one account, 2) if someone is not watching they are likely to miss them, 3) spreading them out demonstrates consistency that yields brand benefits.
  • Limit Tweets to 120 characters so they can be easily re-tweeted without exceeding the 140-character limit. See “120 is the new 140” from @BrianSolis for more tips.
  • Leverage real-time search by prominently including buzzwords that will picked up by Google, Bing and other search engines.
  • For more on Content Marketing check out @juntajoe and his blog.

3. Remember! Engagement = Listening + Responding
Social media is about interacting, and you can’t do that if you’re not listening.  In addition to listening for your brand mentions, you need to keep an eyes on what your network is tweeting about and participate in the discussion.  Here are some tips:

  • Use tools to track when your profile or brand is being mentioned on Twitter.  Tools include as well as the SM monitoring tools mentioned previously.
  • Use the native search feature in your Twitter management tool to follow topics that are of importance to you.  For example, I have a search column in Hootsuite for “Social Media Strategy“.  This is how I keep up to date on the latest tweets on this subject.
  • When your brand is being mentioned in a positive way, RT the message, follow and recognize the person who tweeted about you.
  • Acknowledge mentions.  Monitor when your Twitter account name is mentioned and RT to thank, and/or acknowledge those who are mentioning you.
  • Build credibility and goodwill with your followers by re-tweeting (RT) posts that will be of interest to your audiences.  If you RT a follower’s post, they may acknowledge the RT to their followers, thereby promoting you in the process.

When your brand is being mentioned in a negative way, you can either 1) respond, or 2) ignore it.  If you choose to reply, consider the risks, given the nature of their tweet, their motives and their objectives. A confrontational response is rarely successful.  If you want to address a customer complaint, ask them follow you so you can then send a DM and take the conversation offline.  As mentioned above, ignoring the mention is often best.  You can inadvertently cause much greater damage if you engage in a public scuffle with a crazy person.

4. Building a network of followers
Without a network there is no reach, and without reach there is no ROI.  Contrary to most hopes and beliefs, networks do not build themselves; if you want followers, you have to work on it.  The good news is that with Twitter, the process is relatively easy.  When you follow someone, they will receive an email notification.  Currently, the normal etiquette is to respond by following the person who followed you.  Judicious tweeters will read your latest tweets to determine if your content is worth following.  If the content is good, most will follow you back – at least for a while.

  • Start with your own employees, partners, vendors and community.  Announce your new Twitter account and ask employees to follow and share with others.
  • Identify the top 50 influencers in your category on Twitter as these people can provide visibility and credibility for your brand among their networks of followers. Use, and to find users with shared interests.  Look for those who have large numbers followers and are active in sharing their opinions with the masses (aka influencers).
  • Follow people who follow your Influencers.
  • Include a link to your twitter account in email, on your site, on all social networking sites and in all correspondence.
  • Remember to maintain a favorable ratio of Following / Followers of +/- 1:1. While building your network, take time to check out who you are following that is not following you back at  For each person who is not following you, you can either: 1) stop following for good, or 2) unfollow and then re-follow.  If they do not respond on your 2nd attempt to reach out, you may consider unfollowing them for good.
  • Be careful with TwitterBots (AutoFollow) tools.  As you’ll quickly learn, building a network takes time.  If you are interested in using an network-building service, make sure  you use a credible tool or service that follows Twitter best practices. Failure to do so will result in suspension of your account.  While there are a lot of cheap bots that to avoid, there are some services that work (full disclosure: we offer one that works well).  Before you buy, do your homework and ask for references.

5. Managing Multiple Accounts
Many marketers maintain at least two types of Twitter accounts – one for their company and one for their personal tweets.   Twitter management tools (my favorite is HootSuite) allow you to manage multiple profiles.  Since many may follow your personal and work accounts, make sure you don’t tweet the same content at the same time.  Another common practice is to RT your company tweets from your personal account.  Remember that many will follow your brand and personal profiles, so make sure you space them out (no simultaneous tweeting!).

Common Twitter Mistakes to Avoid
Here are some common content mistakes many marketers make when Tweeting:

  • It’s all about me!!!  Too many still use social media a megaphone vs. a telephone.  Success requires that you listen, engage and interact with others in the community.
  • Using social media as a press release distribution platform.  While there are sites that are great for press releases, this should be the exception, not the norm.  As noted, conversations require an exchange of information.  If all you do it tell the world about your firm, audiences will grow tired of listening.
  • Boring content.  You should always seek to include and introduce links to video, articles, audio and other media that will be interesting to audiences.
  • Vague content. Doesn’t it bug you when someone posts a link with a cryptic introduction?  Make it easy for followers to see what you are presenting to them.  Introduce your links.
  • Sharing information that is confidential, sensitive or not appropriate.  This is especially important if you work for a public company or in a regulated, hyper-competitive or litigious industry.
  • Drawing unnecessary attention or being overly defensive when addressing negative comments.  Sometimes it’s best to ignore the haters.  If you respond, you may make something big out of a small issue, which may be exactly what they want you to do.

In Closing…
Again, this may not be all-encompassing, and I’m sure I’ve omitted a few important lessons.  That said, I hope these are helpful and that you find value in them.  If so, please COMMENT, SHARE and SUBSCRIBE to our blog.  Thank you for your feedback!

Steve Latham (follow me on Twitter)

Online Strategy and Best Practices for Health Care Marketing (Webinar)

December 18th, 2009

apple1A Changing Landscape
The Web has dramatically changed the way we live our daily lives – both personal and professional.  Media consumption has shifted dramatically, along with the way we seek information.  This is especially true in the health care industry where patients are taking a more active role in their health care decisions and the advent of medical tourism has created a global marketplace that is becoming increasingly competitive.

New Challenges
Health care marketers, both domestic and abroad, have a daunting task: develop and execute strategies to accommodate changes in customer behavior, fragmentation of media and increasing competition from global providers.  For many health care providers, one of the keys to success (and in some cases survival) will be the ability to reach, engage and cultivate relationships with patients via the Web.  This is clearly much easier said than done.

The Need for Direction
Most health care marketers know the Web is a critical medium for reaching patients and building your brand.  Yet many are still on the sidelines, wondering what to do, where to start and how to measure results.  Whether you’re looking at Google, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Email, Blogs or other media, there are many options and seemingly few answers to the question “what should we do?”  Based on 6+ years of online marketing in health care, along with 3+ years of social media marketing on behalf of large and small brands, I believe I have the answer which is presented in the archived webinar below (see below for table of contents).  If you’d like to view the slides (without the voice-over) view Online Strategy and Best Practices for Healthcare Marketing on slideshare.

Trouble viewing? View “Online Marketing for Health Care” on Vimeo.

Presentation Overview
With the goal of helping health care providers, marketers and facilitators understand interactive marketing, I conducted an online webinar for the Medical Tourism Association in 12/09. The lessons are equally applicable to international and domestic providers. “Online Marketing for Health Care: What You Need to Know!” addresses the following:

1. Business case for online marketing in health care
2. A five-point plan (and best practices) for online marketing success
– Understand your audience
– Optimize your Web site
– Create demand via paid, owned and earned media
– Engage and interact via social media
– Define metrics and measure results
3. Social Media: Keys To Success
– Business case for social media
– Common mistakes and pitfalls
– Tactical recommendations for success

Social Media Resources
If you want to learn more about social media, here are some related posts and presentations:

Social Media Strategy for marketers
Business Case for Social Media
New Media Toolkit

I hope you find this to be of great value to you and your organization.  If so, please feel free to comment and share with others!

Steve Latham (follow me on Twitter!)

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