Emily Warn on Using Online Tools to Measure Outcomes for Not-For-Profit Organizations

My name is Emily Warn and I’m a senior partner at SocialQuarry, a social media consulting group that plans and analyzes online networks and social media for non-profits, foundations, and public agencies.  Today I’m going to be sharing a hot tip about using social media in evaluations.

This past week Facebook surpassed Google in US visitors, proof—if you needed one—that social networking sites are rapidly transforming our offline friendship, family, and work circles to online communities.

It’s obvious to anyone who has tried to ignore ads on Facebook and Twitter that social media is changing how for-profit companies advertise, sell products , and build their brands.  A plethora of tools exist—it seems like new ones are announced every day—to measure a company’s return on their investment (ROI) in social media.  For-profit companies can measure the success of social media campaigns, search engine optimization efforts, customer conversions from browsing to buying, mentions on Twitter, etc.

Not-for-profit organizations are also investing in social media; most are dabbling in Facebook and Twitter, but they lack the tools to measure their (ROI) because, for the most part, their reasons for using social media are very different than those for-profit uses. For example, tools developed to measure the success of advertising campaigns to sell handbags, don’t always work to measure the success of advocacy campaigns to change policies.  Plus, people who participate in advocacy campaigns are passionate about their cause and more likely to check related websites and social networking sites with a regularity that for-profits can only dream of.

Hot Tip: Here are some of the reasons why social networks can be a holy grail for many non-profits.  Non-profits can use social networks to help them:

  • Increase capacity by using network to pool and share resources
  • Coordinate groups working on a common issue
  • Generate ideas and tap expertise to develop grant and advocacy strategies
  • Raise money for capital campaigns and causes
  • Increase a donor base and engage new donors
  • Identify leaders who can expedite learning and coordinate actions across a network.

Hot Tip: Using for-profit tools to measure non-profit outcomes requires defining fundamentally different key progress indicators (KPI). For example, commercial companies can use web analytics tools to measure engagement with customers. They can define a number of units sold as a KPI for an ad campaign and measure progress against that goal by analyzing how many customers clicked-through to their site and bought a product.  Further analysis can reveal on which pages customers abandoned  the process of stepping through an online shopping cart.  Improving those pages improves customer engagement.

Non-profits could define a KPI for engagement as the number of network members who participated in a in collective actions? Instead of stepping through  a shopping cart, web analytics tools could measure how many people stepped through a process to send an email to a legislature, or signed up for a newsletter to stay informed about an advocacy campaign or stay connected with key people or organizations.

I hope this gives you some ideas about how you can incorporate some online tools in your own evaluations!

This contribution is from the aea365 Daily Tips blog, by and for evaluators, from the American Evaluation Association. Please consider contributing – send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org.

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