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Towards solving the social media evaluation mystery

In my experience social media as a communication channel can still feel overwhelming to many people. So taking the next step and thinking about how to meaningfully evaluate the use of it can almost feel too much of a mystery – which often means it doesn’t happen!

However, the more I’ve worked with social media evaluation the less mysterious I think it is. It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers that get thrown around like – we reached 20 million people with our tweet. To that I would say great, what does that number mean and so what?! (And there’s a whole other conversation to be had around how reach numbers are derived and what reach actually means.)

It’s no different to any other evaluation where you need to work out what success looks like for you. 

Understand where your social media activities fit into your overall objectives or Key Result Areas (KRAs) and build your measurements around this.  

Here’s a really quick example. You may have an overall KRA focused on encouraging on-farm practice change in one particular area. One strategy might be to use social media as a way to increase farmer and consultant engagement with the website and use the available information to inform practice change. Here are some ideas of what you could look at depending on your goals:

  1. Website traffic numbers – Do they increase when you include links in social media? Are people clicking through? Look at the traffic sources to see where people are coming from. 
  2. Quality of time spent on website – Are people spending longer on your site and are they spending it on the relevant pages? Has this time increased since you’ve been using social media?
  3. Engagement with content – Is the content on your site being shared through social media? Are your tweets being retweeted? are you being directly tweeted at and are you tweeting back? Are conversations happening on your Facebook page (if you have one). 
  4. Publication downloads – Are your publications being downloaded if you are promoting them? Are they being downloaded anyway? Who is downloading them and how are they being used (potential survey question)?
  5. Social media followers – Who are they? Are they the people you need to reach? Are more of the right people following you? Are you using the right channels? This could be something to ask in surveys/interviews. 
  6. Website awareness, use and contribution to practice change – Establish a baseline. Ask your target audiences (survey, interviews) whether they are aware of your website and how they currently use it. Ask again during and after your campaign. Find out if the information available contributed to any changes they’ve made, and are consultants are using it as a reference. TIP: Hijack other evaluations that might be going on and pop a couple of relevant questions in surveys, workshops, interviews etc.

In terms of understanding your social media strategy’s contribution to your KRA, point 6 is the most important particularly at the reporting stage. 

Every successful evaluation begins at the planning stage. This ensures that you collect meaningful data along the way. 

Plan to evaluate and you’ll plan to succeed.