Social Media Attribution: What Is It and How Does It Work?

How do you decide which customer touchpoint gets the credit for having the most impact on the customer’s buyers' journey?
Veena Ramakrishnan
March 26, 2021 - 6 min. read

Did you know that it takes an average of seven interactions with a brand before a customer makes a purchase?

Let’s see what that would like in the real world.

Interaction point #1: Customer, let’s call her Po, sees a friend share a Fitbit review on her Instagram Story with a swipe-up link to the product. Po clicks the link.

Interaction point #2: Po views the product page but doesn’t buy the product immediately. Instead, she signs up for their product newsletter.

Interaction point #3: Po receives an email from the Fitbit company with a link to avail a 20% discount coupon on all products. She clicks it, views the discounted product, and does nothing.

Interaction point #4: Po gets retargeted by ads on Instagram. She’s still doesn’t do anything.

Interaction point #5: Po does a Google search of the product again and clicks the website link to read customer reviews.

Interaction point #6: Po sees another ad on social, this time on Facebook.

Interaction point #7: Po receives another email from the company about the latest line of Fitbits. She sees that these new models come with an introductory offer, clicks on it, and completes the purchase.


So, who gets the ultimate credit here?

Is it the first Instagram swipe link or the email that the Fitbit company sent out?

How do you decide which customer touchpoint gets the credit for having the most impact on the customer’s buyers’ journey?

Enter attribution modeling.

What is attribution modeling? Asking for a friend.

Attribution modeling is the answer to defining that exact moment when a customer decided to purchase from you. By using an attribution model, marketers can assign a value to a customer’s interaction points with their brand and assess the impact of their marketing efforts.

It’s like tracing the path back to your home from the woods. Just like how you would look for the trails you left behind to find your way home, you’d look at the buyer’s journey in reverse and assign value to the interaction points that led them to buy the product/service from you.

Why should marketers care about it?

Think about it. Wouldn’t you want to know which touchpoints in your buyer’s journey are more effective? Unlike ROI, which measures the dollar value, the attribution model measures the impact of your marketing efforts every step of the way.

And when it comes to attribution modeling in social media, marketers will also be able to analyze the data broken down into platforms, campaigns, and the types of content that brought in a conversion—brought in a customer.

What are the different types of attribution models?

So, attribution models come in three types: first touch, last touch, and multi-touch. While the first and the last touch attribution models are pretty straightforward, the multi-touch attribution model can get a little tricky to track. It requires additional tools to track and analyze each customer touchpoint. That’s why there are additional types of models within the multi-touch attribution model.

1. First touch attribution model

As the word implies, the first touch attribution model gives credit to the first interaction point a customer had with your brand. Remember Po? In her case, the Instagram Story with the swipe-up link gets the credit here as that was the first interaction Po had with the brand. While the First touch attribution model is super easy to track as it doesn’t involve any calculations or analysis, this model ignores the other interaction points contributing to the sale, thus making it hard to optimize the marketing process.

2. Last touch attribution model

Last touch attribution is the opposite of what we just saw. Taking the same scenario, the email with a link to the product page gets the credit here as it was the last interaction point Po had with the Fitbit company. Last touch attribution is the go-to model for most organizations as it is easy to assign a value to the last customer touchpoint instead of tracing all the way back to the first customer touchpoint. But this comes with some cons as the entire marketing journey is ignored by giving credit to only the last customer touchpoint.

Basically, both first and last touchpoint attribution models only give you half the story.


But let’s look at how the Multi-touch attribution model can solve this problem.

3. Multi-touch attribution models

Multi-touch attribution is quite challenging and requires additional resources in the form of tools and data to track the many touchpoints a customer has with a brand. But with being so super detailed, it gives a complete overview of your marketing process, so; it’s worth that extra effort. Basically, there are three different multi-touch attribution models to choose from:

The linear attribution model: The linear attribution model gives equal credit to every touchpoint a customer has with the brand. Right from the first touchpoint to the last touchpoint that made the conversion, every customer interaction point gets equal credit for playing a role in the ultimate purchase.

The U-shaped attribution model: The U-shaped attribution model works a little differently. The first and the last customer touchpoints get 40% credit, while the middle touchpoints get 20% credit. In this model, both the first and last customer touchpoint get equal weightage which makes sense as they both play a significant role in the marketing process.

The time decay attribution model: In time decay attribution model, the interaction points that are closer to when the conversion happens get more credit. This model gives less weightage to the initial customer touchpoints and more weightage to the touchpoints closer to the last customer touchpoint.

As you can see, there are quite a few options when it comes to assigning value to a customer’s interaction points with your brand. Depending on how far you want to get into analyzing the impact of your marketing efforts with the resources you have, you can choose the right attribution model to give credibility for your efforts.

4 tricks to get value from social media attribution

Now that you know what each model does to determine the impact of your marketing efforts, let’s look into the four tricks that marketers can leverage to get value from social media attribution.

1. Add UTM parameters

Adding UTM parameters to the end of your URLs can help track the sources of the clicks that bring your customers to your website. This way, you can see your traffic broken down by social media campaigns and networks that helped with conversion instead of just the channel ‘social media.’

2. Use URL shorteners

The best part about using a URL shortener tool like Bitly is that you get a wealth of click data. You’re probably thinking, “if anything, adding URLs hides the information/UTM parameters that would otherwise be in the URL, right?” You’re right, it does. But here’s the things, the Bitly dashboard will allow you to see some stats on where and when your customers are coming and what appeals to them the most. And this type of information will go a long way in helping companies determine the impact of their marketing efforts.

3. Defining your social media goals

The whole point of implementing a social media attribution model is to check if you’ve achieved your social media goals. By defining your social media goals and matching them with their corresponding social media metrics, an attribution model can tell you if you’ve reached your goals or not.

4. Use surveys

Include a survey to ask your audience how they heard about you. Set a pop-banner on your website every time you have a user sign-up for a free trial or a demo of your product. Include options such as social media, webinars, Google search, blog post, and so on to give you a fair idea of which of these sources send you the most traffic.

Final thoughts

Well, folks. That’s pretty much everything you need to know about social media attribution.

The next time you find yourself wondering how to prove the impact of your marketing efforts, think: attribution.

Aaaand, the next time you find yourself immersed in an ocean of social media tasks, think Falcon.

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