Jason Del Rey

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Social Media’s Cold, Hard Reality: It Still Doesn’t Drive E-Commerce Sales, IBM Says


Shutterstock / Andrew Williams

Last year, IBM poured some cold water on social advertising when it said social sites like Twitter and Facebook had almost no impact on online Black Friday sales.

This year, things aren’t much better.

In tracking traffic and sales at about 800 e-commerce sites, IBM says it found that only about one percent of visits to e-commerce sites this week come from social networks, according to Jay Henderson, strategy director for IBM. And, once again, just a fraction of one percent of overall orders are made by people coming to the e-commerce site directly from a social network, he said.

“I don’t think the implication is that social isn’t important,” Henderson said earlier this week. “But so far it hasn’t proven effective to driving traffic to the site or directly causing people to convert.”


IBM isn’t releasing the exact percentage of online sales attributed to social sites as it did last year — when it said that social sites accounted for just .34 percent of online Black Friday sales — because it says the numbers aren’t much different.

“We’ve seen the percentage of online traffic and online sales driven by social media relatively constant — low-single-digit growth this year — so we haven’t been releasing these metrics in our benchmark numbers,” a spokeswoman told AllThingsD.

“Since there hasn’t been a very big change, we did not find the trend to be interesting,” she added.

A few big caveats here.

For one, IBM is tracking referrals from social networks by the so-called “last click,” meaning that a shopper has to be navigating directly from a social network to an e-commerce site, with no other visits in between, for the social network to get counted as the referrer.

So, for example, if a person sees an ad on Facebook for an e-commerce sale, but first goes to Google to search for something before navigating to the e-commerce site, Facebook wouldn’t get credit for the sale.

Another caveat: Advertisers continue to pour money into Facebook for direct-marketing purposes; you would think those advertisers would stop spending money if they weren’t seeing a return, but they haven’t.

A Facebook spokesman and Pinterest spokeswoman declined to comment.

I’ve reached out for comment from Twitter, and will update should they comment on IBM’s findings.

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock/Andrew Williams)

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