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daisies growing toward sunlight, symbolizing returns on investing time and money on social media for nonprofits

What Nonprofits Need to Know About Measuring Social Media ROI

Nonprofit professionals juggle multiple tasks and solve a variety of problems each day.

That said, if your efforts with social media and digital marketing do not create the desired results, how can you justify spending precious time and money on them? You need to ensure that you are getting some ROI (return on investment) from your social media efforts. How much ROI is up to you and your organization.

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Determining the ROI of social media is much easier said than done. Maybe your organization does not have the resources to measure and report on your social media efforts. If so, consider cutting back on social media or even putting it off for a few months. The ability to measure your results is the hallmark of a good social media program.

Why Measurement Is Important

illustration showing people climbing up steps, talking through a bullhorn, and looking around, representing measuring the roi on social media

Measurement helps identify what needs improvement, which methods work, and, most importantly, where the nonprofit should spend most of its time and energy in the social media space.

Nonprofits would never spend thousands of dollars and hours on fundraising tactics and personnel without any expectation of payback. So why do we often do this with social media?

I suspect we don't insist on measurable ROI from social media because it seems so hazy and hard to define. Nonprofits are great at identifying outcomes for their grant proposals, but not so good at explaining results for their marketing efforts.

For many nonprofits, it is rare to see a direct correlation between a Facebook post and a donation. Some nonprofits use these platforms extremely well to raise money (St. Baldrick's Foundation, for example), but most nonprofits use social media as just one rung on the donor engagement ladder.

That's why a defined social media strategy is so crucial. A strategy defines your goals and your target audience on social media and provides the destination for your action plan road map. Note that a social media strategy is based on where you are trying to go and who you are trying to reach first, and platforms or channels second. This is why I often have to caution that simply saying, "We'll just start tweeting!" is not a strategy.

One key element to building a social media strategy is creating an annual social media calendar. A calendar helps bring greater definition to what you are doing on social media in the first place; it allows for a high-level view of the content you wish to produce throughout the year.

In fact, I'm teaching a first-ever 301-level course for TechSoup from September 19 to October 31 titled How to Create and Implement an Effective Social Media Marketing Calendar. It's a unique blended learning opportunity (live instruction plus self-driven modules) that will include live interactive events, videos, worksheets, practical activities, and more.

Develop a Rubric for Success

You must ask the following questions when figuring out what to measure on social media:

  • What does success for us look like a year from now if we are using social media effectively?
  • How will we know that we are accomplishing our goals with the help of social media?
  • What three quantitative metrics can we create to measure these efforts? Quantitative metrics can be measured objectively in terms of data and numbers. For example, your metrics could be number of Facebook likes, number of video views, and number of email sign-ups received from social media.
  • What three qualitative metrics can we create to measure social media efforts? Qualitative metrics are subjective and based on observations, stories, and anecdotes. For example, perhaps a board member saw your social media post and sent you a quick note. Or maybe a donor told you that your recent blog post made them feel great and that they made a second gift.

By reporting the impact of digital marketing efforts, you will give everyone involved a sense of purpose and a better understanding of the power of social media platforms. Imagine how much more supportive your organization might be if you can prove that a social media campaign produced more friends and resulted in more donations.

Four metrics that can help determine nonprofit social media success are the following.

1. Engagement with Your Nonprofit

Engagement is a metric that can be found in the back-end administrator section of any social media account that you manage for your nonprofit. Engagement metrics reflect the response (or lack thereof) that your social media content receives from your online community. Are people sharing, commenting, liking, and retweeting what you post? Or is it falling flat?

2. Reach

Reach is my least favorite metric to measure because it only reflects how many people saw your posts, not how many people took action or responded to your posts. However, it is still important to understand and to track. Reach numbers tell you how many people saw your social media content but not if they took action. They might have just ignored it.

3. Referral Traffic to Your Nonprofit's Website

Many nonprofits aim to send social media traffic to their websites as a measure of success and as a place to build a deeper relationship. Are your Facebook fans coming to your website to get more involved? Are your Twitter followers clicking on your blog post links?

4. Email Subscribers

An important goal for any social media marketing campaign is to build up your email list. To track progress toward that goal, measure how many email newsletter sign-ups you received that came from social media platforms.

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Improve your social media by measuring results. The better you get at using social media and evaluating what you did, the sooner you will see improvement in that elusive "awareness." Plus, you'll also see more donations and better donor retention.

Additional Resources: Social Media for Nonprofits