Direct marketing testing vs. social marketing testing

Throughout the ages, savvy direct marketers have used testing strategies to refine their marketing efforts and boost results. In fact, even as a fledgling copywriter, I used to tell clients that if you’re going in the mail, you should be testing something. That’s because the market will tell you what it likes. Offer A vs. Offer B. Creative A vs. Creative B. Email Subject Line A vs. Email Subject Line B. You get the idea.

These days, social media’s thrown a lot of new avenues for reaching out to your audience into the mix. So, the question is, can you use the same (or at least, similar) testing methodologies to hone your social media results?

The answer is yes, you can test social media. Plus, there are additional benefits to testing your social media marketing that direct marketing doesn’t provide, namely:

  • Faster response times. Social media marketing responses can be measured in seconds and minutes instead of days and weeks.
  • Emotional insight. Using carefully chosen search terms (like your brand plus emotive words like “love, “like”, and “hate”), you can get the pulse of your audience even if they aren’t speaking directly to you. In fact, companies like Alterian provide software that “automatically determines the sentiment of a conversation, so you know exactly how people feel about your brand.”  (In case “I adore XYZ Brand” isn’t enough.)

So, how do you test your social media marketing? The fundamentals aren’t that different from direct marketing:

  1. Set a goal. As with direct marketing, your ultimate goal is a business goal (increased sales, faster conversions, and higher spending at conversion to name a few). Prolific media blogger Jeremiah Owyang wrote a great blog post and whitepaper in which he took business objectives and broke them into key performance indicators. Take his KPIs and break them further into measurable goals that are relevant to your business’s social media presence.
  2. Test the big stuff first. Just like the direct marketers do it, test the things that can and will have the greatest impact on your results. That means test your offer, your creative, and your list (your fans, followers, retweeters, etc.).
  3. Measure and analyze. What are the right metrics to use? Is your metric the number of friends and fans? Number of retweets? Click-throughs to your website from your social presence? Is it the time between click-through and purchase? That depends on your goal and your plan for moving ahead. In his article The 10 Social Media Metrics Your Company Should Monitor, Raj Dash at Social Times recommends 10 metrics—including social media leads, engagement duration, bounce rate, membership increase, conversions from leads into cold, hard cash in whatever way you get it (sales, paid subscriptions, paid advertising to name a few), brand mentions, loyalty, going viral and blog interaction.
  4. Compare apples to apples. In your test, make sure you’re comparing a similar size of a similar demographic at a similar time for a similar offer. Any of these elements that are too different will throw off the results of your tested element.

If you’re still not sure what to test, here are a few ideas. Pick the ones that are relevant to your business:

  • Tweet a link to the same blog post with two different titles.
  • Drive potential new fans to your Facebook page by testing two different ads.
  • Secure potential new fans to your Facebook page by testing two different landing pages (i.e., your wall or a custom page).
  • Discover how closely your market is listening to you by measuring which of your tweets they retweet.
  • Compare the number of comments between two types of blog posts and try writing two more of a similar style to test again.
  • Ask the same question in two different ways on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.

Last but not least, the two most important tips I can give about testing, whether it’s social media testing, direct marketing testing or any other kind, are these:

  1. Build it into your budget and schedule. If you’re running around the office as the sole advocate for testing, it’s an uphill battle. Get buy-in from the team and build testing into your plan, including a post-mortem to review results and a Plan B for implementing next steps. Otherwise, you’ll lost the momentum and potential uptick.
  2. Keep it simple. Testing can feel overwhelming. After all, it’s hard enough to get one campaign out there, more or less figure out how to rejigger it in order to examine and improve results. But it is worth it.