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It's About Impact NOT Influence 

Do you think your organization has clout or Klout? Is your organization considered a content curator? Are you a leader or a follower? Or are social media ranking tools an example of more kool-aid mix being added to the overflowing punch bowl?

As more nonprofits get aggressive with their social media outreach, they are starting to take cues from the business sector about their own influence and finding “those influentials” that they think are going to produce magical results. “Is it even possible to measure online influence, divorced from offline influence?” asks Tom Webster over at BrandSavant. Nope, it’s not possible.  

On this influencer quest, I fear that organizations are starting to lose sight of the most important outcome of outreach and engagement – impact. For the nonprofit community, impact translates into results on:

Donations – The money that keeps nonprofit organizations alive so that they can continue working on the world’s toughest issues every day.

Advocacy – People taking action both online and offline. Are your supporters lobbying their local and national representatives for your issues by writing letters, making phone calls, meeting with their Reps, etc? Are your advocacy goals being met? Legislation being passed?

Volunteers – Is your nonprofit generating volunteers? Mobilizing volunteers is a critical part of building movements.

Web Traffic – When you make an impact online, you will see an increase in sign-ups to your list and, over the long-term, increased donations and advocacy if you take the time to cultivate these people properly and arm them with the information and tools they need.

It’s also important to review your bounce rates monthly. If your bounce rates are incredibly high – meaning people are coming to your website and quickly leaving, your content is not resonating with your audiences. That’s a negative impact that you need to address.

Earned Media – Are you generating news articles, TV and radio coverage, blog posts, and letters to the editor about your organization? Are these articles reaching your target audiences such as decision-makers, your base of supporters, and the opposition?

“The influencer concept is based on the impact of Twitter accounts and blogs, and it really should be measured with conversion code on the client site. Until then, we aren't really measuring impact, and the value of the influence is unproven,” said Brian Carter, a Search Engine Marketing consultant.

Can influence play into impact? Sure. Here’s how: as a nonprofit, part of your team should be focusing its energy on developing a strong outreach plan, both online and offline. The plan should always include reaching the influentials or the connectors across multiple channels. These are the people who are passionate about your issue within your community. They can help you promote your organization’s initiatives to other like-minded people and connect all of you.  Influentials are not the people who have the most followers on Twitter. That is not real influence – it’s only one tiny part of it – so don’t fall into that trap.  And remember even though many nonprofit campaigners work in the online world, good old-fashioned organizing on the ground is alive and well. In fact, on-the-ground organizing (combined with online) continues to be a key ingredient campaigners use to help win elections and campaigns.  So the next time you are lured towards the punch bowl, remember: impact trumps influence.

More Resources:

5 Primary Problems with Klout - Geoff Livingston

Understanding Klout - Brandsvant.com

Hype vs. Reality: What digital channels are the most effective in 2010? - Frogloop

Reader Comments (12)

So happy you wrote this terrific post!! Been saying this for years ....
December 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBeth Kanter
Thanks Beth. I remember that post and the experiment you did after experiencing a surge in Twitter followers.
December 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAllyson Kapin
I'm sorry, while I agree that obsessing about "influence" is wrong-headed, I don't think any of the measures you propose fit my notion of "impact." Impact is achieving your organization's mission; for advocacy group, this usually means changing public or private sector decisions or policy. Web traffic, donations, volunteers, etc. might help, depending on your campaign plan. But they are not in-and-of-themselves the "impact" that organizations are working for.
December 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJon Stahl
Jon if a nonprofit does not raise money to do their advocacy work which can directly impact changing public or private sector decisions, doesn't organize and mobilize volunteers to help achieve the organizations mission and priorities, how would you propose we measure impact?
December 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAllyson Kapin
I'm not saying money, volunteers, etc. aren't important. They are inputs, not impact, though. Impact is measured by actual achievements that directly advance the organization's specific policy/social change goals. Legislation passed, policy change enacted, etc. Those are the results that actually deliver on an organization's mission. Everything else is an input.
December 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJon Stahl
I couldn't agree more with this post. From an advocacy point of view, FB likes, Twitter followers, and Klout scores are nothing but a barometer of our ability to engage people with our message. The real challenge, as you note Allyson, is to then connect advocates across multiple channels.

We focus a lot more of our time (and our $$) on developing an engaging daisy chain of activities that can convert a person's initial engagement via social media into motivation to go out and meet with groups of our local advocates and share their stories. Offline engagement with other advocates is a pretty strong predictor of a willingness to engage later w/legislators (or any other target audience) offline.

For us, using social media has helped us to increase the number of people that we engage with that daisy chain and the number of people that complete it.
December 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMike Kondratick
Measurement of an organization's activities is so important for determining outcomes and impact. Thanks for pointing out a few indicators that helps us shift focuses on not just what our "influence" is online, which is just measured by vanity metrics, but what can lend itself to actually measuring the impact of our work.

I'd have to agree that this isn't a comprehensive list of metrics. Each non-profit has its own unique metrics that they have to determine from their activities.
December 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRob Wu
Good stuff Allyson!

Measuring impact is very much what it's all about. But that seems to be a tough thing for non-profit organizations to do (for some reason). We just did a simple study to see what type of social media metrics non-profits were measuring - the results were not surprising, but the insight into where we should be focusing (or helping non-profits to think about) is very useful.

3 Social media metrics non-profit's should be tracking. http://bit.ly/g9z13H

I'd be interested in your thoughts for sure :)

December 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterfrank
Good article. It speaks of getting people to take action and do something per se as a member of a social media outlet.
Question here is, what about just utilizing social sites for awareness?

In my specific case, I have people come forward and take action weekly, but most of the time I state the problem we have and how we could use other people to help us with a solution.

I do think it is important to remember that not every non profit should start up a social media campaign with a direct goal of raising money and getting volunteers.

Simply teaching someone something new, identifying ourselves as an organization, and figuring out who we are trying to reach are all good steps.

We must all crawl before we run. To enter the facebook world or Twitter, one must learn to listen first, set small, simple goals and then start the jogging process after we learn to walk :)
December 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRoxanne
Good post, Allyson. It was interesting to interview Klout's CEO Joe Fernandez. THey are adding a cumulative total of 20 metrics to their influence measurement, including commenting source like Disqus. The conversation will get more interesting, I think. Not great, still quantitative, but more interesting.
December 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGeoff Livingston
Roxanne, I agree - social media is a good way to HELP brand your nonprofit. But, when we do we begin to measure important metrics outside of branding? As more nonprofits begin to hire social media staff or divert resources to social media how will it connect to our overall advocacy and fundraising goals?

Rob, thanks for the feedback. Yes, there are numerous metrics you can measure, but I chose to focus on what I consider to be some of the most important metrics for many nonprofits.
December 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAllyson Kapin
I have to disagree on the "earned media and website traffic" side. Is that helpful and good to have... yes. However, unless that earned media also translates into dollars raised and/or specific actions that allow the charity to further it's goals, those things are irrelevant.

Charities are businesses that do good works. If I can't point to a website visit or newspaper article and link that directly to a life saved, tree planted, cat rescued (or whatever the cause activity might be)... it's irrelevant.
January 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaurie Pringle

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