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An 8-Step Plan for Measuring Digital Media

Guest Post: Rebecca Reyes, communication associate, Everyday Democracy

Nowadays, it seems like digital media changes faster than the blink of an eye. How do we not only keep up with it, but also measure its impact? This was the focus of the “Measuring Our Reach in a Digital World” group therapy session at the 2011 Communications Network Conference, and seems to be an ongoing discussion among communication professionals.

Measuring impact is more than collecting numbers – it’s about listening to what the data shows and acting on it. It’s about assessing how close you are to reaching your audience and meeting your goals. For example, at Everyday Democracy, usually between 750 and 900 people open our e-newsletter out of about 5,000 subscribers. These numbers are typical for our type of organization, so at the surface it seems like we’re doing our job.

In an earlier e-newsletter design (see below), we had a sidebar where we featured advice from our program officers, videos, and books. Providing advice is a core component of our work, so it’s important to us that people are reading it, sharing it and acting on it. After digging deeper into our data, we found that our advice on the sidebar received an average of 30 clicks. The bottom line: We weren’t reaching or engaging enough people to have the impact we wanted.

Based on our analysis, we moved our advice out of the sidebar and into the main section of the e-newsletter. After this change, (see below) the clicks to our advice increased more than tenfold: The average jumped to 437, an increase of 1357%! Before, we rarely saw our advice shared on other platforms. Now, people regularly share it on Facebook, Twitter, blogs and websites. This is just one example of how we’ve expanded our reach as a result of a thorough analysis of the data.

When measuring print media, we often assume that if we mail 10,000 newsletters, every single one of them is read front-to-back. In reality, we have no way of knowing whether 10,000 people snuggled up with the newsletter for some night-time reading, or if they put it straight into the recycling bin. Digital media opens up a whole new world for tracking. Now, you can measure engagement: how many people opened it, which links they clicked on, where they’re sharing it, etc.

During the Fall Conference Group Therapy session on measuring digital media, it seemed like there was an elephant in the room: We get big numbers when we measure print media, and that looks good. Plus, measuring is easier. Let’s say you sent out 10,000 newsletters, or 500 people took your brochure at a conference. For print measurements, that’s often where the story ends. Perhaps you get a few calls or donations you can link back to those publications, but there’s not much else to track.

When you start measuring digital media, it may be a surprise that out of 10,000 e-newsletter subscribers, only 1,200 people opened the e-letter. Digital media numbers may be smaller, but they tell a us a lot more. Instead of comparing print with digital media, it’s best to compare apples to apples. Find out whether that’s a typical open rate for an e-newsletter, or see if your numbers change significantly after you test out a new idea.

After you get over the initial shock of the smaller numbers when evaluating digital media, you’ll probably find that tracking engagement is extremely useful. Here’s how you can get started:

1. Get familiar with analytics

Unless you are familiar with the analytics, you might not have an idea of what you can actually measure. This step is especially crucial if digital media is a new territory – the information might be more instant and detailed than what you’re used to.

Just about every form of digital media has an analytics system: Facebook, YouTube, podcast hosting sites and Google Analytics for websites, just to name a few. If you’re not sure where to start, look for tutorials or sign up for a training.

For example, this page has helpful information on Google analytics, including online training, seminars and videos.

2. Set goals and identify audiences

Use your knowledge of analytics to establish goals and outcomes you can actually measure. When deciding on a target audience, draw on existing demographic information about who uses different kinds of media. For example, it might be important to know that 65% of Facebook users are under the age of 35. Or that African Americans and Latinos are more likely than whites to use Twitter. Doing this background research can help you reach people where they already are.

Since different people use different platforms, create separate goals and target audiences for each. If you’re a little overwhelmed at first, start with just one.

3. Collect, collect, collect

Track everything that might show progress toward your goals or tell you more about your audience: likes, shares, tweets, retweets, visits, time spent, time of day the message went out…. the list goes on. As you collect more information, you’ll get a better sense of which statistics are most important for what you’re trying to achieve.

In order to establish trends, you may want to summarize your statistics on a weekly or monthly basis. For example, you might record the number of retweets for each message, but it might also be useful to document the total number of retweets per month.

An Excel spreadsheet is all you’ll need to start collecting information, though there are many programs out there that might save you some time.

4. Organize the data

On a regular basis (perhaps quarterly or yearly), organize the information you’ve collected. Graph the number of likes and comments on your Facebook page. List the most and least popular tweets. Create a pie chart of which sections of your website receive the most visits. Think about how you can show trends and make the information accessible even for people who aren’t in your department.

5. Identify relevant data

Not every graph or list will give you useful information. Focus on the ones that show the biggest changes, and pull out data that directly relates to your goals.

6. Draw conclusions

Now that you’ve made the data easy to understand and identified the most interesting information, it’s time to decipher all those lists and graphs. What story do they tell? What conclusions can you draw from the data? What does it say about your audience? Given this information, how should you change your strategy or implementation?

7. Implement recommendations

Maybe you discovered that you receive the highest open rate for your e-newsletter when you send it out on Tuesday. Or perhaps your Facebook fans are more interested in videos than news articles. Whatever your data tells you, act on it!

8. Return to step 3

Evaluation is an ongoing process. Test your recommendations to see if your assumptions hold true. Next time around, you may want to take a look at the information through a different lens.

What other tips do you have for evaluating social media?

Rebecca Reyes is the Communication Associate at Everyday Democracy and has spent the last four years guiding organizations on Web and social media strategy, implementation, and evaluation.


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