An Evolving Approach to Social Media: Measuring the Success of Your Social Media Outreach

By Kirsten Hower posted 10-23-2017 16:30


The Forum Blog has been publishing a series about social media in preservation that addresses community management, storytelling, advocacy, and more. Have questions? Reach out on Forum Connect! Also, keep an eye out for our sessions at PastForward 2017!

As the posts in this series have demonstrated, social media can be employed for a wide range of purposes: outreach, community building, storytelling, advocacy, and more. But sharing blindly and without a strategy is a hit-and-miss practice. A critical step in developing that needed strategy is determining how to measure the success of the strategy as a whole and its individual campaigns.

Tracking the continued use of #ThisPlaceMatters has allowed us to follow the campaign's growth.

Tracking your results is not just some tedious extra task meant to generate metrics to present to your superiors. Rather, taking the time to analyze your efforts and determine their success rate is crucial for the continued development of a winning social media program.

Establish What Success Looks Like

The first step for measuring the success of your social media strategy is to determine what success looks like to you. What metrics you track depends solely on your goals for utilizing social media in the first place. There are three main groups of metrics to track—follower, engagement, and conversions—that each serve a purpose in documenting the success of your efforts.

Follower metrics—often called “vanity metrics”—refer to tracking the growth of your follower base. While it can be gratifying when you hit milestones, these numbers don’t really tell you anything about your audience beyond its size. Looking also at engagement metrics (likes/reactions, comments, shares, use of particular hashtags) allows you to gauge how much of your audience is interacting with your content rather than just following your page or profile. Tracking conversion metrics is yet another step; that means determining how many followers have gone to a higher level of involvement by signing up for emails, becoming members, or donating. There are several ways to track these metrics, and this resource guide can help you find the tracking method that will work for you.

Don’t Be Discouraged by Setbacks

Along the road to success, you’ll hit some bumps, such as having an unsuccessful campaign, or losing followers. Whatever you do, do not be discouraged. No one gets from 0 to 100,000 engaged followers without experiencing an occasional drop-off (trust us, we know). Social media is fickle: algorithms constantly change, platforms redefine followers, glitches happen. As long as your metrics are continuing to grow over an extended period, then you do not need to worry about the one week when your engagement tanked.

These bumps also provide an opportunity to learn and change your strategy. Maybe a blog post that you thought would be really popular with your audience did terribly. Or a post that you grudgingly put out goes viral and sets a new milestone for your engagement metrics. Why do these things happen? Dig into your content sharing strategy after it is put into practice and see what you uncover. Maybe your audience isn't as interested in a topic as you thought, or they are particularly active at a certain time of day. Maybe developing current events have distracted your audience, or greatly heightened their interest in your related post. Analyzing these one-time occurrences, especially if they develop into trends, can help strengthen your strategy.

Know Your Limitations

Many preservation organizations face a similar challenge when it comes to analyzing their social media results (and to using social media in general): a small staff without a designated social media person or team. It is entirely possible to use social media to your advantage if you can carve out a bit of focused time, even without dedicating an entire team to your efforts. But knowing your limitations is the first step. Dedicating even an hour to analyzing your monthly or campaign-specific results may be enough to deduce what worked, what didn’t, how this month/campaign performed in comparison to others, and what changes you need to make to future strategies.

Measuring your results on a regular basis—month to month or even quarterly if you are really pressed for time—has another advantage: It helps you determine which channels are most effective for you. Not every channel works for every organization or site, so analyzing your content’s performance on a specific channel will allow you to make an educated decision on whether to keep using it.

Work Smarter Not Harder

Social media management software—like Sprout Social, Hootsuite, and AgoraPulse—can make all of your work easier. Not only are such programs helpful for managing your content sharing and developing a community, but they can also take some of the burden off of you when it comes to analyzing your strategy. They can track your marketing efforts, create reports, and gather your information in one place to allow for simple and speedy analysis. Most are fairly low cost. (In fact, many don’t publicize it, but will offer a nonprofit discount if you ask.) These tools won’t do all of the heavy lifting, but they provide a much-needed resource for social media marketers with limited resources.

Kirsten Hower is the social media coordinator at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.


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