Online ROI: How to measure social media impact

By Christie Wilcox

The first thing I saw when I arrived in Raleigh was a message from Karyn Traphagen: "Pls give me a call." I don't recall the rest of the conversation; I was groggy and jet-lagged, coming off of sixteen hours of traveling. All I know is that the next day I found myself sitting next to her and Matt Shipman on the panel for the session "Facebook, Twitter, rah rah rah — how do you know when it's working?"

I'm a big advocate of social networking and spend a lot of time convincing scientists that these platforms aren’t mindless time-sucks. But while it’s easy to make the argument for social media, it’s a whole lot harder to quantify the benefits and show that online efforts are actually paying off.

As a public information officer at North Carolina State University, Matt Shipman is well acquainted with the issue of metrics. Standard measures of exposure like pageviews don’t accurately capture the influence of a press release. Instead, Shipman says you have use critical thinking skills to come up with unconventional ways to monitor what you really care about.

Shipman counts the number of news stories generated off a press release to see if his work is getting out there. He also pays close attention to who covers the story. “I’ve never gotten an e-mail from my chancellor for getting a story in the New York Times,” said Shipman. He does get e-mails, though, when NSF’s Science 360 highlights a press release, because his bosses care if funding agencies are taking note.

Thinking outside the box when it comes to metrics was a running theme of the session. Karyn Traphagen, executive director of ScienceOnline, reiterated the importance of determining what you want to accomplish before trying to figure out how social media can support those goals. Traphagen explained that there are lots of tools and metrics, from Facebook’s Insights to services like TweetReach, but that the right metric for one goal may be the entirely wrong metric for another.

Traphagen also cautioned that the social media landscape is fluid and constantly changing, so we, too, must constantly modify our strategies. Facebook’s recent publishing change that reduces the reach of posts has altered marketing and outreach using the platform, for example.

Finally, it was my turn to take the podium and share my pet project with the audience: a wiki chock full of resources on social networking. While designed for scientific researchers, much of the wiki’s resources apply to anyone who communicates science online. The wiki is broken down by platform and by kind (tips, examples of uses, etc), making it easy to navigate. The best part, though, is that as a wiki, the site constantly evolves. My goal is that the community will help out, adding links of their own to create a truly comprehensive, collaborative resource.

Want more? Be sure to check out the links below. You can also find the session’s panelists on Twitter: Matt Shipman (@ShipLives), Karyn Traphagen (@kTraphagen), and me, Christie Wilcox (@NerdyChristie)


Social Networking For Scientists Wiki — the wiki curated by Christie Wilcox

30 Useful Social Media Monitoring Tools – good breakdown list mentioned by Karyn Traphagen, written by Dustin Betonio

Unconventional Metrics: How Can I Tell If My Blog Is Working? — thoughts on the session by panelist Matt Shipman

October 29, 2012

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