Engaging Your Community Part Four: Measuring and Adapting

Once you’ve identified the most appropriate social platforms for your organization, gotten started, and begun evaluating emerging social platforms, it’s time to begin measuring and adapting your approach.

If you work in a team environment, consider creating a regular report that helps your team members understand what you’re doing and what you’ll be focusing on addressing in the next phase. The frequency and level of detail are up to you. Personally, I’ve found that a quarterly report out to my team members is most helpful. I prepare an 8-page web and social media report that includes an executive summary at the beginning. Within the report, I try to identify key events that have driven traffic at specific times during the quarter.

I found Olivier Blanchard’s book, Social Media ROI, very helpful when I was considering what to measure and include in the reports. Blanchard recommends keeping a list of everything you can measure, for example:

  • Number of Twitter followers
  • Volume of outbound tweets each day
  • Volume of inbound tweets each day
  • Number of outbound replies each day
  • Number of RTs each day
  • Number of click-throughs (inbound through Twitter)
  • Number of Facebook fans
  • Number of Facebook updates each day
  • Number of likes each day
  • Number of comments each day
  • Number of comments per update
  • Number of shares each day
  • Number of shares per update
  • Number of click-throughs (inbound via Facebook)
  • Number of blog visitors each day
  • Number of unique visits to each blog post
  • Number of comments each day
  • Number of comments per post
  • Number of click-throughs (inbound to website from blog)

It’s important to note, however, that focusing on the number of Twitter followers, Facebook fans, or raw pageviews isn’t enough. The goal in this measuring and adapting process is to look at trends over time, (e.g., year over year).

“Regardless of your focus … what you are looking for in these data sets is change. What you want to see are shifts in behavior indicating that something you are doing is having an effect … Every individual bit of data, in the way it either changes or doesn’t over time, tells you a little bit of the story you are trying to piece together … The question every change begins to answer is this: Is what we are doing having an effect?”— Olivier Blanchard, Social Media ROI

I try to pick three to five take-aways each time I report on web and social media analytics and metrics. These can be anything from noting a page that has a short average time-on-page and reviewing the content, to noting trends in the top blog posts for the quarter and considering how to schedule more posts like those, to reviewing the referring domains and investigating why visitors were coming from those sites. Your team will likely also raise questions that will drive you to investigate further.

I’ve been using Google Analytics and Adobe Omniture in addition to native social media analytics tools (e.g., YouTube, SlideShare, MailChimp), as well as homemade reports and graphics in Excel.

Have you been working through this same process for your organization? If so, I’d love to hear your promising practices and learn from you! Or, if you’re just getting started, I’d be happy to share a copy of the pdf report I’ve developed.

Related posts and resources:

Connecting the Dots in Online Learning

My last online learning post was prompted by news about the launch of edX. Since that time, this continues to be a hot topic. At the end of the last post, I posed a few questions. It’s time to revisit those questions:

Is edX truly an altruistic venture, or will it begin to generate revenue at some point (e.g., through advertising, selling lists, etc.)?
A great article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Inside the Coursera Contract: How an Upstart Company Might Profit From Free Courses,” tackles this one. In fact, I’ll just leave you to read about the eight possible business models mentioned in Coursera’s contract with University of Michigan.

Will the platform take off? If so, who will use it?
Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng co-taught a class on artificial intelligence (AI) last year. According to Reuters, 104,000 people enrolled in the class, nearly 25,000 completed most of the work, and 13,000 scored high enough to earn a statement of accomplishment.  Many of these classes are just getting off the ground; it will be interesting to see what the enrollment and completion numbers look like once these courses lose a bit of their novelty. I’d also like to see additional information about who’s taking these courses.

Will users really learn via edX, and how will they know when they’ve mastered a subject?
Earlier this month, the University of Wisconsin System announced plans to create a flexible online degree program. This announcement wasn’t too ground-breaking, except for one feature: students will be able to earn credits by testing out of specific competencies, including things they’ve learned in other learning environments (via Coursera, edX, at another school, or at work):

The flexible diploma is meant to translate past online and classroom coursework along with work experience into UW college credits that could be combined with additional online learning to complete a degree. The program also is being designed to tap existing online courses at UW and other universities around the world. The online courses would for the first time be broken down into smaller learning units. Students would be tested on each unit independently and at their own pace. (Source: University of Wisconsin System)

Most new online learning platforms aren’t equipped or accredited to grant certifications and degrees; traditional colleges and universities are. I’d be surprised if more colleges and universities didn’t scramble to adopt this approach soon.


It’s Alive! A New Approach to Communications

Frankenstein: "The Web: It's Alive!"

Nearly every organization I’ve worked with over the last few years has been in the midst of a communications culture change. These organization had mastered the art of print-based communications and marketing. However, it was time to dive in to a new, integrated approach to online and print communications and marketing.

By necessity, print-based approaches require tons of checks to ensure accuracy and consistent style. Once a project goes to print, there’s no going back — it’s done. Moving print projects through several layers of editing, copy editing, proofreading and approvals helps ensure accuracy. The upside, the opportunity for extremely consistent branding and style from project to project, often contributed to a downside: slow project timelines.

Today, web communications and marketing requires a new approach. Because the web is essentially a series of living documents, web projects shouldn’t follow exactly the same processes as print projects. Sure, it’s a good idea for a few layers of editing and approvals to remain in place, but the first version you post online doesn’t have to be the last version. For example, the web is great for real-time communications. When an emergency arises, it’s okay to post something quickly and then adapt and refine your response as more information becomes available. Similarly, now that we have web analytics at our disposal, publishing a new page is usually the starting point for optimizing the content to the audience’s needs.

On the flip side, once you publish something online, it can live on in cyberspace forever. But for most routine web communications projects, so what? Yes, someone could see that you changed the location for an event or corrected a typo. But users today expect up-to-the-minute information, and that includes the expectation that the web changes from day to day.

If you’re in the midst of transitioning from a print-heavy approach to an integrated online/offline approach, take heart. The web is alive, and this isn’t a scary idea — it’s an exciting opportunity to try out a new approach.

Online Learning and edX

In 2008, I served as project coordinator as the graduate school I worked for redesigned and relaunched its .edu website (see the website). But we didn’t stop there. We ended up launching three other new sites at the same time (Worldwide Classroom, Resources for Life, and Living Christ Today). It was a great experience that piqued my interest in web communications and provided opportunities to learn quite a bit about web analytics, information architecture, user experience and best practices for web content.

Working on the Worldwide Classroom site opened my eyes to the world of online learning. At the time, I knew that many higher education institutions offered distance learning, but there were really only a few institutions that were brave enough to try offering free online learning. Even MIT had only launched its OpenCourseWare site in 2002.

edX logoThis week, MIT and Harvard announced edX, a new online learning initiative. This partnership will support the development of a new online learning platform. edX will soon invite other institutions to participate by sharing free course content on the open-source platform.

This is significant news. These institutions made hefty investments in the initiative, and they can offer excellent content. Free and paid online learning will certainly continue to be hot topics for the next few years. And if these institutions can successfully deliver education online, then what’s to stop other industries from doing the same? For example, we could see health care groups (e.g., payors, providers) test out online health education programs.

However, some questions remain: Is edX truly an altruistic venture, or will it begin to generate revenue at some point (e.g., through advertising, selling lists, etc.)? Will the platform take off? If so, who will use it? Will users really learn via edX, and how will they know when they’ve mastered a subject?

Read more about edX and online learning: