Expert advice on social media ROI

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It is clear that the rise of social media provides many unique opportunities for nonprofit organizations to fundraise, engage supporters and reach target audiences. What has been much harder to discern is determining whether those social media efforts create positive, measurable results.

Participating in social media takes time and resources, things which lean-running nonprofits usually lack. How can these organizations measure whether social media is an effective use of scarce resources, a waste of time or something in between? 

A number of sites lay out high-level methods for measuring social media success. Some, like this entry from Social Media Examiner, are more focused towards business, but can be easily adapted to the not-for-profit world. This article’s three steps for measuring “social media marketing” -define metrics, target specific audiences, and create incentives for viral sharing- are also aimed at the business world, but are still relevant. 

Nonprofit communications advisers, like SocialBrite’s JD Lasica, have presented methods of measuring the return on social media engagement specifically for cause-driven organizations. Heather Shelby of the Environmental Defense Fund outlined, in an NTEN article filled with great examples and resources, how ROI could be measured on Facebook in particular.

In case you missed it when TechSoup Talks featured a webinar on social media ROI with Kami Griffiths, John Haydon and Chris Garrett, you can follow that link to find an archived audio recording, PowerPoint presentation and mindmap from the session.

We are using the term ROI, but there are those in the social good sector who question the value of applying that specific term to social media, nonprofits and the intersection of the two. Beth Kanter, co-founder of Zoetica and co-author of The Networked Nonprofit, has suggested “Four I’s” that make more sense for nonprofits trying to evaluate their social media outreach. She advises that not-for-profit organizations look for a return on: 

  • Insight - what is being learned about the audience and the efficacy of messages
  • Interaction - how is engagement being deepened and how are relationships being built
  • Investment - a straightforward assessment of the financial costs and benefits of a strategy
  • Impact - what part is social media playing in effecting social change

More recently, Beth has written that looking at a Return on Investment for nonprofits may be a distraction. They should instead be looking at a Return of Change; how social media leads to the ultimate goal of an organization.

Debra Askanase on Community Organizer 2.0 also stresses the value of a return on engagement. She warns that this is not the same as numbers of followers. It is, however, something that can be planned for and measured. Debra’s three points for measuring return on egagement are “community commitment, fan trust, and SMART goal achievement”

Beth Kanter has looked at exactly how to use the SMART framework for defining social media objectives. If you need to get started, but are feeling hesitant, you can try her baby steps for social media measurement.

Can we measure engagement, impact and efficacy when it comes to social media? Yes we can, says “Queen of Measurement” KD Paine. She published a “social media manifesto” white paper, that shows how people are and should be measuring public relations efforts over social media. You can watch this video of KD discussing the “Super Six Steps to Effective PR Measurement”, but here they are in brief.

  1. Define your objective(s)
  2. Define your audience(s)
  3. Define the metrics you will use
  4. Benchmark this against yourself or your competition
  5. Pick your measurement tool
  6. Analyze the results

That is what the experts are saying about measuring social media ROI. How does this get incorporated into the strategic program at your organization? Are you using any of these methods to justify social media participation to executive decision-makers? Or finding your own methods for evaluating the value, cost and benefit of social media outreach? Let the community know in the comments.