(First published in the September issue of the NTEN: Change journal.) Social media has provided nonprofits with a whole new toolbox for marketing themselves and engaging constituents. Though each tool is a little different, they all create opportunities for your organization to start conversations and to show the personal side of, and the personalities behind, your work. And though we are making huge strides as a sector to understand the most effective techniques and approaches to using these tools, we still have a lot to learn about one of the most important areas of social media: measurement. These case studies show how some organizations are tackling this effort--read the associated article here.
SF Public Press, San Francisco, CA
The SF Public Press is a startup nonprofit news organization that publishes online three-to-five days a week, and quarterly in print. It relies on more than 70 professional volunteer journalists and nonprofit specialists, and follows the public broadcasting membership funding model. It’s supported by the San Francisco Foundation and more than 200 individual donors.
“We’re a small organization in terms of budget, and trying to get more funding, we’ve got a lot of people involved,” said Lila LaHood, director of operations and development. “We pay some freelance stipend, but have no full-time staff. People do it as a labor of love or for career development opportunities.”
With a tiny marketing budget, the SF Public Press uses social media as one of the ways to spread the word about what it does.
“Some of that also happens through the newspaper, which we sell through 50 retail locations throughout Bay area,” LaHood said. “We also hold events, and have a table at street festivals and conferences and things like that. We try to get people to sign up for mailing list, and to follow us on Facebook or Twitter. There’s a lot of cross pollination with those three.”
LaHood said that while most donors come from the events, social media is better at promoting content. As such, her short-term goal is for more people to learn about the SF Public Press, to like what it produces, and to appreciate the updates it provides. In the long term, her goal is to get as many of her audience as possible to attend events, because then they’re more likely to become donors or members.
Most public radio stations give away the content for free, with just 10 percent of listeners as donors, she said. To measure whether they’re reaching new people, and whether they’re connecting with content, she measures through Google Analytics and bit.ly. With bit.ly, for example, she can create a short version of their articles’ URLs and then track these links to see how many people clicked on them.
“In my mind, I need lots and lots of people to care about the press and build that audience to get to that 10 percent,” she said. “Honestly, at this point we’re just watching our followers go up.”
What content is working to inspire people to follow them, or click to see more? To analyze that more in-depth, the organization assigned an intern to research it by comparing the SF Public Press’s activity on Facebook and Twitter with that of similar organizations and media outlets.
“We wanted to watch our competitors—I’m using that term loosely—to see how many times they were posting, how many times they were retweeted, how often they were retweeting others’ content, things like that,” she said. “We found that hot-button topics and open-ended polls got more traffic. For whatever reason, people don’t seem to respond to some other topics. I wanted to sort of quantify what the others were doing, and the numbers we recorded reinforced what we thought was happening.”
The organization is still trying to decide how to act on the data that’s been gathered. “We have a couple of people on our social media team, and I’ve asked them to have some conversations about that to help us decide what we’re going to do differently,” she said. “A lot of what we’re seeing others do, we are doing already. We just maybe need to tweak it a little.
“On Twitter more than Facebook, for example, we’ve been posting content from other news orgs or other local entities we think would be of interest,” she said. “We’re using the information to try to figure out what would be the best balance—at what point do people get confused about what’s coming from us. We don’t want to overwhelm our followers.”
While this is a good start, LaHood said she knows there’s much more data she could be tracking and measuring. “I wish we had a better sense of what and how to do it,” she said. “But it’s purely resources that keep us from doing more.” In particular, it would be particularly useful to measure how many people come to events—or ultimately donate—who found the organization through social media.
“We exist because we’re serving this mission of local public interest journalism,” she said, “but we can’t exist without funding. We want the content to inspire people to give.”
American Podiatric Medical Association, Bethesda, Maryland
The APMA has 13,000 members and a staff of about 60, and since last year, has actively used social media to provide the general public with relevant information about the organization and podiatry. In February the organization began implementing a strategic plan that included benchmarks for social media, and made great strides toward meeting them almost immediately.
“We gained 400 or 500 followers on Twitter since January alone,” said Jessica Etter, the communications associate behind the organization’s Twitter account. “I remember making our 1,000-mile marker, one of our coolest days. Now we’re closing in on 1,400.”
She uses Small Act’s Thrive, a web-based social media measurement and management tool, to track daily follower gains and losses and statistics for retweets and mentions.
