Measuring what matters. It takes time.

I wrong or is the conversation about social media metrics stuck in the mud? We are confronted by a preponderance of data that points to social media as something a lot of people use. To wit, on Friday, the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project reported that “the percentage of U.S. adults ages 50 and older nearly doubled from 22% in April 2009 to 42% in May 2010… During the same timeframe, the percentage of adults from 18 to 29 years old using social media rose from 76% to 86%.”

Not too surprising. In fact, I would be bold enough to say that we can officially declare social media as “used” by our various constituencies, in the broadest sense. Where we may very well be missing the boat is in the balance of output and acquisition-based vs. outcome-conversion-based metrics being used to measure the effectiveness of social media efforts. Reflecting on the results of the CASE/mStoner/Slover Linett Strategies social media study, the three most frequently cited tools for measuring social media effectiveness were, number of friends who make a post, sheer number of participants, and click-throughs. Lower down on the list were things like event participation, donations and, the golden ticket in my opinion, surveys. How can we know if we are changing opinions and attitudes and inspiring action without testing the waters?

Having a strategy, complete with goals and associated metrics, behind your social media program is essential. Further, tying that strategy into your overall communication, engagement and institutional initiatives is critical to the internal relevance of your program. If someone at your institution asks “How’s our social media program working?” we need to not only have the tools at hand to provide an informed answer, we should have the analysis to back it up and a plan to repeat the parts that have been successful.

Pointing again to the social media survey, the biggest challenge we have is likely resource-based. Nearly every respondent noted that they are using in-house resources to measure the effectiveness of their programs. This means that, in all likelihood, staff are either being asked to fit measurement into their already busy schedule (which was probably the same case when they were asked to take on social media responsibilities!), and have very little time to take a thoughtful approach to measurement. Sound familiar?

5 responses to “Measuring what matters. It takes time.

  1. Mark, I agree completely. My primary concern is that we are already seeing measurement, but (as you point out) it’s of the wrong things (straight numbers, fans, clicks, whatever) and not the impact social media as part of the larger communications and engagement initiatives are having on institutional initiatives. That takes time and money – two things we end up perilously short on when we get stuck in the mode of always implementing rather that strategizing.

  2. IMHO – we may be spending too much time worrying about metrics. I believe that social media is about building and sustaining relationships and with that said, how do you measure the value of a handshake? And as Charlene Li pointed out in the excellent book “Open Leadership”, we tend to overvalue what we can measure and undervalue what we can not.
    I also think it is important to measure business metrics rather than social media metrics. For example, for my admissions office it means nothing to have 10,000 Facebook fans if that doesn’t lead to enrollment goals.

  3. It does sound familiar! Higher education is repeating right now what it did with the web starting in the mid-1990s: diving in without strategy and then not tracking the outcomes those dives engendered. I’m guessing that when we’re done not measuring the effect of social media, we’ll have more time to not measure the effectiveness of our “mobile strategies.”

  4. Interesting post. Hopefully we may get out of the measurement mud that has bogged down the communications profession for some time. The recent Barcelona Principles bear watching.
    It is worth nothing that social media seems to be held to a much higher measurement standard than other communications initiatives. In part, this is because SM is new and many communicators don’t want to add to the workload unless there is some kind of hard proof that it is worth the effort.
    But I can’t tell you how many PR contests I have judged (non-higher ed) in which organizations have submitted annual reports produced with six figure budgets for which there is no real measurement beyond “the board liked and we got compliments.” How many news releases or glossy fliers have our departments produced over the years with hardly a thought given to metrics (beyond the now-despised AVE)? If social media is going to be put under the microscope, perhaps everything else we do should be as well.

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