Tools for Measuring Your Social Media Efforts
Social media can be useful for any nonprofit, but posting blindly without monitoring results can be a waste of time. Knowing whether your efforts are paying off can help you adapt your posting strategy to better meet your goals and improve the return on your investment.
But what are the best ways to measure your efforts? What data should you be collecting? And how do you define success in an area that’s still relatively uncharted territory? A hundred new Twitter followers seems like you’ve accomplished something, but unless those followers translate to volunteers or donors, or unless they’re retweeting your posts or sharing their own knowledge with your organization or constituents, you might wonder if you’ve actually achieved anything.
The process of measuring your efforts on the big three of social media—Facebook, Twitter and blogs—is constantly evolving. The tools are more numerous and more effective each day, and finding the right ones to meet your needs can save long hours of work. Having a clear and simple strategy is even more important than the right tools.
Measuring is meaningless unless you act on what you learn. You should measure only activities and information that will help achieve goals—make sure what you’re listening to and collecting is actionable. Make a list of your goals and what you’ll need to gather to help meet them before you get bogged down in which tools to use to ensure you get the data you want rather than the data a certain tool provides.
The data you gather is different for each channel. For a Facebook page, there are three main areas on which to focus your tracking efforts—likes, comments and links on posts, and shares.
Each time someone “likes” your page, you know they’re listening to you, which is essential because of the closed nature of the site (compared to a blog, for example). When followers add comments to your posts, you’ve made the conversation two-way by engaging them. And when they share your posts with their Facebook friends, you’ve expanded your audience beyond your own circle.
Gathering information about these three metrics can inform your efforts by showing what people are doing, why, and what you can do to better facilitate those actions. Tracking posts that draw comments and new followers can give you a better idea of what people want from your Facebook presence. You can also form an impression of how many posts feel like the right amount, and how many are too many. Measuring the sentiment of comments—positive vs. negative—can also add insight into the tone of your community, while tracking the frequency of comments left by core supporters vs. newcomers can shed light on the openness of your page.
For Twitter, follower count is not an accurate measure of your influence—you may have thousands of followers who, in fact, aren’t paying any attention to you at all. Instead, look at whether they retweet your posts to their followers or share information of relevance to your organization and constituents. That kind of engagement means your followers are more likely to take action on behalf of your organization. For a better sense of the value you’re getting from Twitter, measure engagement against the time you spend on the site.
Blogs are a great way to share expertise and knowledge, and they can also get your organization’s name out into the world. Tracking the right data can help you target posts. Who is reading? What keywords are drawing them? What other sites are referring them? What blog posts are the most popular? Such information can help give a sense of what readers are looking for, and what they’re not.
Once you’ve determined what to track, it’s a matter of finding the right tools to help. In this area, less is more—too much can overwhelm you. There’s a glut of tools on the market ranging from free to more than $1,000 a month. They’ll track almost anything, but simplicity is key. There’s no need to pay for high-end tools if you’re a small organization with a limited budget—you can do plenty with a couple of well-considered free or affordable tools, and you’re better off being smart about what you’re collecting.
In fact, you might already be using tools that are perfectly sufficient for limited measuring. Your favorite search engine can provide a glimpse of where your name is popping up online, and help you find conversations your organization can join.
Google Alerts is a free, simple and useful tool that will email you online mentions of keywords—for example, your organization’s name. Set as many alerts as you want to clue you in to mentions on blogs, websites, other people or organizations’ Facebook pages or Twitter accounts, or in the media.
Google’s free Analytics can also help you better understand your blog’s audience, and monitor traffic to your website from all your social media channels—what posts interest readers enough to click through? Some link-shortening sites, like Bit.ly, also offer analysis of link traffic to give you a sense of what’s attracting people.
Most social media channels also offer some way to analyze your activity. Facebook Insights is a reasonably powerful tool available to any organization whose page has at least 30 fans. Twitter platforms like Hoot Suite and Tweet Deck provide basic metrics, and Backtype offers a free online keyword monitor. Most blogs can be effectively measured with a combination of the blogging site’s built-in metrics, FeedBurner and web analytics.
In some cases, you don’t even need tools. A manual count of positive and negative responses to Facebook posts can help you discern patterns over time. And don’t overlook the value of a spreadsheet to aggregate data to best track your efforts. It’s fairly easy to compile it into an ongoing log that provides historical glimpses and comparisons from a wide array of sources.
For a more streamlined or automated process, an entire group of aggregating tools on the market—many of them free—help keep an eye on multiple aspects of your social media efforts. Social Mention aggregates any mention of keywords from more than 100 social media sites. Other aggregating tools include Nutshell Mail, Rowfeeder, Kurrently or Addict-o-matic.
iGoogle and NetVibes offer monitoring dashboards that let you see the big picture of your social media presence. Strategically using RSS feeds from your social media channels in conjunction with feeds from Google Alerts and other tools can help you craft a custom monitoring dashboard—whether to use a dashboard or a tool that emails updates to your inbox is a matter of preference, but it’s worth trying both methods to see which is the best fit for you.
There is also a group of very specific tools for each social media channel. Klout measures your Twitter influence, Booshaka measures Facebook fan interactions, BlogPulse monitors blog trends across the web, and PostRank offers daily engagement reports on websites or blogs. Tools that pull together and calculate specific measurements can provide some of the sophisticated metrics you want from an expensive tool for free, and offer detailed insight into a small section of your social media activities to inform the focus of your efforts, or how you manage your engagement activities.
Many free tools offer expanded functionality for a small monthly or one-time fee. Once you start looking at tools that cost money, the market grows more broadly. Mid- and high-level tools, sometimes called social media management tools, offer a wide array of metrics and analysis not possible with the free or lower-end tools. These powerful analytics are also expensive, and can cost anywhere from $10 to more than $1,500 a month.
Tools like Small Act’s Thrive and Spredfast, at the low-to-middle-end of the scale, offer fairly comprehensive pictures of your social media activities and allow you to manage accounts, develop relationships with stakeholders and measure overall effectiveness. Radian 6 and Lithium, at the high end of the price scale, go even further by measuring influence, delivering comparisons to competitors and data on your market share, and providing tangible methods of improving. Both platforms offer nonprofit discounts.
How do you decide whether it’s worth spending money on tools for your organization? There’s no clear answer. Determine whether there will be enough of a return on your investment, and be thoughtful before jumping in. Think about what you’ll gain and what kind of return you need to see to make these tools worthwhile, and whether there’s another way to achieve it. You’ll grow into the tools, so there’s no need to go for the biggest, baddest tool until you know exactly what you’ll need.
Putting it All Together
It’s less important which tools you use to monitor your social media efforts than that you track actionable data, and act upon what you learn. If you’re a large organization with a significant social media investment and budget, the more expensive tools can help provide a powerful influence over your online presence. If you’re a smaller org with a tighter budget, plot a clear and simple strategy and then select a handful of free or affordable tools to help you track the data that matters to you.
Before choosing tools, spend some time planning. Determine your goals and the data you’ll need to gather to reach them—what do you want to know at the end of the process? Then, select the tools to help get you there, and work them into your daily or weekly processes to make them an iterative part of the way you work.
Start small. Choose a couple of items to track, and act on them. Your successes will carry you forward.
Andrea Berry is Idealware’s director of partnerships and learning and Chris Bernard is the senior editor. Debra Askanase from Community Organizer 2.0, Lisa Colton from Darim Online, Maddie Grant from SocialFish, Beth Kanter from Zoetica, Carie Lewis from the Humane Society of the United States and Amy Sample Ward from NTEN helped with this article.
License:Copyright The Nonprofit Times