« Tricks & Treats for Nonprofits to Spark Action This Halloween | Main | Study: Photos Generate More Retweets on Twitter »

The New War on Social Media Vanity Metrics

If you manage social media for your organization, you probably face incredible pressure to show growth and success. You may use free or paid tools to show numbers such as growth in followers, Likes and shares, RT’s, and sentiment based on secret algorithms by computer programs. But are these stats meaningful? Do they really give you the full picture of how your organization is connecting with your constituents and moving them up the engagement ladder? Do these stats show your boss about how your organization is meeting its mission and making an actual impact? NO! That’s why you need to change the way you measure social media and declare a war on vanity metrics.

Why is Social Media Data Important?

Last week during the Salsa Conference, I was asked this very question, why is social media data important - by Adrianne Burke, of Salsa Labs, during our panel Measuring Your Social Media.

As nonprofits organizations, your ultimate goal is to fight for social change and mobilize people to take action.

Social media is just one of several channels that you should be using to connect with constituents, build community, and mobilize people to work toward your goals.

You need concrete social media data to determine your impact through social media. The data you should look at is:

  •  Are people taking action on your issues?
  •  Are people signing up to volunteer?
  • Are people sharing your content with their friends and inspiring them to get involved with your organization?
  • Are you developing strong enough relationships where you can cultivate these people and turn them into donors down the road? 

What are the Best Tools for Collecting Data?

  1. The human brain is the best analytics tool. (Note, I borrowed this from Paull Young who heads up digital at charity: water). Don't just rely on tools and expect them to give you the full picture. For example, the only real way to measure sentiment and how people are feeling about your campaigns, your content, your work, and your impact is to analyze the conversations yourself. What are people saying to you on social media channels? Is it positive? Is it hostile? Is it neutral? Who is saying these things? Your constituents? Trolls? Bloggers? Track these conversations each week and put them in a spreadsheet; this will allow you to track your growth over time. You will also be able to clearly see what is not working and address it head on.
  2. Focus on connecting all of your key data from multiple channels to create a true picture of your overall performance. For example, look at your Google Analytics to give you an understanding of your website traffic and referrals. Where are people coming from? Is it FB? Is it through online ads? Your email appeals? What are your bounce rates, time spent on site, etc?
  3. When you have content to promote that links back to your website or advocacy action, set up unique source codes or short codes for each social network and channel so that you can track where people are coming from. Look at your CRM stats to find out conversion rates across different social media platforms and channels.
  4. If you are looking for a paid tool, Sysomos is a decent online media and social media analytics system that captures organizational mentions in online media and blogs, and on social media networks. It will also provide a break down of what content spiked on Twitter, blogs, and Facebook. But don’t rely on this, or any one tool, to give you the complete picture of how you're performing on social media.

Should you Care About Reach, Engagement, or Fan/Follower Count

Of course you want to be growing month to month, but your organization should not be so obsessed with numbers. It’s about quality, not quantity. It's much better to have 5,000 committed people on Facebook who want to help your organization meet your mission, take action, volunteer, or donate money than 50,000 people who just “Liked” you on FB but really aren't interested or invested in your organization. From the data I have actually seen on several FB pages, the more people who “Like” a page, the less people who are actually engaged with it.

So, what exactly is it that you should be focusing on? Here are more meaningful metrics to focus on that I've written about here on Frogloop. These are the metrics that should resonate with senior leadership a lot more, because ultimately you are showing them a return on investment that is equal to your organization’s actual impact.

Focus on Target Audiences
Are you fostering meaningful conversations with target audiences? Who is talking about you, and are you talking back?

Focus on Engagement That Connects to Mission
Are you measuring engagement based on your organization’s mission and key goals? Or are you resorting to vanity metrics that actually have nothing to do with your mission and the impact you seek to have?

Focus on Commitment and Conversion Rates
Do people feel committed to your organization and the work you do? Are you moving people up the ladder of engagement and getting them to take an important action on behalf of your organization because they feel passionate about your mission? 

Focus on Influence and Trust
Do the people you seek to reach look to your organization as a leading authority? Do they come to you first for the latest information and resources, and do they trust your organization? 

Reader Comments (5)

Amen! Consider me your brother in arms in the battle against vanity metrics :)
October 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDrew Bernard
Boom. Let's do it Drew!
October 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAllyson Kapin
Terrific overview of best practices in social media measurement -- and have an easy, tested method for practitioners in "Measuring the Networked Nonprofit." http://amzn.to/measure-networknp

The focus should be on defining the ultimate success - engagement, contributions, behavior change, awareness, or action - and the KPI (data point to measure it). In our book, we called the KPI the KBI - the "kicking butt" indicator - what piece of data would make you say, "Hey we're kicking butt on our mission." Hint: not likes or RT.

Also, it is important to understand that there are "Macro and Micro" conversions and the metrics that tell you have a conversion. So, maybe your macro conversion is to get people to sign a petition, volunteer, or make a donation or change their behavior (stop buying bottled water and use water bottles) - but you have think about the steps they need to take to get to the "Macro Conversion" - these are micro conversions - and might include metrics like reach, commenting, mailing list sign ups, etc. This used to be called the "Ladder of Engagement" because pre social media it was more a linear process. But with social - it is more of a non-linear process - some call it the "consumer journey" and in the nonprofit sector - it's been called the "vortex" --

Anyway, organizations have to think beyond the like and rt - been saying this for years - and why I wrote the book!

With that said, figuring out those big impacts is the first step - organizations also need to learn from their data and continuously improve what they're doing - and that takes being "data informed" -

About six months, RWJF did a convening on the state of social media measurement - and they brought together cross-disciplinary experts in outcomes based measurement, evaluation, social media strategy, social media metrics, analytics - to work on examples and frameworks of applying how to figure out if your social media strategy has an impact - http://www.bethkanter.org/sm_re_notes/ -- there are a lot of useful resources and examples out there of nonprofits and others applying these techniques!
October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBeth Kanter
On the mark. Really appreciate your consistent messaging on this, Allyson!
October 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHannah Roditi
Great post Allyson!
First, I'd like to thank you for recommending our Sysomos software here.
Second, I'm going to agree with you. Our tool can really help you take a look at what's going on with your brand's social media, but seeing it is only half the battle. The other half comes comes from how you use and interpret that data and how it fits in with your other non-social media metrics. As you point out, the ultimate goal is to move a needle, be it donations, purchases, changing attitudes, etc. So the data can help to show some of these things, but it takes a real brain to make sense of all the data, see what is really working and what isn't and then turn all of these observations into insights and ideas that you can use moving forward to keep that needle moving.

Sheldon, community manager for Marketwired
October 17, 2013 | Unregistered Commenter40deuce

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.