Google+ trumps Twitter & Facebook in engaging social referrals

A study by content discovery and sharing firm, Shareaholic, says that social platforms like Google+ and LinkedIn drive few, but more engaged referrals compared to Twitter

e4m by Abhinna Shreshtha
Published: Apr 3, 2014 8:15 AM  | 6 min read
Google+ trumps Twitter & Facebook in engaging social referrals

A study by content discovery and sharing firm Shareaholic titled “Social Referrals That Matter” , says that social platforms like Google+ and LinkedIn drive few, but more engaged social referrals compared to Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. Shareaholic looked at the average time per visit, pages per visit, and bounce rate for visitors referred to their network of sites from each of the top 8 social media platforms.

The “Social Referrals That Matter” report, say the authors, was created to answer a simple question— What is our behaviour post-click, when we actually interact with a link one of our friends shared socially? The researchers looked at 6 months of data (Sept’13 – Feb’14) across Shareaholic’s network of 200,000+ sites reaching more than 250 million unique monthly visitors to get a sense of which social network drives the most engaged visitors.

Current advertiser favourites—Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook, suggests the findings, might not be as great as we expect them to be, if judged from the point of view of referrals. According to the study, all three lagged behind platforms like YouTube, LinkedIn and even Google + across all the three metrics. YouTube drives the most engaged traffic, with referrals having the lowest average bounce rate (43.19 per cent) the highest pages per visit (2.99) and the longest visit duration (227.82 seconds). These figures suggest videos are driving engagement. This further reinforces the belief that video content will probably emerge as the biggest driver for audience engagement going forward.

For example, Mahindra Holidays is currently engaged in creating video testimonials of their customers which the company plans to upload on YouTube and Vimeo and amplify through the Facebook page. DeepaliNaair, CMO, Mahindra Holidays& Resorts, agreed that video content increased engagement. “For the travel and hospitality segment, what we have seen is that videos offer a more enriching experience,” she added.

The case with Google+ and LinkedIn is different since both drive very few referrals as compared to Twitter and Facebook, but the Shareaholic study suggests that though they might be weak in volume, the quality of the referrals is quite high. For example, Google+users spend around three minutes (on an average)exploring links shared by their circles, view 2.45 pages/visit, and bounce only 50.63 percent of the time. Compare this with Facebook, which has an average time on site of just around two minutes, with a bounce rate of 56.35 per cent and average pages per visit of around two.

Also, according to the study, there is only a minute difference between Facebook and Twitter when it comes to referrals.  Pinterest users also seem to have fewer proclivities to explore, with a bounce rate of 56.35 per cent and the lowest pages per visit (1.71) and time on site (64.67 seconds) among the top six.

What does it mean for advertisers?

Social channels have emerged as a powerful tool for marketers to achieve amplification. An October 2013 study by market research agency Ipsos stated that of all the content shared on social media, 26 per cent were links to articles, 25 per cent were recommendations, while 21 per cent were links to other websites. It must be noted that because of the nature of the content, there is considerable overlap. For example, a post might be considered a ‘link to other website’ as well as a ‘recommendation’.

We spoke to a few advertisers about how important were social referrals for their business and whether low social referral engagement from Facebook and Twitter would bother them. On Samsung’s social referral strategy, AmanMalhotra, the company’s Head of Digital Marketing (Mobile Business),said, “Brand referrals, where we look at what people are saying about the brand, are very important. We give people an audience on our social media groups.” The company mainly uses Facebook and Twitter as part of their social media. When asked whether low engagement from social referrals for these two are a cause of worry, Malhotra said, “Our fans are willing to interact because the content interests them. At the end it depends on the community you build and whether the content is relevant.”

Mahindra Holidays is another organisation that does a lot of work on the digital front. Naaircalls retaining audience attention once they land on the brand page as the “Holy Grail of Digital Marketing”. The company’s current focus is mainly on Facebook, since, as Naair informs us, most of their TG is present on this platform. “I would of course want consumers or prospective consumers to explore more. But, just by focusing on Facebook, I am not losing out on audience from LinkedIn or Google+, since most of them are also present on Facebook and might even spend more time on it,” she said.

But what about consumer products brands andhow important are social referrals for them? Speaking on condition of anonymity, the marketing head of a prominent consumer product brand said, “It depends on category to category. When it comes to ‘younger’ product categories, peer-to-peer referrals work really well, but once you move to high-end categories, a lot of different factors come into play and referrals become just one part of it.”

Sanjay Mehta, Co-CEO, Social Wavelength, calls it a case of quality v/s quantity. His argument is that Facebook and Twitter have a more active user base, whereas Google+ and LinkedIn have a lower volume of users but these users take the medium very seriously. According to him, it depends on the sector, where consumer products might not have any relevance on LinkedIn or Google+, a technology or IT-related company might gain a lot more engagement and traction. “LinkedIn is definitely a good medium, especially with the changes that they have now made recently. B2B businesses must have a plan for it in their armoury. Google+ currently is more about SEO, but it will find its relevance too,” he said.

There is some sense in these arguments. If we take Shareaholic’s study at face value, LinkedIn and Google+ might seem the best platforms for a business for engagement, but we have to also keep in mind the kind of content which isshared. For example, a link to a news article might probably generate more page/views, while a link to a YouTube video will most likely result in more time spent on site. As much as Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest might lack in this area, they more than make up in terms of volumes. Also, not every brand campaign might be about getting people to spend time exploring their property. The only concern for brands should be putting up engaging and interesting content, irrespective of the platform. In this respect, the old wisdom about content being more important than the medium definitely holds true.

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