What is Social Media Share of Voice?

Content Marketing Social Media Article
20 mins

This guide is dedicated to one of the most useful metrics in social media marketing: share of voice, or SOV for short. We’ll start by explaining exactly what social media share of voice is, before moving on to discussing how you can measure and increase your brand’s social SOV.

What is social media SOV?

Share of Voice is a concept borrowed from the marketing industry at large, in which the term is used to refer to a brand’s advertising activity as a percentage of the ad activity across the whole sector or product type.

For example, if Levi’s put out 30% of advertisements for jeans, that brand has a 30% SOV within the jeans product group. It will also have an SOV within the fashion industry as a whole, though this percentage will be lower due to the higher level of competition from brands and product types beyond the jeans category.

As you might expect, social media SOV takes this concept and zooms in on social media activity – but with a twist. Social media SOV considers not only the share of social media advertising carried out by a brand, but also the amount of user-side social media activity that relates to the brand, including content shares and mentions. In a social media SOV calculation, you would treat these intrinsically linked halves – the noise your brand makes with its advertising, and the noise your audience makes about your brand – as a whole, so the sum of all traceable social activity surrounding your brand is compared with the same data for your competing brands to provide your SOV percentage.

How to measure your social share of voice

The easiest way to calculate your social media share of voice is to track when your brand is mentioned on all statistically significant social media channels.

Don’t try to track mentions of your brand manually; committing some money on a mention-tracking tool subscription is far more efficient in the long run, and is the surest way to do a thorough job.

Mention tracking tools like Mention and the ‘Compare keywords’ module on Hootsuite Pro allow you to track mentions of your brand across multiple platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube (the platforms included might vary according to the tracking tool you choose, so make sure the platforms you’re especially interested in are featured before you sign-up.)

Not only can you track your own mentions using Mention and similar tools, but you can also compare your daily mentions with your competitors’. From this point, establishing your social SOV is simple:

  1. Add your brand’s mentions tally to the combined total of your competitors’ mentions
  2. Divide this figure by 100 to work out 1% of the total voice for your sector or product group
  3. Divide your brand’s mentions tally by the figure derived from the previous step. The result is your brand’s SOV percentage

Identifying your competitors and choosing your sector

Hold on a second! Before you work out your SOV, first you’ll need to establish the market group that best applies to your brand, and identify the competitors who occupy a meaningful share of that group.

In most cases it’s best to identify a market group in which you have a relatively low number of competitors, as this will make tracking more manageable. So if you’re a company that sells coffee beans, it would be advisable to calculate your SOV within the coffee beans product group, rather than the wider beverage e-commerce sector. Similarly, if you would describe yours as a local brand, compare it with local competitors only.

Once you’ve defined your market, you’ll need to identify your competitors. It’s likely that you or a colleague will already have a list of your most important competitors. If not, make one using your choice of research methods, such as web search or reading industry reports. In theory, a brand with a decent market share shouldn’t be too hard to find if you’re searching in the right places and using relevant keywords.*

With your list of competitors within your chosen market group complete, you can set your mention tracking tool to monitor and report on each competitor.

Using SOV to investigate the impact of your campaigns

Most mention tracking tools allow you to apply filters, including region and platform. This opens up some great opportunities to test the impact of your social media marketing campaigns.

Let’s say you’re going to put £1000 into a week’s worth of YouTube advertising in one region, and £1000 into a week’s worth of Instagram advertising in another region. By looking at your social SOV within each of the two regions separately, you can gain an insight into which of the two channels could be the platform with the highest potential to increase your overall social SOV through increased ad spend. You can carry out all sorts of investigations into marketing campaign efficacy using social SOV as a metric.

