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As Social Media Grows So Do Measurement Tools

Guest Post: Michael Hamill Remaley

I remember going to gatherings of communicators a few years ago where there would be the obligatory question and then a show of hands, “How many of you foundations or nonprofits are using social media, such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube?”  Now our starting point seems to be: “How is your organization using social media…and is it working?”

That was certainly the case this week when members of Public Policy Communicators NYC — of which the Communications Network is a founding partner — met at the Ford Foundation to examine the latest thinking about metrics for social media. The first set of questions was, “Why are you using the social media you are? Are you using certain tools because you think you should? Or are you using the tools to achieve specific goals?” The quick answer: communications goals should drive tactics, not the other way around

In traditional media relations efforts you don’t send out a stream of press releases every month with nothing particularly insightful to say or any specific audience in mind to say it to. So it is with new media.  Communicators need to start by establishing clarity about the audiences they are trying to reach and what mechanisms those audiences use to get their information.  But the big difference with social media is, of course, that it is not a one-way broadcast mechanism.  These tools are equally, and perhaps more valuably, about listening to audiences and involving them in fulfilling your organizational mission.

The depth of social media assessment metrics should equal the depth of engagement with your audiences though these channels. In traditional media relations efforts we are starting to talk less about the number of reports we print and the number of “media hits” we get as authentic indicators of effectiveness. Instead, thoughtful communications pros are focusing on how effective we are at changing the direction of public conversation. This is also true for new media metrics.

A team of advisors from Fenton Communications led the discussion and talked about four different levels of measurement that foundation communications professionals should keep in mind.

“See” Metrics. “See” metrics track how many followers, friends, fans and subscribers you have, how many page views you get, etc. These measures, like traditional impression and circulation figures in media relations, are all about potential. “See” metrics are a measure of reach, but they are not a measure of success.

“Say” Metrics. This second level of measuring social media focuses on message acceptance.  It looks at things like how many Re-Tweets your messages get, how many “likes” you get, how many of your advocacy emails get forwarded, etc. “Say” metrics are a good indication of messaging success and affinity for your organization or cause.  They are critical to extending your reach and influence.  However, they are still not a true measure of influence.

“Feel” Metrics. This level of metrics gets at the degree to which your messages are being picked up and “remixed” by the public with their own thoughts and feelings.  These include things like Re-Tweets with personalization, posting of your information on Facebook pages with personalized messages, blog posts that pick up your information and comment on it and forwarded advocacy emails that add to your original message. “Feel” metrics are a true indication of influence and affinity, and a goldmine for insights on messaging development and identification.  However, “Feel” metrics require significant research and human interpretation – they’re not simplistic numbers.

“Do” Metrics. This is really the ultimate level of measuring new media impact, and certainly the ones that have proven the most elusive for most nonprofits and foundations. These measure how many people have been driven by social media interactions to do things like volunteer, donate, take action, sign up, attend events, send letters, etc. These metrics really indicate the degree to which your social media efforts have helped bring people into the public conversation.  Most of your social media efforts should be focused on serving the Doers. You should use social media tools to be useful, to be relevant and to be social.

The conversation flowed over how foundations and nonprofits can be truly useful to various audiences through social media tools.  The Fenton team talked a great deal about being a “screamer” at the online party versus being a “cool DJ” who listens, remixes, shares, promotes and feeds back into a continuous loop of communication with many audiences.  They also presented a case study of one major international nonprofit that had had a significant success in putting this idea into practice.

The conversation produced many practical pointers on how to manage time, how to monitor issues, how to use new media to reach traditional media journalists and many other topics.  The Fenton team also provided an exceedingly useful list of online tools to help communications pros listen and track what’s happening with the issues on which they focus. All of this and more are available in the fulsome meeting notes [link to come] on the PPC-NYC website.

Still, after nearly two hours of exploration, we were left with many questions. The entire field is struggling to put the pieces together, which is only natural given the evolving nature of these media and their users. When it comes to social media, if you feel like you are stumbling through the darkness blindfolded, you’re in good company.  The Obama Administration is struggling with it, Malcolm Gladwell and Clay Shirky are debating it, and at least one former nonprofit evangelist for new media is starting to reconsider.

My personal belief is that it will simply take time for our understanding to catch up with people’s evolving use of social media. I feel like we’re in the same place where social change makers were in their understanding of the impact of television on society in 1948.  Sure, everyone was talking about it and lots of families were running out to get a set for their living room, but we simply had no idea just how it would change everything about our lives and how people come to know their world.  Few were thinking about how to track and measure those changes.  At least in the social media era we’re talking about it and starting to makes some sense of it all. We may be stumbling around in the dark, but at least we’ve taken off the blindfold.


Michael Hamill Remaley, a regular contributor to the Communications Network blog, is a communications consultant and also director of Public Policy Communicators NYC.


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