Social Media and the “Four Rs”

Tony Burgess-Webb is the co-founder of Sociagility.

The annual planning season for fundraising is in full swing and as the economy continues to falter, achieving the best return on investment will be on everyone’s minds. No more so than in the area of social media. Yet many seem to be struggling with a framework for measurement which makes sense for the sector.

Most organizations across all sectors are still grappling with the issue of measuring social media. As Econsultancy’s State of Social 2011 report finds:

41 percent of respondents report that they do not have an ROI (return on investment) figure for any of the money they spend on social media marketing, while 26 percent say they can attribute an ROI figure to a tiny amount of the money spent on social media.

For how much of the money you spend on social media do you have an ROI figure?

The problem is that without full financial data—i.e. exactly what has been spent and what has been returned or saved—a real ROI calculation is impossible. Even more fundamentally, without a framework for setting objectives which relate to organisational success, any measure of social performance is fairly pointless. So I’d like to suggest a simple framework for applying social media measurement to the higher education sector, starting with the ”three R’s”—not reading, writing and arithmetic—but reputation, recruitment and revenue.


An institution’s reputation is first and foremost about the fundamentals, genuine performance, a really good student experience and value for money. It is also about the perceptions created both by the volume of information about a brand and the value of what the brand says about itself as well as what third party communications say. Social media impacts both. There’s no good reason why this aspect of social media cannot be measured directly via surveys or studies.


Generation Z (born between 1994 and 2004) is the age group most engaged with social media. This group expects its peers and desired brands to be engaged as well. Not engaging, or merely paying lip service, sends a strong negative signal and opens up a competitive advantage for other institutions.

Research by The Student Room shows that potential students value online sources most for evaluating the quality of the teaching experience, the social experience and other key section criteria relating to the experience they can expect, i.e. what do my peers think? What do existing students say?


Social media and networks also have a part to play in two other sources of funding: Government and alumni. Not being present on social media platforms to showcase achievements and engage on relevant issues impacts an institution negatively. Among alumni, social media provide a natural way to connect which is not simply dependent on events and emails. With this group, more than most, tools exist for measuring the real impact of social media in achieving wider goals.

Return on social

Proving that social marketing in isolation delivers a real ROI is a fruitless exercise. It’s usually next to impossible to determine real dollar returns, just as for many other parts of the marketing or operational budget. The three Rs may or may not provide a suitable framework for some social marketers in education to show how their work adds value. But some kind of framework is necessary. Only by setting clear objectives and measuring the contribution social marketing makes, can we discern the fourth R—a useful, understandable and genuine return on social?

Useful resources:

3 responses to “Social Media and the “Four Rs”

  1. The research is useful for those who want to get an overview of what businesses are doing with social media and enables companies to benchmark themselves in terms of budgets, resourcing, metrics and barriers to success … plus much more.

  2. Thanks Chris. There are some fantastic resources out there. The key though, as always, is being able to make an informed decision about which ones apply to your organisation. Unfortunately there’s no magic bullet when it comes to ROI.

  3. Thanks for the thoughts on measurement. Yes, it is an area a lot of people neglect due to lack of info. If people are serious about learning how to measure ROI on social media correctly, there are two “gold standard” resources out there right now in book form that will give you excellent step-by-step information. First, “Measure What Matters” by K.D. Paine and “Social Media ROI” by Olivier Blanchard. Both books have specific info for higher ed and nonprofits. I would also recommend following Tom Webster’s blog (Brand Savant). He does polling research for Edison and talks in layman’s terms about making sense of data.

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