Making Sense of Social Media Analytics

Whew, it's been a busy few weeks. At the beginning of October, I had the pleasure of finally going to (or at least *near*) Boston for the first time in my (long) life to present about social media analytics at NESAE's Technology Conference. It's a topic that I think is really important for associations, yet also a challenge for them. Whereas a few years ago in the association community, social media was a topic that dominated almost every event agenda, the topic has all but fallen off the radar in favor of this year's hot topics, content marketing, big data and the like. The good news is that this is partly because associations seem to have mostly moved beyond the "should we be doing social media?" conversation and social media has, for the most part, become an integral part of most association's strategies across a number of departments.

It's one thing to be "doing" social media, but another to try to analyze whether efforts are effective, especially for associations. One thing I talked about at NESAE was the fact that, for for-profits, social media measurement is a bit easier because it seems to be tied mainly to marketing or PR. If you Google "social media measurement" you get a ton of stuff about measuring the ROI of social media marketing or calculating social media share of voice. That's great...but social media in the context of associations is broader than just marketing or PR--it’s part of almost every function of an association: communication, marketing, events, publications, membership, advocacy, continuing education, HR/recruiting, fundraising, etc. How do you map metrics to ALL of those functions?!

Another challenge beyond figuring what metrics to track is doing it on a shoestring--or non-existent budget. I've written about this before, and as the number of platforms keeps increasing, the problem only intensifies. Associations face several challenges when it comes to social media measurement. The first is that, especially at small associations, social media is often relegated to volunteers or interns. Expecting those people to also identify relevant metrics and prepare meaningful reports back to senior management is asking a lot, especially given the second association challenge--lack of budget for social media.

Even large associations with dedicated social media staff face the challenge of not having budgets for tools and/or staff. Just take a look at Socialfish's association social media series...many of the social media managers interviewed cite lack of budget for tools as a frustration, as well as the time it takes to do social media reporting. Having to rely on free tools or the native analytics of each separate social media platform means having to do a ton of manual work to pull together reports, as well as having to rely on platforms that either change constantly and/or disappear without warning. That's a lot to deal with even if you're the dedicated social media manager; for associations bootstrapping social media management with volunteers or sharing the responsibility across several staff as a tiny part of their already full job plates, it's an even bigger burden.

But don't let me get all gloom-and-doom on you--all is not lost when it comes to associations measuring the impact of their social media efforts. Hopefully my presentation can help, as can the resources I've put together, including a sample social media report. 

LinkedIn Drops Ability to Connect Via Groups

A few months ago I wrote that it would not surprise me at all if LinkedIn dropped the groups feature. Now it appears that they've dropped one of the big attractions of groups for many people: the ability to connect with people via groups you're in together.

As this post describes, a big plus of LinkedIn groups has been the ability to connect with people via a group you're both in. Now, however, and true to LinkedIn quietly dropping features with no explanation or notice, that feature has been removed. You'll notice that if you go to send a connect request to someone in a group, where there used to be a "group" dropdown choice under "how do you know X," there's now just...not that option anymore.

Maybe not that huge a deal, but to me, this is yet another indication that LinkedIn doesn't really care about groups and is fine with taking away features that mean nothing to LinkedIn but mean a lot to users. After all, with the acquisition of Bizo in July, LinkedIn revealed their future vision for the platform: "Our long-term ambition is to build an integrated marketing and sales platform that provides a simple and effective way to reach audiences, nurture prospects, and acquire customers." Doesn't really sound like "enabling users to connect with each other" and/or "community" are part of that vision.

