Traffic patterns from a PR campaign: a brief, shallow case study of Missouri S&T’s spacebook blog

On Nov. 10, 2008, the university where I work launched spacebook, a blog by NASA astronaut and Missouri S&T graduate Sandra Magnus. (I also posted about it that same day.) That same day, we launched our PR campaign announcing the site. We notified schools, the dozens of kids who participated in our campus’s aerospace camp last summer, alumni, bloggers, the mainstream media, state legislators, and our internal audience of students, faculty and staff. We sent targeted messages to groups via email, Twitter, our website, Facebook and many other avenues.

The result has been some pretty nice bit of buzz for our campus, both in the mainstream media of newspaper, TV and radio and in the new media world of blogs, microblogs and social networks. (We keep track of the main media mentions on our Delicious site and collect it all under a single category.)

It’s great to tell people about the great media coverage we’ve received. But what kind of conclusions can we draw about that coverage’s effectiveness to drive people to the website? There’s the anecdotal information, such as comments like this received on the blog: “Before you left for this mission, ksdk news channel 5 announced, ‘Belleville native heading into space’…” But as the saying goes, “The plural of anecdote is not data.” It’s a nice anecdote, but it isn’t really measurable.

So, how effective have our promotional efforts been to draw people to the site? For this mini case study, I’m going to share some information based on referrals.

Breaking it down

In the 10 days since the blog was announced, spacebook has seen 5,009 unique visitors. The breakdown looks like this:

  • Direct (no referral): 1,936, or 39 percent of the total
  • Google (organic search): 1,288, or 26 percent
  • Everywhere else: 1,785, or 35 percent

It’s the “everywhere else” category where we find the mainstream and social media at work. Below is a breakdown of traditional vs. social media referral sites (traditional in blue, social media in red):

OK, the graphic is unreadable, even if you tilt your head to the left. So just let the pretty colors tell the story, and I’ll fill you in on a few details.

The top referrer among mainstream and social media was the Belleville (Ill.) News-Democrat, which is Sandra Magnus’ hometown newspaper. But the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 referral sources are all social media sources. Missouri’s two major daily newspapers, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Kansas City Star, are the seventh- and tenth-place referral sources.

When lumped into two groups, the impact of social media as a referral source becomes more apparent.

The social media side of the pie, like a Pac-Man with unhingeable jaw, appears poised to eat mainstream media for lunch. But the main news sites still appear to be a mouthful, and won’t be easy to swallow.

Conclusion: Social media is definitely a player in getting visitors to your website. But that’s really stating the obvious, isn’t it.

Now, don’t read too much into this little exercise. The fact that some social media tools, such as Twitter, outperformed main news sites in terms of driving traffic, doesn’t mean traditional media is not effective in building interest and buzz. In terms of “opportunities to view,” no doubt the Post-Dispatch and Star had numbers much higher than many of the websites that touted spacebook.

Plus, this is skewed somewhat by my own blatant promotion of spacebook on this blog and via Twitter. (It’s also been a regular link on the @MissouriSandT Twitter site.)

Still, it is kind of interesting to see where your traffic is coming from. And this data may help someone who’s interested in launching a PR campaign to drive visitors to the web.


Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

10 thoughts on “Traffic patterns from a PR campaign: a brief, shallow case study of Missouri S&T’s spacebook blog”

  1. Site referals StumbleUpon #3 on that list… hmmm… Let’s go see who was stumbling that page.

    Sorry I didn’t bring you tens of thousands of visits, but looks like your doing alright. You mention twitter as a traffic bringer… well I guess you could look at it that way if you consider that you twittered to ask me to Stumble it. ;)

    It really is a cool site and I’m glad to see your getting good buzz from it.

  2. Oh a question for you… you mention 39% direct traffic. Do you have an email campaign that use used to promote the site? That could result for a good portion of the direct traffic. If you used destination URLs in your email links they wouldn’t show up as direct, but most people aren’t using those yet or they don’t configure their ESP to use them.

    Also interested to know if you discount local (on campus) traffic or is that lumped in because that is probably skewing your data a little and is probably a good portion of your direct traffic.

