The Chicken and Egg Problem of Nonprofit Social Media Measurement

social fish
social fish

My new job is forcing me to confront my arithmophobia/dyscalculia (I’m not sure which it actually is–basically any kind of numbers or math freaks me out) as well as my loathing of Excel and I admit it’s almost pleasurable. Maybe I’ve been too hasty totally dismissing numbers from my life for so long. I’m reading Measuring the Networked Nonprofit now and I’m kind of obsessed with it–I can almost envision myself becoming an Excel geek. Almost.

But one thing that occurs to me both as I read the book and as I compile the monthly social media reports is that being data-driven at an association/nonprofit is a lot harder than it is at a for-profit company. Web analytics is basically an even playing field because Google analytics is free, as are other web stats tools. You can compile robust web analytics relatively easily, all in one platform, for free. Not the case for social media. At all.

Take the scenario of an association or nonprofit that’s active on the main public social media channels: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+ and YouTube. You come up with your strategy, compile your editorial calendar for the month and get to posting. Great. Now it’s the end of the month and you need to report how you did for the month, ideally in one convenient report. And because you’re a nonprofit staffer, you don’t have a ton of time to dedicate to this activity because you’re also responsible for a bunch of other things–the org’s website or magazine or membership department or fundraising activities or what have you. Where do you go to easily, quickly pull a report of key metrics across all those channels? If you worked for an agency, you’d probably be using something like SimplyMeasured (which starts at $500 a month) or Viralheat. You log in, specify the timeframe for which you want to generate a report and–BAM–it’s done.

But because you work for a nonprofit with little or no budget dedicated to social media, you’re on your own in terms of gathering those stats. You go to Facebook Insights for Facebook. You go to Twitter analytics for Twitter. Oh, wait…except that with Twitter analytics you can’t view activity for just a specific time period, unless you download it in the dreaded spreadsheet form, which, if you’re not a data whiz, looks like a great big secret code and your brain short-circuits when you view it in that form. Not to mention that if you’re supposed to be measuring valuable information like clicks as opposed to vanity metrics like retweets and number of followers, that information isn’t in Twitter analytics. So if you want that, you’ll need to use a url shrinker and then pull those stats separately. But not Google url shortener because you can’t export those stats in any sort of report, you can only view them, 10 at a time, on the page.

Now it’s time for Pinterest–lucky for you Pinterest recently added analytics, right? But wait–Pinterest analytics only tracks information about pins that come from your website. So if you pinned it but it wasn’t from your website, forget about getting that data from Pinterest analytics. Ok, no big deal, you can just use a url shortener then track clicks that way. Whoops–wrong again–Pinterest doesn’t allow short urls. All is not lost because there are some free Pinterest analytic tools. Like PinLeague. Oh, wait, that went out of business. PinReach. Oh, wait, that went out of business. Tailwindapp to the rescue! So you can get a few stats there, but most of the features aren’t available in the free version, and even though it’s only $29 a month, that’s $29 a month you don’t have budget for.

Then Instagram. You can get some free stats using Stati.gram, but you can’t specify the time period and good luck getting it to load.

Don’t get me wrong–there are some cool free tools, like Cyfe. Or the ubiquitous Hootsuite (but reports cost extra and some require the higher-priced paid plans). But no one free tool that I’m aware of gives you everything you need in one place.

So I’m all for being data-driven; I could even (almost) see myself becoming an Excel geek one of these years. But I just wish it didn’t take so much research to just get to the point of being able to even gather the necessary data for free–let alone the time it takes to gather all that data. And if I’ve been “doing” social media for associations for five years now and know a lot of these resources just through osmosis or the nerd circles I travel in, what about someone totally new to nonprofit social media management/measurement? Most associations or nonprofits I know, save for a few big ones, are still struggling with just doing social media–the concept that those same tapped-out people will also have the bandwidth to ninja together any kind of meaningful or actionable analytics in addition to all they’re already doing…I just don’t see it.

Am I being too pessimistic? (Who me, a pessimist? Never.) Are there great, free, comprehensive social media analytic tools out there that I’m not aware of?

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