Forget the feel-good but useless advice of old school social media gurus. Get more scientific about measuring social media success in 3 steps. Learn more.

Happy unicorn with rainbow

Unicorns and Rainbows Won't Help Your Social Media—Data Will

Thu Apr 5, 2018

If you’ve been to enough social media conferences, or read enough books or blogs about modern marketing, you’ve undoubtedly heard a ton of what I call unicorns-and-rainbows advice. Feel-good stuff like “engage in the conversation,” “hug your followers,” and “have a personality.” It’s hard to disagree with this kind of stuff, because I’m not going to get on stage and tell you to punch your customers in the face, but it’s generally not based on anything more substantial than what sounds right, or makes the listener feel good.

Unicorns-and-rainbows advice is kind of like the snake oil and magical cures peddled before the rise of real, scientific health care. No real doctor would treat his patients with a certain procedure simply because it “sounded right.” It’s time for social media marketing to move beyond the dark ages and embrace the deluge of data now available to us.

One of the biggest problems with the superstitious approach to social media is that success is considered luck. Under the hegemony of unicorns-and-rainbows it’s black magic to make a piece of content “go viral.” The only things those myth-based marketers use to guide their efforts is gut feelings and anecdotal (and often misleading) “experience.”

I for one, don’t like to base business decisions on luck or gut feeling. I prefer to use science and data to create reproducible and reliable results. And the key to applying science to marketing is being prescriptive. Calculating and analyzing data that is interesting is fun, but information becomes useful when it tells you how to achieve a specific goal.

We can simplify the scientific method into three phases that make it easy to apply to marketing.

  • First, identify the specific metric you want to improve. That could be sales, leads, Twitter followers, Facebook referrals. Anything that can positively effect your bottom line, and the closer to actual dollars and cents, the better.
  • Next, research potential changes that can impact that metric. That's where my data comes in handy. Maybe you need to use more images to increase the number of retweets you're getting. Maybe you need to ask more questions on Facebook to increase the number of comments.
  • And lastly, test these changes. Try images and questions. If they work, awesome! If they're not working, move on. Then find another potential change and test it, and so on. Always be testing. Even if you're only making small improvements, if you keep making those little steps, they'll eventually add up to a giant leap.

Want to learn more about social media effectiveness and measurement? Watch the replay of Dan Zarrella's webinar about social content.


Dan Zarrella Social Media Scientist
Dan Zarrella
Social Media Scientist

Dan Zarrella is an award-winning social media scientist and author of four books: “The Science of Marketing,” “Zarrella’s Hierarchy of Contagiousness,” “The Social Media Marketing Book” and The Facebook Marketing Book. He has a background in web development and combines his programming capabilities with a passion for social marketing to study social media behavior from a data-backed position and teach marketers scientifically grounded best practices.