Thursday, July 16, 2015

As with any communications effort, the social media bottom line comes down to impact. Can you prove that the time, money, and effort put into social media helped achieve your agency’s goals? In a world obsessed with big data, it’s tempting to track every detail simply because you can. With more data comes more confusion over what data are important enough be tracked and, just as essentially, how to report those data in a way that facilitates decisionmaking. Fortunately, DigitalGov has already created the Federal Social Media Analytics Toolkit to provide guidance on what social media metrics should be tracked.

Let’s get into what happens after the data exportation, tagging, and Microsoft Excel calculations. How should social media managers report their findings to leadership? There is no one way to report, but after looking at more than 20 government examples, I see four best practices.

First, be selective and relevant. Reflect on your agency’s goals and challenges, both as a whole and for the communications and social media teams. Mine your spreadsheets for the information that will support those goals or address those challenges. Look for the data that will help you answer questions about agency stakeholders, evaluate a new campaign, or assess a change in the social media process. Getting the right data is more important than fitting all the data into your report.

Strategic Outcomes

Second, give context. Reporting on numbers of followers, engagement, and reach isn’t meaningful if those numbers are not compared to what happened last month or even last year. Often, digging deeper into a few metrics can give you more insight into how your social media efforts are performing than casting a net as wide as possible. In a recent report for the National Institute of Justice, the data showed a drop in total engagements in May  (2,499) from April (2,911); but once I dug deeper to find out why, I saw that the engagement rate was actually higher in May (2.32 percent compared to 2.14 percent) and above average compared with the last 7 months. Thus, even though the social media posts in May resulted in less total engagement than in April, they were not low-performing posts overall. Highlighting the changes in data—the odd and the seemingly unexplainable—can lead to a discussion about why those changes occurred.

Third, make the report easy to read and understand. Format preferences are unique to each staff person, agency, and situation, but the crucial element of a great social media report is that it should be as easy to read as it is to understand. Whether you use a slideshow, a document, or an infographic, white space is your friend. So are charts, tables, and graphics. If the communications team loves an in-depth look at the data and long narrative conclusions but your leadership has only 2 minutes to read the report, consider creating a summary or, even better, a one-page infographic (check out this General Accounting Office template and webinar) with the most relevant numbers for leadership. Some other ideas:

  • Don’t use long narrative explanations when a chart, graphic, table, or list will do.
  • At the same time, don’t overload on charts. Remember to select what’s most relevant.
  • Add a glossary of terms so that you don’t have to define them every time.
  • Provide a summary of the most relevant data, and always answer the question, “So what?”

Breadth and Depth

Fourth, get feedback. Many government agencies have staff that crunch numbers, whether they collect customer satisfaction information, conduct research, or analyze and evaluate programs. Consider sharing a draft of your report (or even your Excel calculations) with a data expert. Ask them whether the way in which you analyzed the data is appropriate. Discuss the complexities involved in answering leadership questions about whether a particular activity (such as using a call to action) really resulted in a change in audience behavior (such as more click-throughs). Use their experience organizing, analyzing, and displaying data to your advantage.

The bottom line is that social media reports should home in on the most relevant data, displayed with high-quality charts and graphics that illustrate trends, provide possible explanations for outliers and conclusions about impact, and be open to feedback. These practices will help you create reports that grab attention, answer critical questions, and inspire new ideas, leading your agency forward.

Katie Gresham is a Senior Communications Associate at Palladian Partners working with the National Institute of Justice.

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