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Don’t Be Afraid to Jump on the Analytics Bandwagon

Guest Post: Anjula Carrier and Vanessa Schnaidt

Have you jumped on the “data analytics” bandwagon yet? Or are you worried it has passed you by?

If you haven’t made the leap, you’re not alone. Data analytics – the use of tools that can help you better understand the effectiveness of your communications strategies (or any organizational strategies) – are still in the “emerging state.” A recent Bloomberg Businessweek study notes that despite the growth of powerful and relatively easy-to-use software that can help organizations make meaning of valuable data (such as the well-known Google Analytics), spreadsheets are still the number one tool used for data analytics.

That said, there’s neither a reason to fear nor to be overly cautious about integrating data analytics into your work.  The most important reason is that by making a better effort to analyze the data your work is yielding, you (and your organization) can move from a “measure and respond” mentality to “predict and act.”

Simply put: an analytical mindset enables organizations to have a closer relationship with their audiences.  The closer you get, the better able you are to make decisions about how to deepen those relationships and increase the overall effectiveness of your communications.

Here’s an example from our experience at the Foundation Center. One of our primary products is Foundation Directory Online (FDO) – a tool we offer for a subscription fee that helps grantseekers identify funding prospects.

We recently implemented a “pay per click” (PPC) campaign that uses targeted ads based on keywords to drive potential users of FDO to our site. Although we saw a jump in visitors to our site as a result of the PPC campaign, we discovered only a few completed the sales cycle.

That puzzled us until we came across an article that shared this startling finding from research Google had done: “97 percent of new visitors don’t convert the first time they arrive at your site.”

Put another way, while you might be successful at increasing traffic to your site, only 3 percent of those new visitors will take an action you’d like during that first visit.

So what can you do to increase visitor engagement?

In our case, we took advantage of a tool that Google Adwords offers called remarketing. Remarketing lets you show ads to users who’ve previously visited your website as they browse the Web. Now, when a visitor spends a certain amount of time on our website, Google adds a cookie to their browser, and our FDO ads will be displayed on other websites they visit  – like the New York Times. The way we like to think about it, remarketing allows us to keep FDO top of mind for those who aren’t ready to subscribe.

The best part is that we can tailor this tool to target specific visitors. For instance, it can be set up to target visitors to specific pages – everything from our home page to individual content pages. By combining the ability to target with data about where people are most likely to be on our site, we’re able to increase the likelihood of driving them back again, keep them on the site longer, and convert a visit into an action.

In addition to helping boost traffic and increase engagement, analytics also helps you with other decisions about how to make your communications more effective – and can even serve as strategic content itself.

Here’s one more example:

Earlier this year, the Foundation Center hosted a friendly internal competition with the aim of gathering data to weave into various communications platforms – from presentations to marketing e-mails to tweets – to strengthen our messaging to specific audience groups. We challenged staff to a 24-hour “sprint” to find the most intriguing and impressive factoids about the Foundation Center using Google Analytics, our website tracking software.

The result? More than 150 pieces of data about the Foundation Center submitted by our colleagues – many of which have already been integrated into infographics, speeches and funding proposals and reports. Bolstering these things with concrete data has helped us to differentiate our organization, clearly tell the story of our impact and make our communications more memorable.

But that wasn’t the only benefit. This competition also served as a great way to engage staff at all levels and across all departments. By introducing our colleagues to analytics in a fun, light-hearted (and yes, incentivized) way, they learned from experience that (1) you don’t need to be a data geek to use tools like Google Analytics or engage in data-driven decision making, (2) all staff can play a role in finding creative – and concrete – ways to represent the organization externally and (3) even one cool statistic can make a difference in the organization’s work.

More than one-third of our staff participated in the competition and none of our three our winners had ever used Google Analytics before. In fact, for two of them, this was their first time using web tracking software of any kind. Equally as exciting is that after the competition, staff requested to have access to Google Analytics on an ongoing basis – proving that their interest had been piqued beyond the lure of a contest prize.

So, how can you bring analytics to your communications and begin to foster a culture of data-driven decision making?

  • Experiment. It’s ok to start small, but don’t be afraid to try something new.
  • Tailor your approach to your organization’s resources and capabilities. Consider what motivates your staff, what is their skill level and how to make the process an engaging but equal playing field.
  • Learn from it. Be thoughtful about how you evolve your strategy and your behavior so the next effort is even better.

One final note: sifting through a deluge of data is not always easy, but it provides a fountainhead of insights that will enable you to understand the present and foretell the future in a way that helps hone your external outreach like never before.

(For more on this topic, please see this handout from the 2012 Communications Network Conference. It provides an action plan template and a list of resources to get you started.)

These are some of our experiences using data analytics. How about you? Are you making use of data to drive decision-making? Share your stories.

Anjula Carrier is vice president for Marketing and Communications and Vanessa Schnaidt is director of communications at the Foundation Center.


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