I'm a metric junkie. If I could spend all day just hitting the refresh button and watching the numbers go up, I'd be happy. And metrics are wonderful things: they can tell us what we're doing right, and when we should stop and try something else.
But metrics are also dangerous things. As the old adage says, you get what you measure. If you don't define meaningful metrics, it's very easy to get wrapped up in a number that's not really tied to anything that matters to your organization. How many site visitors do you get? How many clicks on your emails? How many Facebook friends or Twitter followers? While all of these things can be very useful to make tactical changes, none of them measure the *effectiveness* of your communications. Only measuring actual *outcomes* - actions, changed behavoir, donations - can tell you what's actually effective.
So it won't come as a shock that Seth Godin's recent post about nonprofits
really pissed me off (I'm not alone: Beth Kanter has a terrific summary of the responses
, which also got a ton of insightful comments). He observed that nonprofits are unwilling to change in order to effectively use social media. Based on? A few conversations, the fact that there are no nonprofits in the top 100 Twitter users, they don't use Squidoo (the obscure social media platform HE OWNS), and that they continue to send those darn old school direct mail fundraising letters.
Are nonprofits more or less effective at using social media than other types of organizations? I don't know. Effective to what end? Maybe; certainly no one would argue that there's room for improvement. But his data sucks.
I will say boldly and proudly: If we at Idealware spend a single dollar or a single minute trying to be one of the top 100 most followed Twitterers, we're wasting the resources that our constituents have entrusted to us. Trying to do massive broadcast communications with millions of people is not our mandate. I don't believe there are that many people in the world on Twitter than are likely to 1) benefit from our services or 2) take any action to help Idealware serve our mission. Like 95% of all nonprofits in the world, we have a niche audience. We shouldn't be trying to reach EVERYONE. We should be trying to reach the people that matter to our mission.
Don't get me wrong: we're using Twitter (and it takes a lot more than a minute a day). And we've in fact found Twitter to be helpful in reaching the people that matter to our mission. But the type of follower is as important as quantity.
And frankly, that's the point of marketing. No marketer worth his/ her salt, whether in the nonprofit or business world, is trying to just broadly reach EVERYONE, and none of them make decisions based on anything other than actual outcomes. You don't just decide which method sounds the coolest. You figure out what works.
Speaking of what works. His point about Squidoo (again, the obscure social media platform HE OWNS) is that although they often give away $10,000, not that many nonprofits try for that. Great. I'm really pleased by that. Nonprofits too often chase money that isn't likely to come through. Let's say it takes you 4-5 hours to create a great Squidoo list to give you a shot at that $10,000. Not even Seth claims that you'll get a good outreach return, so let's focus on the money. Let's say you have a 1% chance of winning the money (I've just pulled that out the air, but it seems like pretty good odds for a public contest). So your expected return if you did lots of these would be $100 each time. But it took 4-5 hours. You could do as well with a bake sale. Could you raise more than $100 in a single hour by picking up the phone and calling your supporters? I bet you could. Maybe a lot more.
Why do nonprofits continue to send those old school fundraising letters? Because they work. If they were measuring based Seth Godin's coolness meter, they would make different decisions. But then they would raise less money and make less real change in the world.