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Making Sense (not dollars and cents) From Using Social Media

Guest Post: Jenn Whinnem, Connecticut Health Foundation

Just over a year ago, I switched from the corporate to the nonprofit sector to take a job as a communications officer of the Connecticut Health Foundation (CT Health).  Because we don’t sell products and compare revenue from quarter to quarter or year to year, we had to come up with another set of measures for tracking the return on the foundation’s investment investment in social media.  In our case, we want to know how the foundation’s use of social media — as part of our overall communications strategy — helps us achieve our mission to improve the health status of people in Connecticut.

Our work focuses on ensuring access to affordable and quality health care and we target these four areas:

  • children’s mental health
  • health policy/advocacy
  • children’s oral health
  • and racial and ethnic health disparities.

In pursuing our mission to ensure that every citizen, no matter what their needs, can thrive and stay healthy, we use a combination of strategic grant-making, research and policy briefs and communications.

Social media allows us to increase our impact in each of our priority areas by strengthening relationships with our partners, heightening visibility for our work and giving us a mechanism for feedback on our work.

What We Measure
Right now we have a dashboard that answers three questions:

  • Are we gaining visibility for our work?
  • What is our audience reading?
  • Are we engaging with our audience?

I’d like to call out the second bullet specifically. We use Google Analytics to understand which blog content as well as website pages are the most popular with our audiences. Popular blog content has more than informed our social media content strategy – it’s also given us insight into what policy information people are looking for. At some point in the near future we’d love to have this inform our grant-making strategy as well.

Looking at traffic to other sections of the website lets us know if people are looking at promoted programs. For example, at the time of this writing, we were recruiting for our CT Health Leadership Fellows program. We wanted to see an increase to traffic at that part of our site (and we did). Thanks to the Visitors Flow (here’s the best article I’ve read on this to date) we’re able to see how people go through the pages to understand the program.

While we technically do not have competitors, we’re also interested in how we stack up compared to other foundations of our size. I use to get a ballpark figure on select foundations’ website views, and manually look at other foundations’ Facebook stats as well. So far, CT Health is doing well (not to brag).

What We’ve Learned
Here’s my laundry list:

  • Our most popular content on our blog falls into the broad buckets of: health policy, racial and ethnic health disparities, and how-to’s for our grantees.
  • Facebook is really hard, and getting harder, for engagement.
  • Participating in the monthly #hcsmct (that’s health care social media Connecticut) tweetchats and tweetups has definitely boosted engagement and visibility.

While we use social media differently than what I was used to in my for-profit job, one thing it shares with that world is a focus on results — not dollars and cents — but proof that our work as a foundation is helping people in Connecticut live healthy lives.  And to make it work for us, we need to know:

  • What we want to achieve
  • What we want to measure
  • Who our audiences are
  • How to get there.

This is how CT Health measures the success of its social media efforts. How about you?

Jenn Whinnem is a Communications Officer at the Connecticut Health Foundation where she blogs, shoots and edits video, tweets and wrestles social media technology. Find her at @jennwhinnem or @cthealth. This post is modified from a version that appeared earlier on Spin Sucks.


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