5 Trends Impacting Association Social Media in 2014

Even though I'm not working in the association space right now, I still have strong emotional ties to the association world and am happy when I have a chance to step back into that world. Last Friday I had one of those chances, moderating a panel about association social media at an Association Trends Live breakfast

I gave a quick presentation about the top 5 trends impacting association social media in 2014. IMO, those trends are: 


A huge trend this past year has been the rise of visual content. As social media platforms and the internet as a whole have become more and more crowded with “content,” photos and images have started to dominate. They’re easy to digest—easier than reading--stand out in a sea of words.  As the popularity of mobile devices has continued to increase, almost everyone has a camera with them constantly and it takes only a second to snap a photo and share. People are drawn to visual content and platforms like Instagram and Pinterest have become increasingly popular. Instagram passed Twitter for daily active mobile users in 2012—an 8.5 fold increase in 6 months. Photos on Facebook generate more interest and Pinterest is the fourth largest driver of web traffic worldwide.  Adding images to your content and making them part of your social media strategy is a given now.  I think associations are going to start seeing more Instagram use around conferences and in-person events—so monitoring like we monitor Twitter now might become more of a priority.


  “Content marketing” is this year’s biggest buzz word just like “social media” was five years ago. This is great for associations because most associations know a lot more about generating “content” than for-profits—we’ve been publishing magazines, books, brochures and other content for years—plus we have dedicated volunteers willing and able to create it for us. Most associations have dedicated pubs departments. However, this new focus on “content marketing” can be a challenge for associations and their silos—who “owns” content? It used to be pubs or web, now is it marketing? The same way social media brought up interesting turf issues and challenges for associations, so does content/content marketing.


 If there’s a buzzword more popular this year than “content” it’s data! Big data, data-driven, data visualization….it seems that those who are not focusing on content are focusing on data. Social media generates a ton of data--both in terms of analytics about posts on social media channels and in terms of what members and potential members are posting about your association and the profession it represents. Each social media platform has it’s own analytics, then you've got Google analytics for your association's website, then if you’re using third-party tools, that’s more data and reporting possibilities. Add to that data visualization—not only capturing data but displaying it in a meaningful way and way that’s shareable within your organization and with your board of directors. The good news—there are lots of potential insights available from all this data—it’s a matter of figuring out what your social media goals are, what data maps to those goals, how to capture and display it, how to map it back to AMS, member engagement, etc. Rather than just producing a data dump of every Tweet or Facebook post from the previous month, social media reports should frame data in an easy to understand, actionable format.

Social = Paid?

Over the past year, Facebook did a huge bait and switch on all brand pages, but it’s affected nonprofits and associations possibly the most. Associations spent time and money building a Facebook presence—driving people to the org’s Facebook page, getting people to “like” their page, building in custom functionality like Capwiz for advocacy or career center tabs for Facebook pages, etc. Then Facebook pulled the rug out and made it so that only a fraction of a page’s followers even see their updates without paying. If you go to a Facebook page now and post an update, it shows how many people will see that post organically, then offers you the ability to “boost” or promote a post. For brands, paying to boost posts and for ads/promoted posts is a given, but for associations and nonprofits that don’t have ad budgets for social media, this is an issue. This trend is starting to spread across other social platforms as well: LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest—all offer paid features now. For associations that had considered social media “free” this is a big shift and something that might change use of platforms, especially Facebook. Those who know me know I have no love for Facebook, and would encourage associations to start looking at other social media platforms and focusing resources there rather than paying to promote Facebook posts unless Facebook is working well. And if you are paying to promote posts or content, I'd carefully track results and evaluate whether it's worth the investment. 


So many social platforms, so little time! With the rise of new visual platforms and newer anonymous or short-term platforms like Yik Yak, Snapchat, Fade…it’s simply too much to be everywhere for most associations. Most associations are using social media in at least some capacity now, so where five or even two years ago, the question was still “should we be using social media”….that question has become “which platforms should we be using?”  Identifying where your members are, where your next generation members are, what’s driving traffic to your website, where people are sharing your content already—those are some things associations can do now to help determine where to focus their efforts. There’s no one answer for which platforms fit best for associations—for some, Pinterest is a slam dunk; for others, it may be LinkedIn, and for others, Twitter. It’s worth doing an audit of your social media strategy and what your goals are across marketing, communications, advocacy, etc then mapping those goals to the right platforms rather than trying to be everywhere.

Here's the link to the (sort of worthless without the notes, but featuring Lil' Delicious, so there's that) preso on Slideshare: