Is social media working for your organization? That question seems simple enough until you start to think about it. Working for what? Compared to what? Are you doing what you are supposed to be doing? Wait, what exactly are you doing again?

It’s a lot easier to answer a specific question, like “How many comments are you getting on your blog?” That’s the secret to measurement—defining your goals, parsing out the individual social media activities that will support it, and then defining the information that will let you know if those activities are working.

Start with setting clear goals. Define what you hope to accomplish through your social media efforts. Perhaps you want to recruit more volunteers, get people to take a particular action or read a particular report, or to build your relationship with current supporters to make it more likely that they’ll continue to volunteer or attend events down the road. A nebulous goal like “increasing awareness” is virtually impossible to measure—instead, ask yourself why you want to increase awareness. What do you hope increased awareness will do for your organization?

If you lack clear goals, you’ll find it impossible to effectively measure what you’re doing. There’s no way to know what denotes success, or even what data to gather.

As an example, think about your organization’s Facebook page. Maybe it would be useful to measure your number of fans, or the engagement of those fans—whether they click “like” on posts, comment on them, or share them with their own networks of friends. Or it could be useful to measure whether they ultimately click through to your site, sign your petition or make a donation.

Which of these are the “right” things to measure? There’s no way to know without defining what you’re trying to accomplish. You can collect infinite data points on social media activity, but if you don’t identify your goals and set clear measures of success, you can’t direct your measurement toward data that will tell you whether you’ve succeeded or failed, and how to improve.

Keep in mind that along with clear goals, you also need benchmarks for success. For some organizations, the idea of reaching 100 fans is something to strive for, while others quickly reach 1,000 and set their sights higher. If your goal is to recruit volunteers, set a specific number of volunteers that, perhaps, tell you that they found out about the opportunity on Facebook. Or if you want to spread information, define a benchmark for how many views of your resource will qualify as success. Setting numbers gives you something to measure against, and tracking it makes it easier to know what to expect for next time.

Let’s say your organization has a fundraising event coming up, and you’re planning your social media campaign to help convince people to come. Promoting the event is a vague goal. Recruiting attendees is better, but not specific enough. Recruiting 25 attendees who haven’t attended before is a specific goal that then gives you something to aim for and something to measure.

Think of it this way—your goals help you determine what data to collect, and the data you collect helps you meet your goals.

For more information about how to collect that data, read the article, “A Few Good Tools for Measuring your Social Media Efforts.”