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How to Measure Results When It’s Not Tied to Sales

By: Guest | April 18, 2012 | 
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Today’s guest post is written by Jenn Whinnem.

Even if your social media isn’t tied to sales or revenue, you can still measure its effectiveness and value.

Just more than a year ago, I switched from the corporate to the nonprofit sector, specifically philanthropy.

The Connecticut Health Foundation (CT Health) has no products to sell, nor do we accept donations (if you’re interested in where our money comes from, read this).

Because our social media goals are not connected to money flowing into our organization, we have a different kind of ROI.

So why do social media?

A little bit of background on us: While there are different kinds of foundations, all have one thing in common. We have select priority areas where we want to make a difference. The mission of CT Health is to improve the health status of people in Connecticut, with a focus on:

  • Children’s mental health
  • Health policy/advocacy
  • Children’s oral health
  • Racial and ethnic health disparities

We do this through a variety of methods: Strategic grant-making, research and policy briefs, and communications.

Social media allows us to increase our work 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

Despite not needing income from social media, I too need to prove my value to my organization!

Right now we have a DIY 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 and 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 in 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 compete.com 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…we don’t do that here on Spin Sucks).

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-tos 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 have a different ROI, we follow a similar process as you (or, I hope you do!). We’ve identified:

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

So when it comes down to it, we’re really not that much different!

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. She loves cheese, poetry, the Internet, ducks, and manatees. Find her at @jennwhinnem or @cthealth.

July 10, 2012 Update: The headline  for this post was changed from How to Measure the ROI of Social Media to How to Measure Results of Social Media based on the conversation in the comments. 

73 comments
Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR

For anyone still listening here, found an Ad Age piece on marketer confusion about ROI which became the impetus for a post I wrote today on that topic. Seems the definition of ROI and how it's regarded is not fully clear by many marketers and based on research by AMA and Columbia Business School.

NicoleB
NicoleB

Jenn, so glad I found this post on Spin Sucks - I've only recently begun working in PR and my clients are not in the consumer sector/big-name brands. One client is a non-profit, others are professional services firms... strategizing around social media has been difficult to say the least! I think your three questions will help me get a social media plan off the ground - in the end, it's all about engaging with audiences, whoever they are! Really great guidance, thank you. 

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3HatsComm
3HatsComm

Yikes, three letters can stir up quite the brouhaha. Ahem... walking around. ;-) Or stepping into it with three other letters mentioned by some smart folks: KPI. I'm curious - not fully understanding the nuances between non-profit and philanthropy - what next?

 

Looking at your list, as a PR type I want to know what next now that I've identified, found, reached, measured audiences. What are they doing next, what do I want them to do next? Make good on the grants, so we can recognize/share, build on that? Tell others? I guess I'm curious about actions, perhaps a misconception thinking that one result, one success of your social efforts is some active, non-revenue 'buy-in' on part of your target audiences. I think looking at what comes FB engagement and tweet chat, measuring that and looking at what it tells you could be another way to track your successes. FWIW.

cbaccus
cbaccus

Great insights here and while many of us work in for-profit situations this article showcases business results that do not lead to transaction and those results have value too. We use similar metrics to understand share of voice, how effective social media properties are to drive to our newsroom/blog/site, and the impact of engagement. Thanks for sharing Jenn. and congrats on the guest post!

New England Multimedia
New England Multimedia

Scott and I discussed this ROI debate this morning. He shared a conversation he had about music theory language with a classically-trained musician. Scott is NOT classically trained, but teaches music. They ended up agreeing on the necessity of maintaining standards of meaning of terms (like "flat") in order to not confuse music students. Now I get what @markwschaefer said to me earlier in this thread: "...it's not productive to re-define basic business terminology. Just confuses everybody, especially clients."

 

 

 

But are business schools maintaining the standard definition of ROI that folks are insisting on here? Curious!  @KenMueller stated in an earlier comment here (one of the first comments): "I just spent some time last week at the Wharton School of Business discussing some of these same issues. The general consensus is that ROI does not, and was never meant to, mean something tied specifically to financials, revenue, and in this day and age, But in the old school traditional business mode, that is the most common use. Even the classic business texts refer to a variety of meanings for ROI, not all of which are purely $$$."

lauraclick
lauraclick

Hey look - it's @jennwhinnem ! So good to see you here! 