“It’s much stronger than HootSuite or any of the Twitter tools,” she said. “It does the same thing on Facebook, but it’s not as specific as it is with Twitter. I can use it to get lots of great charts and reports to show the directors, and can easily export the data into reports in a crisp, clean Excel file, to explain to the board what a mention is and why it’s important. It’s a great way to show people that what we’re doing is actually getting to folks.
Etter said the organization’s leadership is primarily interested in follower and fan counts, but she finds more relevant information that helps her guide her posting schedule and content.
“I can look at it differently and see that our bit.ly links on Twitter have gotten 207,000 hits since March, between retweets, mentions and everything else,” she said. “We wouldn’t have that without Twitter measurement tools. Twitter is free—that’s a lot of hits, considering we’re not paying for ad space or anything. I like to see the retweets and the mentions because it means people are realizing we’re here. We’re not just getting new people, they’re engaging with us.”
In all, Etter said, she spends about an hour each morning looking at the previous day’s charts, plus another half hour in the middle and at the end of each day. She also uses that time thinking of ideas for posts. Part of the strategic plan was to post at least one thing every business day, and she uses the incoming data to guide her outgoing posts.
“Days when we have a lot of tweets go out, we do see people start to unfollow us—that’s when realize it’s a strategic thing, we can’t overwhelm our followers,” she said. “We’ve tried to even play around with the times we post. If we post mornings, does that affect things more than if we post in the afternoons? We try to play around and tweak it.
“We’ve learned that posts in certain areas always create an increase in people who follow us,” she said, “so we try to post more about those sorts of things.”
Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, Sheffield, MA
The staff of 12 at Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation works to build stronger, more vibrant communities and improve the quality of life for residents of four counties in Massachusetts, New York and Connecticut. Marketing director Kimberly Rock put together a crowd-sourced grantmaking experiment this summer that asked people to vote for their favorite local nonprofit on the foundation’s Facebook page—the organization with the most mentions would win a grant up to $1,000, based on the number of votes.
“We weren’t just trying to gain likes, which is a meaningless measurement unless you’re doing something with it,” said Rock, who got the idea from a similar campaign run by a Michigan organization. “It was really to engage our constituents—we’ve been building them for the last year. There’s a high awareness of our name in the region but sometimes people are confused about what a community foundation does. We had a lot of followers but not a lot of engagement.”
Prior to the campaign, Berkshire Taconic used Facebook to engage constituents and let people know about grant deadlines. Using social media provided a way to spread the word about the foundation’s work without sending out a press release for everything. More importantly, Rock said, it turned announcements into conversations by making the communication two-way.
The campaign was the perfect example of that. The organization was able to publicly address a few negative comments posted to the wall. “It’s a very small community,” she said. “If there was some negative talk out there, we might not have been able to address it otherwise.”
When organizing the campaign, Rock set some specific goals and some that were a little more broad: increase the number of “likes,” provide a central place for people interested in the organization’s mission, create more dialogue and strengthen relationships with constituents, and create buzz, excitement and awareness.
The result? Not only did Berkshire Taconic’s follower count jump by 2,200, but they were able to create a lot more connections.
“People were very engaged, our name was everywhere and it was the buzz of the week,” she said. In addition, one news source wrote about it, and 148 nonprofits were engaged. The organization also received dozens of comments and phone calls thanking it for its work.
“I would say that we got more attention region-wide for this one $1,000 grant than many of the $7 million in grants we give out over the course of the year,” she said. “And we were able to remind people that we give out $7 million a year.”
Rock said she spends a few hours each week on Facebook, and relies somewhat on instinct. “It seems like more of an art, part art and part science,” she said. “I read these posts about measurement, and I feel a little guilty that I should be paying more attention to it. People like that are trying to take the guesswork out. But I don’t have a lot of time to measure.”
That said, according to Facebook Insights, interactions are up 500 percent following the campaign. Measuring proved her suspicions correct. In addition, the campaign won over other foundation staff and board members who had been reluctant supporters of social media.
“It’s motivated other people at the foundation to pay attention,” Rock said. “I’ve been waiving the Facebook flag for a long time. Now I’m able to get people to spend more time posting. It’s great to have the program department, the people who award the grants, who are meeting with nonprofits, it’s great to have them start to communicate with people on Facebook. I have more buy in now. That wasn’t a goal, but it was an added benefit.”