How to increase your social media share of voice

Increasing your SOV is perhaps the main objective of any brand’s long-term social media activity. This is too extensive a topic to cover in this article alone, but we can provide a few pointers to get you thinking along the right lines:

  • Create shareable content – this is the #1 rule of social media marketing. The more inclined people are to share your content, the better your chance of SOV growth. There are a lot of boxes you’ll need to tick to make your content shareable, including: quality, uniqueness, wow factor, and compatibility with your target audience’s identity formation goals (i.e. sharing the content will allow the customer to present themselves in a way that reinforces their self-constructed social media persona).
  • Use a figurehead – as a rule, individuals are more compelling than companies. If one of your brand’s founders has a great back-story and a winning personality, bring them to the fore in your social content.
  • Increase your sponsored spend (cleverly) – we know we’re stating the obvious here, but spending more on sponsored social is probably the surest way to increase your social SOV. We recommend trying advertising to different demographic groups in turn, seeing which groups appeared to generate the biggest increase in SOV, and then focussing future efforts more heavily on those groups until you reach a point where your SOV gains have started to slow.
  • Read lots more – you can find dozens of articles on social media marketing in our online archive of digital marketing resources.

Factoring in ‘dark social’

It’s time to address the elephant in the room. Hi, Mr Elephant!

But seriously, there is an important factor we need to consider that’s both a continual bugbear and a potential opportunity for social media markers. It’s called ‘dark social’.

Dark social is as fundamental to social media as dark matter is to the universe – it encompasses all the private communications social users make that can neither be seen by members of the public nor tracked by marketers. These communication channels include:

  • Private Facebook groups
  • Facebook Messenger Messages
  • Twitter DMs
  • Private Facebook events

According to research by RadiumOne, 75% of social media content shares in the UK take place via dark social, with a remarkable 26% of UK respondents sharing content over dark social only.

And here’s some food for thought for brands with older audiences: 46% of all participants in RadiumOne’s survey over the age of 55 said they only share content via dark social – never via public social posts.

What this means is that when you look at your the social media mentions data for your brand and your rivals, you are not really getting the full picture. Public social posts will be accounted for fairly accurately, but you will not be able to compare your dark social stats with your competitors.

Whilst it’s impossible to find out exactly is happening to your content on dark social, you can improve your vantage on how dark social interactions are aiding your brand, by tracking dark traffic with web analytics.

In Google Anayltics, clicks from dark social are logged as ‘Direct’ traffic – not very useful. Thankfully, some bright sparks have invented a variety of techniques and tools to track dark traffic, as explained in this handy article from Social Media Today.

If you can figure out how to track your dark social media traffic, you can then compare your daily dark social figures with your campaign activity trends, and gain greater insight into the overall effectiveness of your social marketing in terms of traffic generated. Unfortunately there is no way to calculate your dark social SOV, as you will not be able to find the necessary data on your competitors.

What are the other limitations of social SOV?

Social share of voice is an extremely enlightening social media metric, but it does have its limitations.
An interesting point to bear in mind about social SOV is that the total audience that makes up the ‘voice’ will change in size from day-to-day. This places a few constraints on how SOV should be used.

For example, your brand might attract exactly the same number of social mentions and shares from on Day 1 and on Day 2, but your competitors might reach larger audiences – including freshly acquired audience members – on Day 2 than on Day 1. Thus, your brand is generating the same amount of buzz on both days, yet its SOV is lower on Day 2 than on it was on Day 1. This demonstrates why social SOV should not be used as an absolute measure of social media performance over time.

Nevertheless, knowing how your brand stacks up against its closest rivals on social media is exceptionally useful. If your social SOV is down at 5% and a rival brand of a similar profile is up on 15%, you’ll understand that there’s a need to put extra resources into your social media marketing. If your SOV has increased significantly over the course of a week, you can dig down into that week’s data and find out what is was that created the positive momentum. And if your SOV has grown to a higher level than that of a prestigious rival, we would urge you to include that particular statistic in your next progress report – you’ll get plenty of Brownie points!

* Some of you may be thinking that this doesn’t sound like a very exact science, and you’d be right. When you’re working out your social media SOV, you’re not trying to make a publishable calculation – instead, you’re generating a useful metric for gauging your brand’s social media performance relative to the most important competitors in its field.

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