Tracking the Power of the Network

Nick Swisher

Nick Swisher

You know that old saying about advertising? The one that says we know that 50% of our billboards work, we just don’t know which half?

Knowing “which half works” has become a kind of Holy Grail in advertising and marketing. Lots of folks who haven’t yet made the leap into inbound marketing labor under the illusion that the type of marketing they are used to — outbound marketing (also known as broadcast marketing, or shotgun marketing) — is more measurable and traceable than marketing conducted via blogs and social media.

Not so.

Inbound marketing is actually quite a bit more trackable than outbound marketing, and it’s largely due to something called Tracking Tokens.

Tracking Tokens are little bits of code — just strings of letters and numbers — that are placed at the tail end of any old URL, so that when that link is clicked, some piece of analytics software somewhere knows where it was clicked, and by whom. It tells you which billboard worked.  Which campaign got you to take the next step, and click?

For a great example of the use of tracking tokens, check out what Major League Baseball is doing right now to assign the final two places on the roster of the All-Star Game next week. From now until Thursday at midnight ET, fans can vote for one final player to send to the American League team, and one to send to the National League team. It’s a big honor to be selected for the All-Star Team, even if some of your more jaded and spoiled athletes don’t treat like the honor it is. In fact, one of my main criteria for who should be selected — all other stats being equal — has always been how excited is this player to play in the All-Star Game?

Allow me a short digression? Well, I’m a big baseball fan. I’m a Yankee fan, in fact, a detail that I tend to keep under my hat most of the time, as I live in Red Sox country and I have more than once gotten a door — literally! — slammed in my face by folks round here when they see a Yankees T-Shirt on my chest. But my rants about sportsmanship and courtesy will wait for another day.

My point is that my favorite player these days is Nick Swisher, primarily for the unbounded enthusiasm he brings to the field every single day. When he started playing for the Yankees last year, my husband and I joked that he must be drinking about 25 Red Bulls every day before the game, because he was out there practically doing cartwheels in the outfield, he was so pumped up to be playing that game. In every post-game interview, he was practically wagging his tail with excitement. Love that guy.

So I was sad to see that he didn’t make the first cut for the All-Star Team, because he is absolutely qualified, stats-wise. But he’s not a huge name, you know. So Nick is one of the last few players who are contending for the last slot on each team. End of digression.

Nick Swisher Leader Board

Nick Swisher Leader Board

So Major League Baseball is running a very nifty campaign whereby the fans can vote for these final two players, and each fan can move up a kind of Leader Board of vote-generators by asking their friends, family, and co-workers to vote, too.

How do they know which votes have come in via your efforts? They generate a unique tracking code, of course. Check out the graphic to the right. If you campaign on Facebook, it generates a certain tracking code. Ditto for Twitter and email. There’s a button to create an all-purpose tracking token URL for any other mode or platform you might use, like by posting the link on LinkedIn.

Now, when votes come in, not only do I get credited for them, but MLB knows a fair bit about my network, and which platforms are most likely to be populated by baseball fans, or at least by people who are likely to respond to a request from me.

Imagine if that was your own data, about your own customers, prospects, members, and fans? Imagine if you knew that, even though you had fewer followers on Twitter than on Facebook, your Twitter followers were more likely to respond to a suggestion than your Facebook fans were? What if you could precisely quantify it? Or you could slice the data to discover that the differential only existed when you appealed to Twitter and Facebook simultaneously on a Saturday — but that the response was equal on each platform on Monday afternoons?

That’s the power of tracking tokens. And most people don’t use ’em. Or if they do, they use them only occasionally, sporadically, or unscientifically.

Measure how well your billboards work. Why wouldn’t you?

Oh, and do me a favor, would you? Send Nick Swisher to the All-Star Game.

Seriously.

2010 Final Man Campaign Manager Headquarters_ Nick Swisher | MLB.com_ Events-1

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