Are You Getting a Return on Social Media?
To answer that question, we turned to a report by Kellen Company earlier this year, which studied how associations in the United States are using social media and what kind of experience they are having.
The result was not an entirely rosy picture — certainly not as rosy as some might lead you to believe.
Low Expectations, Low Resources
While there are many studies out there, this one points out something particularly important.
A decade after Facebook was founded, fully 42 percent of the associations surveyed said they were unsure how effective social media was at achieving their goals, and another 21 percent said it was ineffective. At the same time, 69 percent said the resources they invest are worthwhile.
How can associations be both uncertain or unhappy with the outcome and satisfied with the level of effort? The answer, according to the survey, is that that level of effort is relatively low.
Fully three quarters said that the person leading their social media program spends 10 hours a week or less in that role. Moreover, 41 percent said that a communication manager was in charge of the program, with only 18 percent boasting a dedicated social media manager.
Indeed, most associations are using social media to communicate with members or to recruit — only 22 percent said they use it to debate specific issues — and are also doing some basic tracking, such as counting followers or watching the response to items they post.
Less than half have a blog. Only about a third are using paid digital advertising. Very few were doing advanced tracking and analysis.
‘Ready, Fire, Aim’
“Few of the association executives interviewed said they have defined goals and strategies for their social media programs,” the study said. “Some expressed a ‘ready, fire, aim’ approach, which they acknowledge does not make sense. But they said they were pressed into creating a social media presence for the organization just for the sake of doing so.”
Of course, no program should exist without some expectations about the return on the investment, whether that comes in the form of revenue, engagement or something else. At the same time, every association needs a social media presence or it will miss important opportunities to communicate and look wildly out of touch.
The solution is to find a social media strategy that resonates with your audience, giving members added value and the organization some return. “A lot of organizations approach this backwards,” one executive told Kellen in a focus group. “They should ask first, ‘What is the goal?’ and then ask, ‘What are the right tools?’”
The Importance of Experimentation
Of course, many associations have had substantial success with social media. One good example is the American Public Health Association, which has more than 360,000 followers on Twitter, many times its membership. As ASAE writer Katie Bascaus pointed out in September, the association “has become a major voice in a larger conversation on public health.”
For associations looking to get more from their programs, one way is to refocus existing social media to support existing goals with measurable results, such as attendance at an event, getting supporters to sign an advocacy petition or increasing the size of an email list.
Another way is to experiment — and it’s not without merit.
People use social media for everything from following politics to finding the nearest hotdog vendor. Perhaps you can find an application that really helps your audience and your cause.
Indeed, a recent Harvard Business Review article frowned on the idea that every concept needs to be backed by hard evidence before it is tried. Though not aimed specifically at social media programs, the concept applies. The article was headlined, “Two Words That Kill Innovation.” The two words were “prove it.”
“Without question, data and analytics have their roles and their benefits,” wrote author Roger Martin. “But they have a really important dark side too, and when managers don’t see that dark side, they accidentally kill innovation.”
The solution he proffered was to, “try innovative ideas, but do so in small ways without a lot of up-front investment.”
When it comes to a lackluster social media program, that just might work.