Proving the Value of Social Media: A Detailed Case Study

In March this year I was contacted by a company called The Tattoo Shop for assistance with its social media strategy. Six months later and the company’s revenue has increased by an impressive 23%.

As a case study, it goes a long way towards proving that the strategic use of social media marketing can have a significant impact on a company’s bottom line. So let’s take an in-depth look at how I’ve done it…

The Background

The Tattoo Shop is an ecommerce company that supplies tattoo machines, equipment and consumables to tattoo studios in the UK and throughout Europe. With a seven figure revenue, the owner of the company approached me back in the Spring and explained that they’d been using social media for some time but that they didn’t really have any direction and were struggling to identify any real benefit from it.

The use of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram had grown organically “just because”. It’s far from an uncommon story that I hear an awful lot when companies first contact me.

At that time I knew absolutely nothing about tattooing, the tattoo industry or even tattoos themselves.

So I set about immersing myself in the tattoo artists’ world.

Research & Planning

My first port of call for The Tattoo Shop, as with all of my clients, was to devise a strategy for social media. There’s no point in just cracking on without a clear rationale for what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

Audience Research

The first part of this involved researching the audience and where they hang out, and what sort of relevant content they like to consume. At this stage I made use of user profiling data from Global Web Index and interviewed a number of tattoo artists to help me understand their attitudes towards social media and how they use it.

It became clear that Facebook and Instagram were the leading platforms, and that visual content was critical.

Competitive Analysis

I then looked at what the company’s competitors were up to and used Brand Archetypes modelling to carve out and define a communications niche for The Tattoo Shop so that its brand personality would stand distinct from the likes of Killer Ink and Barber DTS.

12 brand archetypes

Data Analytics

Following this I analysed The Tattoo Shop’s Google Analytics data in some detail to see where and how I could have an impact, and how we could measure that. It was here that my first suspicions about Twitter being largely irrelevant were raised as, although there were a decent number of click throughs from content being posted on the platform, the quality of the traffic in terms of dwell times, depth of visit and conversions was poor.

Content Strategy

Only having done all of this work did I set about devising the content strategy. I looked at what content I would be able to access from the client and what I would need to generate myself, and I took a platform-centric approach to The Tattoo Shop’s social media. I outlined an approach for each platform that took into account the specific characteristics of the platform and devised a number of content ‘themes’ for testing.

Evaluation

And then, crucially, I devised a measurement framework using the 4R model to measure not only social media metrics to evaluate content, but website analytics and sales data to evaluate actual return on investment. For me, this was critical in either proving or disproving the case for using social media for The Tattoo Shop.

After a couple of weeks of research and planning, in mid April, we started to implement the new strategy.

The Importance of Visuals

We started off posting three or four times per week to Facebook, five to ten times per day to Twitter (including @replies) and once per day to Instagram. At this stage I was applying a £15 post boost to each Facebook post, with different posts boosted to different custom audiences targeted in Facebook’s Ad Manager depending on the nature of the content.

One of the first things I realised was that the product photography available to me was simply not good enough for social media. While the shots themselves were of good quality and perfect for an ecommerce website, a picture of a rotary tattoo machine on a white background, no matter how well lit and shot, was not going to cut the mustard on Instagram or even Facebook.

Social Media Photography

This posed a problem. The Tattoo Shop has an inventory of hundreds of products and it was simply not feasible from the perspectives of time or cost to ask the owner to re-shoot everything in a new studio setup. So after a bit of lateral thinking and a chat with the guys at commercial specialists Captured Image Photography, I hatched a plan and secured budget from the client.

Captured Image spent some time at a couple of different tattoo studios taking wide background shots of the environment and the artists at work. These now form the basis of new product photography produced especially for social media use.

Every month the client sends Captured Image eight or nine products that we will feature on Instagram and Facebook over the following few weeks. These are shot in the studio with lighting that matches the background images and are then superimposed on the backgrounds to create the illusion that they were shot on-site.

social media photography

The impact was immediate, and not only did social media engagement start to climb during May but so did website conversions.

The value of the photography was proven during June. As part of a highly targeted ad campaign to push a specific brand of needle cartridges, I A-B tested some adverts using the old imagery and the new imagery. The new images significantly outperformed the old, with click through rates approximately 20% higher.

Evolving Strategy

Over the next three months, the strategy evolved significantly as I analysed what was working, what wasn’t and experimented with different approaches and content.

Eliminating Non-Performing Channels

My initial suspicions about Twitter proved to be correct. Although I was able to significantly increase the engagement rate and reach on the platform by employing a conversational approach and mixing product posts and links with wider topical content, this made little if any difference to website metrics and conversion data.