  3. Kyle – Perhaps I should further analyze the impact of traditional vs. social media by looking at three referral sources:

    Mainstream news sites
    Social media
    Guru-influenced social media


    No doubt you helped build buzz in the social media with your StumbleUpon post. Thank you for helping! I should do more stumbling and digging myself, but I consider it bad form to do it myself (so I ask others to do it for me LOL).

    BTW, your StumbleUpon beat the pants off my own post on this blog in the way of referrals.

    As for Twitter, I did ask some fellow Twitter users to help spread the word. But don’t forget we also have the Missouri S&T Twitter site, and users may have found spacebook via that resource as well.

    As for the direct traffic: Yes, we did direct email announcements to several audiences: teachers in Missouri, prospective students nationwide, and alumni. We haven’t done an evaluation of open rate yet. I need to gather than info from the three different partners who sent out the emails (our admissions office to prospective students; our alumni association to their alumni, as the lead story in a newsletter update; and our electronic marketing office, which sent to the educators). Our analytics also show several open rates from Gmail and Yahoo mail, which is lumped into the “everything else” category for the purposes of this simple exercise.

    Local traffic is lumped in the first pie chart, too.

    My main point was to look at social and online media vs. traditional media in terms of referrals. I still don’t know what it means.

  4. Define traditional media? Are you including email in traditional media? Did you create destination URL redirectors for print, tv, radio, etc campaigns to go to the site where you could track their engagement?

    I know I know… I’m asking you to track all this extra stuff, but to truly measure the results you kind of have to go the little extra mile on what you setup to measure. I’ve got a post in the work talking about how we did this for a recent Alumni giving campaign and it shows Email beating out Facebook and both destroying print in bringing people to the site. If it makes you feel any better we haven’t gotten to the point yet where I know which one of those three campaigns drove the most $$ just which one drove the most traffic.

  5. Kyle – Let me try to restate my original purpose with this post: It was to look at the results of our “media” campaign (media in this case being defined as “news” media, which I also call “traditional” media, and “social” media, which also includes not only Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon and the like but also online-only news sources such as, which was the No. 2 media source for referrals.

    The core question behind this post was, as I explained in paragraphs 3 and 4:

    It’s great to tell people about the great media coverage we’ve received. But what kind of conclusions can we draw about that coverage’s effectiveness to drive people to the website?

    … So, how effective have our promotional efforts been to draw people to the site? For this mini case study, I’m going to share some information based on referrals.

    I should have clarified “promotional efforts” as “promotional efforts directed at new and mainstream/traditional media, excluding direct email.” Oh well. The main purpose of my analysis was to satisfy my own curiosity about the performance of traditional media. Because of my PR and journalism background, I’m interested in the role traditional news media play in this rapidly evolving sphere of communications. It’s not a very sophisticated analysis, but it does offer a snapshot and comparison of sorts (besides the nebulous “opportunities to read/view” metric so often used for attempting to measure PR impact on mainstream news media — which is much like measuring “eyeballs” on the web).

    I look forward to your post about email. I’m not surprised by your conclusion. We’ve discovered that with several alumni campaigns. But alumni are generally more loyal to and more knowledgeable about the institution than other audiences, so one would expect alumni to be more receptive to communiques from their alma mater.

  6. Thanks for sharing this, Andrew. It may not be conclusive, but it’s still very helpful. I too struggle with how to understand the role of social media in these types of campaigns. At Rensselaer, we have had some success using the “traditional media” (i.e. news outlets) and bloggers to drive traffic to landing sites, but we haven’t done much in the way of analyzing traffic from Digg, Stumbleupon, etc. (We have been slashdotted a few times, which almost crashed our servers.)

    By the way, did you ever connect with Bill Walker about your org structure? Hope you got the info you were looking for.

  7. Andrew, nice write up & thanks for sharing. I agree with the folks on this post that the results are a bit inconclusive, but at a high level it was cool to see how social media fared against the traditional media. I like your balanced approach in exploiting both forms of PR. I also like how you seeded the SM through Kyle and through some twitter accounts. Nicely done.

  8. Thanks Andrew. Our PR people here are not doing enough of this kind of analysis. You have inspired me to help them start thinking a bit more about measuring their efforts.

  9. Tom – Yes, it’s pretty inconclusive, but it was more or less just a mental exercise for me to use analytics in a way I haven’t seen before.

    Eddie – Tread gently with your PR folks! LOL

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