Last week the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation invited a diverse group of foundation staff, evaluation professionals and social media experts to talk about measurement and evaluation of social media. You can get a feel for some of the topics and ideas that were shared by reading the Twitter activity captured by the hashtag #SM_RE. RWJF has also captured and organized the material related to this meeting on its website.
I found the meeting quite productive and helpful for those of us who think about evaluating our communications efforts and putting those evaluations in the context of our broader organizational goals. And although this subject might appear to be a bit too “in the weeds” for those who aren’t engaged in the evaluation of communications efforts, I would like to share some of the more interesting points that came up at the meeting.
A primary goal for the meeting was to identify how best to measure social media indicators for a common set of outcomes identified by the participants. The common outcomes were:
I expect this list looks very familiar to foundation communications staff because these outcomes are not unique to social media: They illustrate the strategic goals that many of our communications departments have worked toward for years now. What is important about the current moment is that social media is part of a relatively new set of digital tools that allow us to reach longstanding goals in new ways.
What’s also important about these digital tools is the opportunities they provide to improve our measurement against our communications goals in ways that help us improve our work in real time. These new measurement tools provide data much faster than old methods, more precisely (i.e. downloads and page views vs. circulation) and at lower cost. One clear takeaway from the meeting is that the new digital metrics can definitely improve our understanding of outputs and short-term outcomes, but we still need the tried and true evaluation methods such as surveys and focus groups to assess our broader goals and ultimately our impact.
As the meeting illustrated, social media also changes some of the organizational habits and departmental boundaries that many foundations have developed. Evaluators are interested in working with communications staff to measure programmatic outcomes. Communications staffs are awash in data and might value some help from evaluators to turn it into actionable information. And both groups rely on IT and web developers to set up the technical infrastructure necessary to gather and report this data.
At Irvine we have found that bringing these three functional areas together to collaborate on measuring and analyzing our communications work has been a productive path forward. As we try new digital approaches to sharing our work and insights such as infographics like the one we did for our [Arts Innovation Fund](aiflearning/) and [blogs,](news-insights/latest) we have used digital metrics to test their effectiveness, which leads to conversations about how to improve our work going forward. By using digital methods of communicating findings such as infographics, we are able to track the average amount of time a reader spends on various parts of the page, which helps us understand what information is most valuable to our audiences. Making this data easier to gather and analyze will give us insights into more effective communications tactics that we can use to refine and adapt our efforts in the future.
If you are involved in evaluating communications at your organization, I welcome your thoughts and suggestions for useful tools or ways you have effectively worked together across your communications, evaluation and IT teams. And yes, I will measure the views and engagement with this post and will report back in a comment here next week so please let me know what you think!