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Measuring the Impact of Your Social Media Program

As nonprofits and advocacy groups delve deeper into social media, the need to assess their return on investment (ROI) is critical. Given the organizational goals of advocacy groups, it should be abundantly clear that ROI encompasses far more than fundraising, and in many cases will not include fundraising at all. So what should the ROI for advocacy groups’ social media programs be and how can we measure them?

Aside from fundraising, a good social media program for advocacy (or rather “social advocacy” program) should focus on measuring influence. Influence comprises several metrics, which can mostly be summarized within these categories:

  • Reach
  • Engagement
  • Driving web traffic home

Be sure and also check Frogloop's blog post "The Four "I's to Measure Social Media"


Simply put, reach is about the size of your audience and how many people see your social advocacy messages. Reach features your largest success metric number—the number of people who see (potentially) your message. Since more people will see your social media posts than will click on any links within them, it is imperative that the posts contain your key message points. That way, just reading the posts will deliver value to your audience and to your programmatic goals.

As with TV ads and print circulation metrics, most of the measures of reach capture the potential audiences you are trying to target. We may know how many people are watching a TV show where your ad runs, but we don’t know how many viewers actually see your ad. Likewise, we know how many newspapers are printed and distributed, but we do not know how many people saw your ad or read the story where you were quoted. Regardless, measuring the potential reach is still important for understanding the exposure of your message to your audience.

Measuring Social Media Reach

Audience size
The simplest of measures for reach is your audience size. How many Twitter followers you have, how many Facebook fans (likes) and friends you have, MySpace friends, etc. are all easy to collect directly from your social media profile pages. For a more detailed analysis of your Twitter audience size and growth rates, check out TwitterCounter.com. For your Facebook Page, click through to Insights on your page (you will find the link halfway down on the left side of your Page).

You can increase the size of your audience on Twitter by using hashtags. Hashtags are any word or alpha-numeric character string connected to a “#” (for example, #Obama or #p2). This creates a link to a search query for that tag. Many people follow hashtags by creating columns in their Twitter client application (i.e. Tweetdeck, HootSuite.com, Seesmic, etc.). So, using a hashtag can increase your audience size tremendously (if you use a popular hashtag).

The number of people monitoring a hashtag is unknowable, but we have some surrogate measures that can suggest the value. Using tools like Hashtags.org, TagDef.com, and Search.Twitter.com, we can see how often a hashtag is used and whether it is being used by many people or just a few. Hashtags that are used several times a minute (and not by the same person over and over again) have larger audiences than those used a few times an hour or day.

Another good measure of reach, if you are promoting a link to content on your website, is the number of Twitter impressions. This metric, which you can get by searching for any destination URL at BackType.com, tells you how many times the URL (or any shortened version of the URL) is served on Twitter. This measure captures the number of times the link actually appears on someone’s computer screen, though, as with TV commercials, you don’t know if they are looking at the screen at the moment. This metric captures the impact of people who tweet the link multiple times, rather than just the number of followers of those tweeting the link.

Analyzing your followers/fans
Ideally, being able to download your audience list, along with their profile information (especially how large their audience is), would allow you to sort, prioritize, and target your outreach much better than the scatter shots you usually have to fire. Many of the tools that claim to do this do not to work (e.g. Tweetake.com, Tweetbackup.com, etc.), but one that does if MyTweeple.com. MyTweeple allows you to download your entire Twitter list (followers and followed) to a spreadsheet, along with all their profile information. This allows you to sort and identify who among your list of followers are influencers and, who among them follow you back. This helps you measure the quality of your audience and better target them for engagement.

Tomorrow on Frogloop I'll discuss effective engagement strategies for social media and how to drive traffic to your organization's website.

Alan Rosenblatt, Ph.D. is the Associate Director for Online Advocacy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. You can follow him on Twitter at @DrDigipol and @CAPAction

Reader Comments (3)

Great article Alan. I'm not too familiar with hashtags but I'm gonna start getting familiar right away. Will I be able to monitor the hashtags with tweetdeck as well?
October 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Samuel
Robert, I am glad you found my post helpful. Hashtags can be very helpful to reach beyond your own followers into affinity communities. Check out @digitalsista for someone who uses hashtags to great effect.
October 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlan Rosenblatt
Nice article. Try out Actionly -Social Media Monitoring dashboard and listening platform. We track across various social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Flickr, Youtube, News and Google Buzz.
Actionly has a graphical social media dashboard with all data is exportable in excel, daily email alerts to name a few features.

Sam Abraham | Marketing & Outreach, Actionly
October 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSam Abraham

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