WARNING: 8 Clues Your Nonprofit’s Social Media Implementation and Measurement Strategy is Bogus

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“I just don’t think social media is worth the investment. I need to know the ROI.”  If this is you, or your boss, you’re not alone. A recent study revealed that 450+ marketers across a wide variety of industries and levels of social marketing experience identified the struggle to address the question of ROI in social marketing as their number one challenge.

Lack of clarity around ROI is not the only area where folks feel clueless. While we’ve pretty much managed in the past year to move beyond the sense that social media is just about letting the world know what you’re eating for breakfast (Twitter) or sharing videos of cat memes (YouTube) or posting vanity updates (Facebook), we’ve still got a long way to go. A recent report by Awareness Networks  found seven distinct ways business brands are failing to maximize the use of social media.  These all apply to nonprofit businesses as well. And if you’re not addressing these challenges now you’re going to fall behind your competition (you can download The State of Social Media Marketing Report  to learn all the details).

Before we go further, I’d like to tell a personal story.  When I was six years old, I decided I wanted to be a ballerina.  But…I was sure it was too late for me.  You see, I had friends who started ballet lessons when they were just three.  I thought I could never catch up.  So I didn’t start lessons.  The rest, as they say… well, never mind!  The point is that I was completely clueless as a child.  Don’t make my mistake.  It’s not too late to start or to significantly amp things up.  Most companies, even for-profits, are barely scratching the surface of social media – and all its potential — at this point.  We’re still on the frontier.  And if you’ve barely started, the good news is that you haven’t made many mistakes yet!

So let’s look at 8 clues suggesting how you may not be optimally adopting, implementing and measuring social media for your organization:

CLUE 1.  Your business objectives, measurement methods and investment in social marketing are not aligned.

 What makes social media truly exciting is how perfectly it meets the need for an inbound marketing tool that lets you know, pretty immediately, what your constituencies want and need. If increased exposure, increased traffic and greater marketplace insight are among your objectives to sustain and grow your mission then you should be actively managing and measuring your social presence.

The Marketing Benefits Of Social Media infographic shows just how well these objectives are served by social media marketing (based on Social Media Examiner 2012 Marketing Industry Report which surveyed over 3,800 marketers on how they’re using social media in 2012). If you need to persuade your CEO of the value of social marketing, share the report and infographic with them. It reveals that businesses gained:

Increased exposure (85%)

  • Increased traffic (69%)
  • Marketplace insight (65%)
  • Leads (58%)
  • Loyal fans (58%)
  • Improved search rankings (55%)
  • Business partnership growth (51%)
  • Reduced marketing expenses (46%)
  • Improved sales (40%)

 CLUE 2.  You don’t have an enlightened social strategy that is fully integrated with the rest of your marketing and business strategy.

 You don’t want your marketing efforts to be silos.  This is an area where even for-profit businesses go awry, especially because ‘social’ is a relatively new media that has not historically been incorporated into the marketing mix. New media thought leader Brian Solis describes an evolutionary path businesses often take on their path towards enlightenment (The 10 Stages of Social Media Business Integration) Nonprofits are super vulnerable here, because many of us have succumbed to the madness of having two separate marketing departments (we just happen to call one of them “development”). In addition, multiple departments will socialize (perhaps the volunteer department, the alumni relations department and even various programs that charge fees and have a fan base), and this requires developing policies, procedures and infrastructure to streamline and manage all the social workflow. For some great tips on integrating all your social media activities, check out this post  from Social Media Examiner.

 CLUE 3.  You aren’t measuring the right things.

 Social engagement is the new bottom line. Too often businesses measure only social presence (number of fans and followers). Increasingly, folks are coming to the conclusion that there’s little ROI here (see The 3 Myths Of Social Media ROI [INFOGRAPHIC]).  Let’s remember the purpose of social media:  building relationships!  Rather than measuring “activity” you should be measuring “value” and placing heavier emphasis on engagement that builds relationships to increase revenues, decrease costs and move brand perceptions.

Look for ways to track and monitor conversations that are taking place around your brand or products in real time (See this Social Analytics Infographic for some of the key metrics you need to get actionable insights for marketing, revenue generation and constituent satisfaction). In other words, where’s the impact?  What actions were taken by your fans (besides a rather passive “like”)? Did any of your blog readers convert to customers or supporters? Did they visit your website? Share your message with friends? Engage in advocacy? Buy a service? Volunteer? Raise some money? Donate?

Customer satisfaction is another important measure. 66% of businesses in the aforementioned study are now tracking this, with 57% tracking issue resolution.  Are you using social channels to answer constituent questions and address complaints? If so, do you follow up to determine if your engagement was satisfactory from your customer’s perspective?

It’s time to leave superficial metrics like numbers of fans and followers behind and replace them with more meaningful measures like engagement (in whatever form you’d like that to take). The most important thing is to decide what you want to measure, and why. Do you really care how many people come to your site if none of them engage with you in any consequential way (e.g. by volunteering, advocating, sharing with others or donating)? If not, then don’t spend hours compiling and reporting that meaningless data.

 CLUE 4.  You aren’t tapping into the true potential of social.

 If you don’t use social media platforms to shift from a broadcast mechanism to a many-to-many information exchange model, rooted in a conversational format between authors and people, then you’re not learning from your constituents. You’re not getting to know them better. You’re missing the whole point.

 If you aren’t thinking about modernizing and integrating the way you store and analyze data, it’s time to do so.  So many organizations have multiple databases that don’t speak to one another. Few nonprofits are using key enabling technologies such as social CRM, which can help integrate and make sense of their social prospect and customer data, segment and prioritize it and target their communications to help drive overall business value.

If you aren’t monitoring social media channels for brand mentions and industry conversations you’re not maximizing potential. One in five hours spent online is now spent on social networks; failure to monitor the social web is a huge lost opportunity. There are plenty of analytic tools out there to help, including Google Alerts, Radian6, Awareness, TweetDeck, HootSuite, Sysomos and SocialMention.

CLUE 5.  You aren’t investing enough to succeed.

 Marketing takes time and resources. If you need two aspirin to cure your head-ache, taking one is worse than taking none.  It won’t improve a thing, and it’s therefore just a waste of resources. Similarly if you’re just having an intern slap up a post every now and then, you’re not likely to be creating awesome, relevant content that resonates with your constituents. That’s called Winging It with Social Media – and it no longer works.

To gauge what it takes, know that more than half of all marketers spend 6 hours or more each week using social media, while a third invest 11 or more hours. (See Social Media Examiner 2012 Marketing Industry Report). A recent survey by Vertical Response found that approximately one-third of respondents are publishing to their social networks every day; 32% post to Facebook at least once per day, while 29% tweet on Twitter at least once per day. This may not seem like a lot, but to do it right (and why do it otherwise?) requires developing meaningful content. And the survey found that finding and posting content to their social networks was the most time consuming activity for small businesses. This was followed by learning and education; analysis and following competitors’ activities. Answering questions posted on social media is the least time-consuming.

CLUE 6.  You aren’t using the right platform(s) to engage your target constituencies.

 It’s good to know the popular platforms; then consider whether they’re the right ones for you. Among small businesses Facebook and Twitter are still the most used platforms, with LinkedIn next and Pinterest and Google+ gaining.  In addition, more than half (55%) of small businesses surveyed have a blog. I like these most used business platforms for nonprofits as well, but it’s important for you to define and understand your own community.  No one size fits all. And be aware that all these activities take different amounts of time (see cool infographic How Much Do Small Businesses Spend on Social Media?).

CLUE 7.  You haven’t considered outsourcing as a way to be more effective.

Outsourcing is a great way to leverage resources and is still underutilized for social marketing, yet the trend is towards more with 30% of businesses outsourcing some portion of their social media marketing (up from 28% in 2011) according to the recent Social Media Marketing Industry Report  Whether or not you should outsource is a subject onto itself, as discussed in this Social Media Today article and right here on the Windmill Networking blog in Should Social Media Be Outsourced? and Why Your Company Might Want to Consider a Social Media Agency.  Or check out Should You Hire a Social Media Coach and Do Your Own Quarterbacking? Certainly the question of outsourcing bears serious consideration if it means otherwise not doing it at all.