 

Having spent a couple of years in the non-profit sector, I so get you on this. However, I was at a NP that DID raise funds, so we were very focused on dollars and cents.

 

Anyway, I think what folks can really take away here is how you've identified your goals and how you've gone about measuring them. Different goals require different kinds of measurement. And, sometimes, it's not all about the money (whether you're in business or non-profit).

GiaVolterraDeSaulnier
GiaVolterraDeSaulnier

Wow, this is a very interesting post for me to read. 

For our little company, we've worked for non profits by putting on Renaissance Faires/Festivals (in MA/NH area) and I've used Twitter under AbbadiaMareFest and my own Twitter account @giazzpet .  Plus I've been able to use other social media on Facebook, Wordpress, Google, YouTube and other places I could for Free since our budget was little to nothing. 

See, what I don't understand is that some Non-Profits are not willing to spend the money to do the much needed work/advertising and it really comes down to how many people will come to your business or event or use your service.

For Winslowshire Festival which gave us NO budget at all each year, I used primarily all social media where ever I could to post the event.  It was a rather small event, but with all the marketing I was able to do (with some help from @New England Multimedia and others) we were able to help the farm make over $9K last year.  For Abbadia Mare Festival which gave us a small budget, I again used Social Media and for our first year we raised $8,799 for ONE weekend.

In the meantime, I created a fan page and blog to help other Renaissance Performers and Merchants from across the country and World promote themselves.  At this moment in time, my RPM page is almost at 3000 fans, and the blog is at over 9000 hits - so you tell me, is that worth it?  I say yes.

karmaCRM
karmaCRM

KarmaCRM.com has observed that within the last few years, we’ve watched social media change the way we deal with customers. Such channels like Twitter and Facebook have allowed companies to interact with their audience on a more intimate level, bringing both companies and their clients into a closer relationship in which conversations take place publicly.

Adam | Customer Experience
Adam | Customer Experience

It was nice getting a peek behind the curtain of an NPO and how it is trying to measure the effectiveness of its SM campaigns. Many for-profits have a hard time figuring out what "success" is in social media; it is interesting seeing the challenges an NPO faces trying to justify SM when there is no tangible dollar result. Semantics aside, your larger point is taken: whether you call it a return or just results, value needs to come from the efforts and capital expended.

 

Good seeing you here at Spin Sucks Jenn!

MissVersatile
MissVersatile

Great post. Social Media for any business, organization or campaign isn't always about just how many sales but how brand is being perceived. In the long run, great social media presence is great for business no matter what industry. 

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

OMG!!! This is all my fault. I changed the title and put ROI. I take the blame!

 

This is still an awesome article that shows how to measure success even when you're not trying to measure revenue. 

 

I'm sorry @jennwhinnem.

Communic8nHowe
Communic8nHowe

Thanks for putting the ROI question into the nonprofit setting without reducing it to a dollars and cents equation. For me what it's really about is whether social media helps an organization move their mission and vision forward. Looking at how those goals get measured helps identify measurement tools. But I think it's also necessary to set goals appropriate to where you are at such as engaging people on Facebook as soon as possible after they give some feedback. They can become more ambitous over time after you have a foundation in place.

New England Multimedia
New England Multimedia

Jenn, thanks for sharing a peek into what you've been up to over at CT Health Foundation since they made a smart move and hired you! I don't take any issue with the title or the content, because the argument about what "ROI" *really* is reminds me of the argument about what "PR" means in the social media marketing era. (Has that been settled yet?) I think there are some words and principles worth fighting for, but in my circles, when speaking of ROI, neither "return" nor "investment" are necessarily measured in dollars. For some (and I can think of a LOT of applications), the return is simply message awareness, and the investment is time spent. Maybe it's time for a new definition of ROI. *wink* 

EricaAllison
EricaAllison

Yikes! Who opened up the can of ROI whoop-a$$? I think if you replace that term with "success" or "effectiveness," your post is very much on point. Actually, it's on point anyway, with the understanding that the collective 'we' uses the term ROI very loosely these days to convey any number of items related to measurement and understanding progress.

 

Yes, it's a business term. Yes, it's about money. But, as with many terms thrown around the web, blogs, and dumbed down world we live in these days, it becomes corrupted and hijacked.

 

What you've given us here is a real life example of a philanthropic organization that has ventured into social media as a means to engage, measure/monitor competition, feed policy discussion, and further their mission.  Unlike some organizations out there, rather than just doing it and moving on, you've identified ways to measure your efforts and that is worthwhile to many.  Thank you! 

jonbuscall
jonbuscall

Thanks @jennwhinnem . I enjoyed the insight into what you're doing. Although the comments have veered off into the ROI debate here (I'm with @Neicolec ), what struck me most here was your admission about the diminishing engagement on Facebook. 

 

Working with a school, we built a lot of community engagement on FB but similarly we've seen a downturn in engagement, although we've not drastically altered our strategy. It seems that as the platform has matured, it's getting harder to get noticed. 

 

Have you seen your reach drop since the total roll out of the new timeline? 

 

And how are you measuring your ROI there? Comments? Views? 

 

Because the UI has changed so drastically, it's hard to work out whether its the community tiring of the platform, the complexity of the timeline for engagement or something else. 

 

 

jennwhinnem
jennwhinnem

 @3HatsComm Hey Davina! Great to see you here. You have some great thinking here on "what action do we want them to take next?" One step would be to share our content, another is to feel more comfortable in sharing challenges in their project process, learn better what we're looking for in our grant-making process....to name just a few.

 

As for how philanthropy is part of the nonprofit sector - buy me a drink and I'll tell you about it sometime!

jennwhinnem
jennwhinnem

 @cbaccus Thanks Chris, great to see you over here too. It's nice to hear that the head of social media at AT&T understands the benefits of measuring things not tied to dollars. Sometimes I think it's more complicated than just getting to look at dollars. If you ever come out to CT again let me & Steve know! We can relive "the good all days" cough sputter choke.

KenMueller
KenMueller

 @New England Multimedia   To clarify further, if you look at the history of the concept, modern ROI was created by the folks at Dupont and they clearly were focusing on monetary investments, but the "return" portion they defined as both monetary and non-monetary. They understood that there are intangible returns that, at times, outweigh the actual financial intake. Even further, even from a purely financial standpoint, we HAVE redefined the terms. The original model of ROI was based on total investment and total return. There was no breaking it down into its smaller parts, which is how we generally do things now. They understood something that we have lost, and that hopefully social can bring back: nothing works in a vacuum. 

 

For instance, someone might see a TV commercial, go to your website, and click and purchase something. Theoretically, the TV commercial was the driver. But was it really? It may merely have reinforced something that someone told them via word of mouth, or an article they read in a magazine. When you isolate out the individual parts, you lose a lot, especially when we preach about total integration of platforms and marketing messages and branding. There are so many subtleties that you cannot easily isolate those items. 

 

That's the major way that we have redefined ROI, and, in my mind, have lost a lot. I believe that our current definition actually hinders us, and is what is causing some of the problems in our businesses.

New England Multimedia
New England Multimedia

By the way, to clarify, Scott never tried to change the meaning of the word "flat." ;)

jennwhinnem
jennwhinnem

 @lauraclick Thanks Laura! I didn't know you had been in the NP space. We should chat at #soslam. See you there!

jennwhinnem
jennwhinnem

 @GiaVolterraDeSaulnier  @giazzpet  @New England Multimedia   Hi Gia, thanks for sharing what you're working on. I swear it was Jay Baer who posted on how to measure the ROI of something like this - we did x which resulted in y dollars. I have not been able to find it. It could definitely help you though!

jennwhinnem
jennwhinnem

 @adamtoporek Hey Adam, glad to get to talk to you again! I've been out of the loop on Twitter for awhile.

 

So it's interesting that you bring up "challenges an NPO faces trying to justify SM when there is no tangible dollar result." We have a certain reputation to maintain, that is of being a leader. For a foundation our size, we are leaders in this space (and others). Not that we do social media for its own sake; far from it. We exist to improve the health of CT residents through changing systems, not direct service...okay coming off my soapbox now.

jennwhinnem
jennwhinnem

 @MissVersatile Thanks for your thoughts her MV. I think anytime you're spending money, you need to know what you got for that money. For my organization, they've invested in me, and then I show them what they get for that investment: stronger relationships with our grantees, greater awareness of us, our issues, and the work of our grantees.

 

New England Multimedia
New England Multimedia

 @Lisa Gerber  @jennwhinnem I'm glad to see the debate, because like @EricaAllison said, the term ROI has apparently been hijacked! In my circles, it's not purely a business term, and it's definitely not measured purely in terms of dollars and cents. I was surprised to hear that there was a disagreement, to be honest! 

TheJackB
TheJackB

 @EricaAllison The term was hijacked because some people don't understand how to support/justify what they do and why. Linear thinking doesn't always move into the abstract, but it should.

Latest blog post: Pools of Blood

jennwhinnem
jennwhinnem

 @EricaAllison Thanks Erica. I think @neicolec really got it right in her comment - ROI is different in philanthropy.

 

That's not to say that we don't do intensive evaluation of the success of our grant-making, policy briefs, and communication. If you're interested in understanding this better, may I invite you to read http://www.comnetwork.org/.

KenMueller
KenMueller

 @jonbuscall @jennwhinnem I think we need to look carefully at engagement on Facebook. For most of what I'm seeing, is an increase in engagement in terms of comments on posts made by the business, and a decrease in engagement on posts made by others on the page. I'm seeing this almost across the board with my clients, based on the new structure of the Timeline, Overall, however, it is a net increase, not a decrease. You have took closely at the insights to see what is there. 

jennwhinnem
jennwhinnem

 @jonbuscall  @Neicolec Thanks Jon. As I mentioned, don't know if you saw it, not my title. I'm not one of those who thinks measurement = ROI measurement but perception is reality. I'm going with it.

 

The value we're finding in Facebook is that it's one of the top referrers to our site. People don't say or "like" much necessarily, but they flow from Facebook to our site, and look at an average of 10 pages per visit.

 

I hear you on not being able to put your finger on why this is happening - but would agree with your gut feeling that "as the platform has matured, it's getting harder to get noticed." I know I personally am much choosier about what I click, like, comment on, etc.

jennwhinnem
jennwhinnem

 @KenMueller  @New England Multimedia Ken, thanks for breaking all of that down. It sounds like your thought is that by bringing in the non-monetary portion into the ROI equation, we're hindered. Is that right?

lauraclick
lauraclick

 @jennwhinnem Yup. Spent two years doing marketing and fundraising events in the Chicago area....WAY before there was such a thing as social media. Wish I would have known @ginidietrich back when I lived up there!

jennwhinnem
jennwhinnem

@markwschaefer @Lisa Gerber thanks Mark!

New England Multimedia
New England Multimedia

 @jonbuscall Well, there's still a sizable "investment" when someone like Jenn is hired (and paid) by an organization. In this case, there are "dollars out," even if the return isn't "dollars in." As another example, I use social media for youth ministry as well as for business. No one pays me for my work in the ministry. But I can tell you my time is VALUABLE and is certainly an INVESTMENT. The "return" on my investment of time and resources can't be measured in any numerical sense, but if you asked the teens and the families I minister to what the return on my investment is, they'd tell you -- and it wouldn't be measured in dollars. Is that still "ROI"? I say yes. I don't think "ROI" is even about business. It's about any return on any investment. 

Dave Z
Dave Z

"ROI is a certainly business term and only a business term. It is return in investment and it is measured in dollars and cents.  Period."

 

@markwschaefer  - I mean no disrespect saying this, but I sometimes find it funny when people essentially insist on something and end it with period. As if they control or dictate the conversation to begin with.

 

ROI may be a business term, but is there anything authoritative - cosmic or otherwise - saying it's only "restricted" to just that? Lots of words in the dictionary have more than one meaning (the word set comes to mind) depending on <b>context</b>.

 

OTOH, a beauty of this kind of conversation is at least it gets everyone's thoughts out. While there will be some disagreement on something or more, it's also good if there's some ground where people can meet.

 

Anyway, sorry for an essentially off-topic rant. And thanks for the conversation since I'm also learning something here.

New England Multimedia
New England Multimedia

 @HowieSPM  @markwschaefer Thanks, Howie! So in the language of business, is the term ROI being used correctly when the return is not measured in dollars, as in this case? And what if they're all volunteer? 

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

 @New England Multimedia   @markwschaefer I would use ROI but the return in your case is signatures. And it would be compared to the cost of having people standing in front of supermarkets or going door to door or direct mail. Many non-profits reach me by mail for petition signing (well they also ask for money) sierra club, national wildlife org etc. It is easy to get a price quotation for that.

 

Now there could be a labor issue here too. Using online and social means less people to run the campaign.. In California when they have people asking for signatures in front of supermarkets to get initiatives on the ballot most of those people are paid vs volunteer.

 

So your investment will always be in dollars. Your return can be measured in anything based in dollars. Investment equals X number of petitions signed, cost per petition signed. With what you are doing most of your costs are fixed so if social helps spread the word and amplifies the signature count it will definitely be very cost effective for you.

New England Multimedia
New England Multimedia

 @markwschaefer  @HowieSPM  Thanks for the clarification, Mark and Howie! I hear the term ROI used in so many ways to measure investment of either time, money and/or resources -- both inside and outside the business world -- I fear it's already been re-defined.  I'm really curious about this, though, because we work for organizations who are not interested at all in a financial return on their financial investment. They're interested only in human numbers -- minds changed, hearts won, lives turned around.

 

Here's a question: if a web developer was building a website and a social media campaign for a NPO whose goal was to get as many folks as possible to sign a petition, with the number of petition signers being the measurement of "return on investment of time and money," would you not use the term ROI with the NPO? What if that's how they were using the term? Would you correct them and use a different term? Sincere question, of course! 

jennwhinnem
jennwhinnem

 @HowieSPM  @markwschaefer  @New England Multimedia   @Lisa Gerber  @EricaAllison Howie, as I said on Twitter, this is the closest any of the biz folks have come, I think, to getting it. I feel childish running around with "you don't get it" taped to my forehead. A story about when I interviewed for the job. Biz folks so notoriously don't understand philanthropy that CT Health was hesitant to go with a biz girl like me. I feel like I just achieved womanhood in the philanthropic realm in that I've joined the ranks of the "business folk just don't understand us."

 

Definitely learned some lessons here.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

 @markwschaefer @New England Multimedia @Lisa Gerber @EricaAllison @jennwhinnem I am here to clarify Mark's comment. Jenn you have ROI even if not measured in sales. Your investment is probably mostly labor/time but there could be other costs. But your results do have a value. Before Social Media you might of had to print brochures, by TV spots, hold fundraisers, do school or doctor outreach programs just to get your message across or educate someone. In the past you might of had a budget with X dollars and you could expect to reach X people. So in your case I would be looking at ROI either as cost savings with new technology to reach the same amount of people or reaching more. Thus lowering the cost of reaching each person. That is positive ROI. If your programs cost the same but you help improve health results lowering health costs that is positive ROI. So everything can be equated to dollars and cents even if we aren't talking sales and revenues.

 

ROI in business takes many forms. So a similar example in a for profit business that does sell stuff.  If I buy a new machine that costs lest to run, or can make more product per year, or reduces quality problems that has a positive ROI even if it doesn't have sales because it reduces my costs.

 

The challenge with Social Media and Marketing is when the CFO for a for profit company has to decide where to invest limited resources other parts of the business often can show ROI much clearer like the buy a new machine vs reaching people on twitter.

jennwhinnem
jennwhinnem

 @jonbuscall @New England Multimedia We often run into those who think "social media is free!" As I'm quick to remind them, I'm not working for free, ergo, social media is not free. It's a considerable investment my organization has made.

Trackbacks

  1. […] background, my friend Jenn Whinnem who is a contributor here and member of this community wrote a guest piece for Spin Sucks about the Connecticut Health Foundation and which metrics they tally that contribute to campaign […]

  2. […] These answers seemed to turn everything we do into a potentially positive or negative ROI (if you dare use the term in such an abstract, numberless way). […]

  3. […] a bunch to share that information with folks about her foundation; you can see her thoughts more here and here. So, tune in for a few minutes, and listen […]

  4. […] How To Measure Results When It’s Not Tied to Sales by Jenn Whinnem, (April 18) […]

  5. […] Association of Nonprofits. (This is an expanded version of an article I wrote for the blog Spin Sucks that was later adapted for the Communications […]

  6. […] got to thinking about a blog post I wrote for Spin Sucks last year when I found myself in a similar situation. I had wanted to talk about how those of us in the […]