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Case Study: Social Media Campaigns Outperform Banner Ads for Driving Quality Web Traffic

Jim Tobin.
By: Jim Tobin  |   April 12, 2011  |   View Comments

Large brands like the ones we work with typically include social media marketing as part of a much larger marketing mix, as they should. They frequently run TV ads, banner ads, PR programs, pay-per-click, print ads, out of home, event marketing and more.

As budgets for social media marketing increase, one valid exercise in determining performance is to benchmark performance against other marketing activities in which you invest. We recently analyzed two campaigns we did last year for one of our clients (left unnamed here) and compared it to the performance of banner ads, an area where this client typically invests significant resources.

A few points to note here:

  • In each example, the banner ads and social campaigns were trying to drive quality web traffic to the same place. However, the two examples shown drove to different websites.
  • Neither campaign was attempting to drive to e-commerce. If they had, we would have been able to measure sales, which would have been nice.
  • To be as balanced as possible, each example pulled the first month of a campaign, even if the campaigns (ad or social) ran over several months.
  • In each case, we roughly calculated “net new visitors” by looking at visitors above the non-campaign site average, which was fairly consistent when no campaigns were activated.
  • This was a retrospective analysis, meaning we looked back after the fact to measure the performance, in part as a way to allocate resources for the next year.
  • The banner ad budget was part of a larger advertising budget and the social media campaign budget was part of a larger social media marketing budget.

Example One: Social Contest versus Banner Ads

In this first case, the client ran banner ads (produced and designed by another agency) to promote a specific product. Several months later, we ran a social contest that drove traffic to the same site while promoting the same product. Here are the results.

As you can see, in this campaign, social media marketing outperformed banner ads by 6.5x in terms of the cost per visitor. Not only that but by common metrics of visitor quality, the visitors coming to the site through the social campaign were more engaged than visitors from display ads. We’ve seen this “engagement multiplier” in many of our campaigns over the years.

Banner ads did have higher goal conversion rates (the goal in this case was to reach a key page on the site indicating high product interest), but social drove many more total goal conversions. This makes sense because banner ads are more direct in working to sell a product, while social campaigns have to engage users in an activity first.

Example Two: Banner Ads versus Social Game with Sweepstakes

Same client, different product, different campaign. This one involved banner ads again done by someone else, then a period of quiet, then a promotion Ignite Social Media did involving a social game in which you could also win prizes. As you’ll see, the investment in banner ads was a lot more significant than the investment in social media marketing (the social campaign budget was less than ¼ of the banner ad campaign budget), but the results favored the social media effort nearly 10 to 1.

In this case, the client was not tracking a particular goal page, so we don’t have the benefit of that metric for either traffic driver in this case. The social media campaign did have specific goals for those visitors (which we were fortunate enough to exceed), but since they were not the same goals as the banner ads, we did not attempt to compare them here. Both efforts were, however, designed to drive quality traffic to the product pages on this website.

Conclusions

In these two examples (the only two we’ve ever compared this way), we see some promising results:

  • Social media marketing campaigns outperformed banner ads roughly 6.5 to 10 times in terms of cost per visitor.
  • The quality of the visitors coming from social media marketing was also higher in terms of pages/visit, time on site and bounce rate.
  • Therefore, in these examples, it cost less money to drive more traffic via social media marketing, and that traffic behaved more optimally once it arrived.
  • When you can’t track online marketing all the way through to spend, one valid method of measuring return is to measure it relative to your other marketing investments.
  • When banner ads are meant to drive traffic (as opposed to branding), the relevant metric may be cost per visitor instead of cost per thousand (CPM) impressions.
  • Track more than online “buzz” such as mentions, fan growth, likes and comments. Be sure you’re asking your social media marketing to do some of the heavy lifting that your other digital marketing is expected to do.
  • Whenever possible, ensure that you have set up measureable goal conversion funnels that can demonstrate social media marketing’s contribution to meaningful business objectives.

This exercise was eye opening for both us and the client. Have you ever benchmarked your social campaign performance versus your banner ad performance, your pay-per-click performance or some other metric? How’d it work out for you?


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25 thoughts on “Case Study: Social Media Campaigns Outperform Banner Ads for Driving Quality Web Traffic

  1. We Know Online Marketing

    The diverse usage of Social Media gives each & every users to explore what they think about their content either Business campaign or a their own observation. It is observed that Social Media sites is now working as a simultaneous host for the user. Starting from Business ideas, branding, campaigning & even advertising among all users. So, Social Media brings about a drastic change in business approach.One of the great benefits to the exposure that you can get through social media is the result it has on the branding of your blog. Branding is key to building a success blog in the long-term, and social media is an excellent, free option for helping visitors to see your blog in a particular light.

  2. We Know Online Marketing

    The diverse usage of Social Media gives each & every users to explore what they think about their content either Business campaign or a their own observation. It is observed that Social Media sites is now working as a simultaneous host for the user. Starting from Business ideas, branding, campaigning & even advertising among all users. So, Social Media brings about a drastic change in business approach.One of the great benefits to the exposure that you can get through social media is the result it has on the branding of your blog. Branding is key to building a success blog in the long-term, and social media is an excellent, free option for helping visitors to see your blog in a particular light.