So, at the end of July I recommended that Twitter be put in a ‘holding pattern’. While I did not think that The Tattoo Shop should simply stop using it, I could not make a case to continue investing time and effort into Twitter. And so I set up an account on Social Jukebox and uploaded approximately 50 evergreen tweets that are now posted automatically and randomly on a rota of four per day, with no tweet appearing more than once every ten days.

The platform is kept ‘alive’ to keep driving broad awareness but at minimal to no effort and cost.

By the end of August I had also come to a similar conclusion about Instagram. Although I was achieving some very good results for The Tattoo Shop in terms of engagement and reach by blending the new product photography with topical posts and regrams that showcased artists’ work, the effect of this activity on direct website traffic and conversions seemed to be minimal.

However, conversions had continued to increase throughout the previous four months and I wanted to identify the source.

Detailed Analysis

I had driven a lot more traffic from Facebook during the campaign period and the quality of these visitors was very high – they were spending a long time onsite and the average number of pages per visit was way above that for other traffic sources.

But while this was great, a deep dive into Google Analytics revealed that while direct sales from Facebook had indeed increased, they were not responsible for the significant revenue increases we were seeing.

What was happening, however, was that there were were significant increases in website traffic from both organic search and direct sources, and that it was from these visitors that the majority of conversions and revenues were coming.

It is important to note here that the client had not carried out an SEO programme or updated its website. Nor was it using PPC advertising or carrying out any other marketing activity other than email marketing (the results for which show up separately in Google Analytics and are easily traceable).

After eliminating all other possible explanations (as I did not want to incorrectly claim that social media was responsible), I was left with only one conclusion. And this matches everything I know about the way people use social media and the web.

Ecommerce & Buyer Behaviour

Social media, like PR, does not often directly drive sales. It can, of course, but the way people behave online is not to click on a link on Facebook, visit a website and make a purchase. When we click on Facebook links or tweets we are in ‘browse’ mode not ‘buy’ mode.

So instead, when we find a website we like we either bookmark it or we write it down or we just log it in our brain somewhere. Through repeated exposure to a brand’s content across multiple channels we build up a (hopefully favourable) impression of a brand or product. And then, when we’re in ‘buy’ mode, we either visit that website directly (via a bookmark or a Google search) or we search for a related term (eg ‘Nocturnal tattoo ink’), in which case we’re already predisposed to a website (like www.thetattoooshop.co.uk) when it appears in search.

consumer journey

This is exactly the conclusion I was left with. All of the social media activity I was implementing for The Tattoo Shop was generating brand awareness and brand affinity. This in turn was driving more direct traffic from people seeking it out when they needed to purchase, and greater click throughs from organic search results (which in turn helps SEO given Google’s increasing focus on user signals to drive search results).

Experimentation

With this in mind, during September I experimented with focusing more on Facebook as a) the visitor quality is very high, and b) this is where I can create the greatest relevant reach using Facebook’s interest and behaviour targeting.

Over the last three months we had slowly been increasing the amount we were spending on post boosting from £15 to £30 per post, carefully tracking engagement to check that we weren’t reaching a point where we were over-exposing our audience to the brand. During September our Facebook posting rate was increased to five times per week and the post boosting amount upped to £40 per post.

At the same time, the posting rate on Instagram was dropped to match that of Facebook and the content from Facebook repurposed (rather than generating additional content for Instagram). In short, the experiments continue!

So where are we now?

Results

Using just a few of the metrics I have been tracking in the 4R model, progress is very distinct.

Reach

Prior to implementing the new strategy, The Tattoo Shop was reaching under 2000 people per post on Facebook. It now reaches an average of 20,000 targeted tattoo artists per post, 40% of which is organic.

Response

The Facebook post engagement rate has tripled, from an average of 0.8% to 2.5% during the period. It is this increased level of interaction that has driven the growth in organic reach.

Resonance

Website visitor quality has increased significantly. Dwell time on the website has increased by 9%, average pages per visit have increased by 15%, and the bounce rate has declined by 32%.

Return

Comparing the five months the new strategy has been implemented to the previous five months, average revenue increased by 23% per month. Year-on-year, average revenue increased by 25% per month.

Conclusions

To be very clear, even with this level of evaluation I cannot categorically prove that social media is driving revenue increases for The Tattoo Shop. But if social media is not responsible it’s one hell of a coincidence that revenue jumped by 26% the month after the campaign was implemented and then stayed at record levels!

The company has changed nothing else in the last six months other than to adopt a strategic approach to social media marketing, and the correlation with that activity is extremely strong. Put it this way, we’re currently looking at how to scale things further.

Featured image credit: NordWood Themes

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