A Four-Step Plan to Building a Social Media Dashboard

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”

Lewis Carroll

A few years back, I presented a preliminary dashboard measuring Web activity to an advisory group at the organization where I was working. This was a smart, perceptive and knowledgeable team. I expected lots of questions and some insightful discussion around the conference table where we met late on that cold afternoon. What I didn’t expect was to walk out with a list of indicators three times as long as the one I walked in with. Every metric I posed led to suggestions for more. The suggestions shot off in a thousand directions. By the time the sun had set outside (and in the room), I had learned a painful lesson. While the metrics may vary, there is a logical process to follow that will make creating a dashboard easier. So, to help you avoid similar pain, here is my four-step, never-fail plan to building a social media dashboard. (Your metrics may differ, but the process should work.)

1) Start with the goals. This seems obvious, but I’ve been caught in too many situations where the process starts with “What can we measure?” rather than “Where are we headed?” Analytics only make sense as a measure of progress toward defined goals. Without clearly articulated targets, the measurement process tends to pose more questions than it answers. (See story above.) So the crucial, and perhaps hardest step, is to sit down with whatever group needs to be involved and hammer out in plain language what you are trying to accomplish with your social media efforts. (Hint: They need to flow from the organization’s broader mission.)

What are the social media goals a nonprofit should be measuring? This may vary, but here is the equation that I believe works for many. Everything you do at a nonprofit revolves around one central mission: Making a difference on the issue(s) on which you are working. (Reducing environmental problems, researching causes of a medical condition, funding innovative approaches to solving some intractable problem, helping a group of people in need.) You want to make an impact. There is your starting point. Next question is to articulate how social media can contribute to that mission. I can think of three general ways in which social media can help you have more impact (you can probably think of more):

  • Grow your network (community)
  • Increase engagement with your network (including donations and volunteering if you are a charity)
  • Boost your presence in the conversation around your issues (sometimes called “share of voice.”)

So, those are your three social media goals. Your organization may have different ones. That’s OK. The important thing is to carefully articulate your goals upfront. That makes the next step much easier.

2) List smaller objectives under each goal. Once you have articulated (and received agreement) on your goals, it is time to break down those goals to more defined objectives. What you want to do is ask the question, “How will we know we are making progress toward that goal?” For example, if your goal is “increase engagement with your network,” the more specific objectives might be:

  • generate more conversation
  • draw more people into that conversation
  • increase sharing of the content and conversations onto other platforms
  • boost donations and volunteering

Notice that those are pretty general. That’s OK. You are just trying to state in simple language what you want to see happening. Put terminology and possible metrics out of your mind at this point. You are not yet ready to figure out how to measure these objectives until Step 3, which helpfully comes next.

3) Translate the objectives into metrics. Once you have goals and objectives, it becomes a much more straightforward process to figure out how to measure progress. For example, if your goal is to get your policy material into the hands of people that can make a difference on an issue, you can now more easily lay out some metrics (number of policy influencers among your audience, number of downloads of your policy material, etc.) Here is my take on possible metrics to show progress toward the three goals mentioned above:

Strengthen your network

  • Percentage of people in your overall network that match profile of your target audience
  • Views across your various online platforms (Web site, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, forums)
  • Click-throughs to your Web site from all other platforms
  • Number of people that subscribe to your blog, community, Twitter feed, Facebook page

Increase engagement with your network

  • Number of comments and ratings across all of your platforms (Web site, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, forums)
  • Number of unique commentors
  • Number of new conversations (i.e. more than two comments to a piece of content.)
  • Ratio of posts to comments across all of your platforms
  • Growth in number of retweets
  • Growth in times someone has shared your content through social bookmarks, e-mail, etc.

Gain a bigger presence in your space

  • Total mentions of your organization across social media space (blogs, Twitter, etc.)
  • Your percentage share of the online conversation on your issue(s)
  • Ration of positive to negative mentions
  • Mentions by influencers

These are just some suggestions. I’m sure you can come up with more that are more targeted to your efforts.

4) Narrow the metrics down to no more than three or four key indicators. While all of this is important to measure, it is more than you can ask the rest of your organization to track on a regular basis. For this sort of dashboard exercise to be effective, you need to be able to boil all of this down to just three or four key metrics that tell you how you are doing. That helps coalesce activity around moving a few measures and gives the rest of the organization something to focus on. Since we have three goals, I’ve picked one indicator for each goal. I think the most important measures are:

  • Growth in views from your target audience across all platforms (growth)
  • Ratio of posts to comments across all platforms (engagement)
  • Share of online conversation across all platforms (presence)

So there you have it. What happened with that long ago group? I stewed over the situation for a bit, then went back to them clutching nothing but a short list of goals for them to consider. Time to go back to basics.

One more point, I’m going to steal from NYU Professor Clay Shirky, who cautioned people after one of his presentations not to wait until they’ve thought through every last metric before moving ahead with social media. Get out and get your feet good and wet. You can figure out the metrics along the way.

What about you? Any words of wisdom on building a social media dashboard?

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