  3. Dean

    With all due respect, its unfair to compare the results of a contest campaign against a non-contest campaign. Having performed these in the past I know that any campaign where there are prizes will ALWAYS outperform non-incentive campaigns - that's the whole point of running them. KPIs like visitors, page views, time on-site and cost per visitor always work in the favor of these types of campaigns. There is an entire sub-culture people who enter any campaign regardless of their interest level in the product/service. The only really fair way to compare metrics is by comparing tactic that promote the same contest, event, product.

    If it were measured I am sure that the metrics would show that revenue related metrics for the contest campaign (be it banners, social media, or whatever) would be abysmal.

  4. Dean

    With all due respect, its unfair to compare the results of a contest campaign against a non-contest campaign. Having performed these in the past I know that any campaign where there are prizes will ALWAYS outperform non-incentive campaigns - that's the whole point of running them. KPIs like visitors, page views, time on-site and cost per visitor always work in the favor of these types of campaigns. There is an entire sub-culture people who enter any campaign regardless of their interest level in the product/service. The only really fair way to compare metrics is by comparing tactic that promote the same contest, event, product.

    If it were measured I am sure that the metrics would show that revenue related metrics for the contest campaign (be it banners, social media, or whatever) would be abysmal.

  5. Jim Tobin

    Dean, I beg to differ. While total traffic for a contest may be expected to outperform total traffic for an ad buy, the quality of that traffic and reaching the goal pages (completely unrelated to the contest and links the visitor had to seek out) is the real measure. Our campaigns crushed the ad campaigns.

    What's relevant is this: If I have $100,000 and want the maximum number of people to come to my site and show signs of considering my product by how they act on my site, should I put that $100k into banner ads, or should I put that $100k into a social campaign.

    In these two examples, the $100k investment in social was superior by virtually every measure.

  6. Jim Tobin

    Dean, I beg to differ. While total traffic for a contest may be expected to outperform total traffic for an ad buy, the quality of that traffic and reaching the goal pages (completely unrelated to the contest and links the visitor had to seek out) is the real measure. Our campaigns crushed the ad campaigns.

    What's relevant is this: If I have $100,000 and want the maximum number of people to come to my site and show signs of considering my product by how they act on my site, should I put that $100k into banner ads, or should I put that $100k into a social campaign.

    In these two examples, the $100k investment in social was superior by virtually every measure.

  7. Dean

    I'd put the $100,000 into optimizing my pages (SEO) and AdWords but that's a whole different argument ;)

  8. Dean

    I'd put the $100,000 into optimizing my pages (SEO) and AdWords but that's a whole different argument ;)

  9. Lucas

    I would be interested to see what type of demographic the campaigns were trying to reach. The thought being that a younger demographic would post better results around a social campaign but an older demographic my gravitate towards the traditional banner ads.

  10. Lucas

    I would be interested to see what type of demographic the campaigns were trying to reach. The thought being that a younger demographic would post better results around a social campaign but an older demographic my gravitate towards the traditional banner ads.

  11. Edward Yaw

    HI Jim, This is really good information to have thank you for sharing it. we all know how social media is exploding all over the place for every kind of business under the sun. But to have it broken down like this you can really see the benefit of using a social media campaign over a traditional banner ad campaign.
    That's awesome thanks.

  12. Edward Yaw

    HI Jim, This is really good information to have thank you for sharing it. we all know how social media is exploding all over the place for every kind of business under the sun. But to have it broken down like this you can really see the benefit of using a social media campaign over a traditional banner ad campaign.
    That's awesome thanks.

  13. Harald Heukers

    Which kind of social media did they use? Did they use Twitter links or did they ran a Lead campaign in Facebook for example? In other words, the comparison is a little biased because you compare a display campaign (push) with a social media campaign (push & pull)

  14. Harald Heukers

    Which kind of social media did they use? Did they use Twitter links or did they ran a Lead campaign in Facebook for example? In other words, the comparison is a little biased because you compare a display campaign (push) with a social media campaign (push & pull)

  15. Rob W

    Was the "offer" the same in the social versus the banner ad campaign? The social campaigns promoted a contest and then a sweepstake i.e. provided a clear incentive for the user to participate. Did the banner ads provide the same offer? If not, it is not a fair test (comparing campaigns at different periods as makes it unfair but I appreciate the complexity in trying to do that) i.e. the success could have been driven by the incentive, not the social mechanics.

    From my experience both display and social media have important roles to play as part of an integrated marketing campaign.

  16. Malia

    Thank you for sharing this data. Does Ignite have examples in which testing for social vs display is done simultaneously? I'd just prefer to eliminate that timing variable before using the data in conversations with clients. Additionally, what type of social media was used?

  17. Anonymous

    A really interesting, insightful article. Thanks! Following from Malia's response below, I agree. Did you run these tests simultaneously also? The reason I ask is that, by doing these tests at different time periods, are they not potentially subject to differing exogenous driving factors? Would it not be fairer to run these tests at the same time to remove this problem? Would this not, therefore, be a fairer comparison?

    This is not a critique, just a genuine interest, as I am looking into performing such comparitive tests in the future, any input would be greatly appreciated...

  18. Market_Forces

    A really interesting, insightful article. Thanks! Following from Malia's response below, I agree. Did you run these tests simultaneously also? The reason I ask is that, by doing these tests at different time periods, are they not potentially subject to differing exogenous driving factors? Would it not be fairer to run these tests at the same time to remove this problem? Would this have the consequence of being a fairer comparison?

    This is not a critique, just a genuine interest, as I am looking into performing such comparitive tests in the future, any input would be greatly appreciated...

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