What Nonprofits Need to Know About Measuring Social Media ROI

Don't Be Distracted by Vanity Metrics - Measure the Right Stuff

People working on social media at a nonprofit.
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There is no doubt that social media is no longer free.

However, it never really was free, was it? Just consider the time and energy you must invest just to learn the language and culture of the networks, to create engaging posts, and develop eye-catching graphics. And that is even before you interact with your online community. 

As a busy nonprofit professional, you must juggle multiple tasks and solve a variety of problems each day. If your efforts with social media and digital marketing do not create the desired results, how can you justify spending precious time and money on them?

You need to ensure you are getting some ROI (return on investment) from your social media efforts. How much ROI is up to you and your organization.

Determining the ROI of social media is much easier said than done. But you can do it. If your organization does not have the resources to measure and report on your social media efforts, consider cutting back on social media or even putting it off for a few months. The ability to measure your results is the hallmark of a good social media program.   

Why Bother to Measure?

Measurement helps identify what needs improvement, which methods work and, most importantly, where the social media director should spend most of her time and energy.

Nonprofits would never spend thousands of dollars and hours on fundraising tactics and personnel without any expectation of payback. So why do we often do this with social media?

I suspect we don’t insist on measurable ROI from social media because it seems so hazy and hard to define. Nonprofits are great at identifying outcomes for their grant proposals, but not so good at explaining results for their marketing efforts.

For many nonprofits, it is rare to see a direct correlation between a Facebook post and a donation. Some nonprofits use these platforms extremely well to raise money (​St. Baldrick's Foundation for example), but most nonprofits use social media as just one rung on the donor engagement ladder.

That’s why a social media strategy is so crucial. (Note: "Signing up for Twitter" is not a strategy!) You must ask the following questions when figuring out what to measure on social media:

  • What does success for us look like a year from now if we are using social media effectively?
  • How will we know that we are accomplishing our goals with the help of social media?
  • What three quantitative metrics can we create to measure these efforts? Quantitative numbers can be measured objectively.
  • What three qualitative metrics can we create to measure these efforts? Qualitative metrics are subjective and based on observations, stories, and anecdotes.

By reporting the impact of digital marketing efforts, you will give everyone involved a sense of purpose and a better understanding of the power of social media platforms. Imagine how much more supportive your organization might be if you can prove that a social media campaign produced more friends and resulted in more donations.

What to Measure?

Honing the goals and objectives of your social media strategy lays the groundwork for successful measurement. The more specific the goals, the easier they are to measure.

One goal I see all the time is: "Nonprofit XYZ aims to use social media to raise awareness for our organization." If that is your goal, how will you be able to attach KPIs (key performance indicators) and numerical benchmarks to make sure that the time and money spent on social media does raise awareness?

What does "raising awareness" mean exactly? More phone calls to your hotline? More website traffic? More people talking about the cause?

Another common goal is "increased donations." That is probably worthwhile, but, savvy nonprofits know that social media is an essential piece of the puzzle when enticing prospects to give money, but it's not a silver bullet for fundraising.

Five metrics that can help determine nonprofit social media success are:

  • Engagement. By "engagement" I mean the response (or lack of) that your social media content is getting from your online community. Are there shares, comments, and retweets?
  • Reach. Reach is my least favorite metric to measure, but it is still important to understand. Reach numbers tell you how many people saw your social media content but not if they took action. They might have just ignored it.
  • Traffic to and interest in your website
  • Email  newsletter sign-ups
  • Repeats of a hashtag you created for a particular online engagement campaign.

I suggest setting up Google Analytics to measure:

  • Uniques: This is the number of unique visitors your website has.
  • Visits: How many times people visit your site in a given period.
  • Most popular content: What do people read a lot?
  • How people find you: What keywords lead people to your site?
  • Social media referrals: Are people coming to your website as a result of your social media activities?

Don’t become a social media diva who gets obsessed with “vanity metrics.” So many marketers just focus on measuring the number of followers, fans and video views instead of what ultimately does matter.

What is important is not how many people saw your video or liked your page, but how many clicked through to your website. It’s the actions people take after they see your FB or Twitter posts that represent the real value of what you’ve accomplished.

Rather than focusing on methods that will hurt you in the end, such as buying followers and fans just to boost the numbers, work on engaging and inspiring your most passionate online advocates. Enticing them to share your content with their personal and professional networks is worth so much more than purchasing 5000 fake Twitter followers.

Revisit Your Social Media Marketing Strategy. Ask These Questions

  1. Did we follow the plan for the social media strategy?  If not, why not?
  2. Did we stay on budget? If not, why not?
  3.  What challenges did we encounter as part of this strategy?  (time, resources, money, management)
  4. How did we overcome these obstacles? (Be specific)
  5.  What feedback did we get from our target audience as a result of our efforts?
  6. Knowing what we know now, what should we have done differently?
  7. Should we use this strategy as a model for future efforts?

Make a Social Media Measurement Spreadsheet

Creating a Social Media Measurement Spreadsheet (here is a template you can download) is a great way to keep everything all together and make reporting easy. Fill it out based on your specific goals and report at times that work for you - this may be bi-monthly, monthly or more frequently.

Use the Data Wisely

Remember that collecting all of this data is not helpful if you do not use it to inform future social media campaigns. Do not make it so time-consuming and complicated that you end up not doing it at all. Start simple and small.

Report and analyze the numbers regularly so you can see trends over time. Are the numbers going up? Are you inspiring action?  Is your online community doing what you want them to do with the content that you post? Are your social media efforts provoking change in how people act or think?

Improve your social media by measuring results. The better you get at using social media and evaluating what you did, the sooner you will see improvement in that elusive “awareness,” but also more donations and better donor retention.

Who is Julia Campbell? A social media obsessed consultant who stays on top of all the social networks and what they are doing. Julia is passionate about helping nonprofits use these tools to raise friends and money.