 CLUE 8.  You haven’t embraced the importance of CEO visibility and engagement.

 The voice of executive leadership is potentially the most reliable and transparent method of engaging with constituents, yet very few organizations have their leaders tweeting. As social media becomes more and more embroidered into the fabric of how we do business, even if leaders don’t actually ‘tweet’ or ‘post’ they certainly will want to understand what the heck social media is all about.  Does your leader ‘get it’? Beyond understanding, leaders will want to lead. To do so, they will need to fully embrace social media in a big picture, strategic way.  They will need to understand that social media is about people, rather than technology. David F. Giannetto recently posted on Top Four Enterprise Changes Driven by Social Media, suggesting we’ve focused too much simply on the mechanics of making it work inside our organizations: Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, YouTube channels and the like. He encourages a step back to consider the purpose of the technology and the context within which we’re now operating. It’s high time that Social Media Moves to the Head of the Class.

SOLUTION: Moving from a bogus to a high quality social media strategy:

 Embrace the worthiness of an investment in social media, while accepting that it’s not easyPeter Drucker famously said that all good ideas degenerate into hard work.  Social media is a great idea. But it’s not free. And it’s not child’s play. You’ve got to work it. To do so requires developing tactics and tools. It requires robust monitoring and better integration with other marketing initiatives. This takes time and costs money. Welcome to the world.

Borrow from all the good implementation tactics and measurement tools from which to choose.  No one has to reinvent the wheel at this point. Specifically:

(1) there are ways to expand social presence and reach ( see The 5 Best Ways to Use Social Media to Drive Traffic to Your Website; 3 Tips to Drive Nonprofit Fan Engagement, and Should You Run a Social Media Contest? for a few examples);

(2) there are ways to leverage and repurpose content (check out a cool infographic How to Re-Purpose Content For Maximum Social Media Impact) and/or outsourced to increase the frequency of publishing, and

(3) there are some great new resources discussing how to measure ROI (see Beth Kanter and Alison Fine’s Measuring the Networked Nonprofit; also see the Awareness Network’s series of free ebooks on such subjects as The Social Funnel: Driving Business Value with Social Marketing;  Social Business: What Are Companies Really Doing?;  How to Audit Your Social Marketing Efforts, and New Framework for Marketing ROI – Meet Social ROMO and Social ROMI.

Go forth and conquer. Participate with purpose and engage wisely. If you do, your organization will live long and prosper.

What’s the greater challenge: (1) securing internal support to develop a strategy; (2) finding sufficient resources to implement a strategy, (3) having time and/or expertise to measure ROI?

Claire Axelrad
Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE contributes a monthly column on Social Media and Nonprofits. Claire brings 30 years of frontline development and marketing leadership experience to her work as principal of her social benefit consulting firm, Clairification. Named Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Claire teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, is a web and audio presenter for Good Done Great Nonprofits and was recently honored as “Best Fundraising Blog” by FundRaising Success' 2013 Fundraising Professionals of the Year Awards. Her passion is instilling an institution-wide culture of philanthropy to help organizations build constituencies and drive increased income to sustain and expand missions. +Claire Axelrad
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  1. ngolinsky says

    What a powerful article full of amazing advice. I think you’ve covered it all Claire. I like your advice about the necessity of getting the CEO involved, that makes a big difference.

    • Claire Axelrad says

      It makes a HUGE difference. What really needs to happen within the nonprofit world is the development of a networked mindset. As a sector, we’re awfully slow to change.

  2. says

    Thank you for all of the great resources–I appreciate this blog a lot! For us, I think spending the time to measure ROI is the biggest challenge. It’s an area we hope to continue to improve.

    • Claire Axelrad says

      Agree that it can be a challenge to find the time to measure. It’s why it’s important that you select a few key metrics and make them things that are relatively user-friendly for your staff. Otherwise, it’s simply too tempting to put it off. Beth Kanter and Alison Fine’s book might be a useful resource for you.

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