If you’re in marketing, you probably hear a lot of big words being thrown around in meetings by colleagues and clients. Two of the terms that are deceptively simple and yet often misunderstood and rather frequently misused are causation and correlation.

If you’re confident you know what these two words mean and why they’re so important then you’re already winning, but for everyone else, we must understand not only what they are, but also their significance in social media.


What are causation and correlation?

Causation in simple terms refers to “cause” and “effect”, two very simple words with very powerful meanings.

Let’s say you’ve just launched an offer and you notice your sales starting to increase. Here, the offer could be the cause of the increase, and the sales would be the effect. Correlation, on the other hand, is a measure of the strength of the connection between multiple things: it defines the mutual relationship between the two, but doesn’t make any claims about one causing the other.

If the offer from our example above increased sales, how certain could we be that it was the only factor involved? It’s possible that your budgets were different from the last sale, that the brand had just run a big awareness campaign, or that there was a change in the website’s checkout process… or maybe the increase was in fact just seasonal.

Correlation would help weigh up the impact that each of these factors (i.e. offer, budget, seasonality, etc) had on sales. But we mustn’t forget that two events can be correlated without one causing the other; for example, waking up and the sun rising are correlated, but waking up doesn’t cause the sun to rise, and vice versa.


Why is this so important in social media?

Social media, as you already know, is a big thing. If you have anything to share – pictures of your most recent holiday, a review of that exotic restaurant you found, your views on a political candidate, or your cat chasing a laser pointer – you can do it on social media and people will read it, watch it and react on it.

With every personal update you share, you influence the lives of your friends and followers, be it their mood by sharing something funny, their decision on a political candidate (take the Cambridge Analytica scandal for example), or which brand they decide to purchase by sharing reviews of products you’ve used.

According to Statista, there were over 2.46 billion active users on social media as of 2017 and this is expected to reach 2.77 billion by 2019. These numbers make social media a great platform for influencing change – or in other words, participating in a “cause” to create an “effect”.

When brands share their day-to-day activities, content and promotions on social media, if they can’t measure the impact it’s having, they have no way of being sure of what works and what doesn’t. This is where correlation comes into the picture: it helps you indirectly measure the relationship between your participation in social media and the likelihood of an increase in interest for your brand, or sales or leads, depending on the objective.

Together, causation and correlation can help us build a brand image on social media by giving us a means to measure how well we’re influencing user behaviour, whether the goal is to build conversations around the brand or to encourage purchase decisions.

The better you’re able to grasp what causation and correlation are and why they’re so important in social media (either as a brand or as an agency), the better you’ll be able to get to the bottom of what persuades and influences people – and what eventually contributes to a real conversion.

The golden rule is to be the cause that creates the effect, and then to measure it. Understand what really influences your customers, and become part of that influence.

Onam Khatri

Onam is a Digital Planner at iProspect Melbourne. With a focus on brand and performance-based paid media strategies, she currently leads communication, strategy and digital implementation for major retail and beauty clients.