Measuring the success of social media

Tweeting by Faith, an article from Inside Higher Ed, is about universities using social media and how these institutions measure their success. According to author Steve Kolowich, “When evaluating the ‘outcomes’ of social media campaigns, officials still primarily look to metrics such as ‘number of active “friends,” “likes,” “members,” participants, people who post, or number of comments,’ as well as ‘volume of participation.'” Few respondents looked deeper than these quick numbers, either citing a lack of time or lack of interest. Kolowich points out that while these numbers might suffice in satisfying those in a position of power, they are a “crude” way of measuring true success.

What I’ve heard from my recent survey, conversations, and recent literature is most archives and libraries depend on these same metrics to measure their own success. They are able to justify social media programs with numbers of likes, site visits, and comments. I think these numbers are an important first step in measuring the progress of a program, but I agree with Kolowich that there needs to be a more sophisticated way of measuring success.

In my survey, I asked respondents how they defined success. Many respondents using social media had no idea how to measure their success. As I mentioned above, others who have some kind of formal/informal metric considered likes, page visits, comments, favorites, shares, etc.  However, a few people also mentioned things such as an increase in reference queries and increased visits to the repository, exhibits, and events. These activities suggest a deeper engagement between repositories and their users. But it could be very difficult to find out who contacted/visited the repository because of something they saw on a social media platform. Certain swells in activity could be tied to a post about a new collection or special event, but daily visitors could have been directed in by any number of reasons.

The repository I currently work at asks researchers using archival collections or rare books how they found out about the special collections, but there is no “social media” option (only an “online” option). We do not have any kind of tool to find out how online/phone reference came our way, or researchers who use our other book collections (in special collections). We do not ask exhibit visitors or program participants how they found out about events. So while increases in these types of activity could suggest a successful social media program, it would involve quite a bit of work to find out if those researchers/visitors came in because of something posted on a social media platform.

I think it will still take some time for archives and libraries to find a solid metric for measuring success on social media platforms. A lot of it does rely on the basic numbers, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Consider, though, if any of your posts/tweets/videos has started a conversation on the platform. Do people ask you questions on Facebook/Twitter/blogs? Are there certain people who return to your page on a regular basis or direct their friends there? These activities may be an intermediate stage you can monitor between the basic stats and an increase in activity in your repository.

The most important thing is to make sure you are looking at your social media program’s impact – don’t just post material and hope people see it. If you’re not getting any kind of response – likes, comments, or otherwise – change what you’re doing (or decide whether social media is a necessary service at your repository). Whatever metric you use, make sure you regularly evaluate your social media program and adjust it as needed.

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