Measures of Success for Social Media?

I was involved in an interesting discussion today about how the government should measure the success of social media. Just how do you measure it? Certainly, there are tried and true statistics (page hits, numbers of fans, followers, minions, etc) but that doesn’t really measure success. Is it even viable impact data? I never visit NIST’s Facebook page – but I’m a fan and the posts show up in my feed. So, I am not a “hit” but I am paying attention.

NIST’s Facebook page was one example we questioned. The number of fans, and page hits were shared. But it was brought up that the engagement was limited. Eg, we weren’t getting that many comments, “likes” or “shares.” Then we asked ourselves, what were we doing to get engagement? It has to be two-way.

–Should we ask questions? Perhaps something like: How do you know your gallon of ice cream has one gallon in it? (NIST works with USDA to do random sampling according to NIST standards and practices.) Did you know NIST won a Television Academy of Arts & Sciences Award (Emmy)?

–What about non-scientific polls, such as CNN’s Kate Gosselin: Are you glad she got kicked off
“Dancing with the Stars”?
[Yes, I am] or Did you think Tiger Woods’ apology was sincere? [Who cares? He’s an awesome golfer] How about something (obviously more appropriate) like Solar Energy: Do You think it’s a game changer? or Electric Cars: Are they really better for the environment and our economy?

Should “engagement” automatically equal success? TSA’s Evolution of Security blog gets a ton of comments. Is that success? Or is it more important that over time, those have become noticeably more positive (or at least less negative) toward TSA as the stakeholders (travelers) learn more?

What factors would be good measures of success? Do you have any concrete examples you can share, or that you are expecting? If there are benefits, how do we recognize them?

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Don Libes

Good post, Jaime. Underlying your post is the assumption that success can be measured. Although we’re all comfortable with the idea in other domains, it’s unclear whether it carries over to this one.

Engagement is a typical red herring measurement. Although I clicked the link to “fan” NIST many months ago, I quickly removed it from my News Feed because most of the official posts were just junk or repetitive. For instance, I just took a look at the NIST facebook page a moment ago and the most recent posts are two on Public Service Recognition Week (do we really need two … or even one?) and one on an award. The award looked relevant but it was not easy to follow to finally get to the explanation of the relevance to NIST’s work.

As I recall, NIST made an assumption that high frequency of posts is an important requirement to keeping an audience, more so that unique value of the posts. This needs to be rethought. And please let’s not use the idea of posting so-called provocative questions with the idea that getting responses shows worthwhile engagement. If NIST posts were unique and relevant and only appeared once a month, that might attract much more attention and be more highly valued.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that NIST should limit postings to once a month. Just that we need to scrap all of our original assumptions and completely rethink what we’re doing. Trying to mimic what others are doing is just not working for NIST.

Jaime L. Maynard

Hi Don – I agree that it may not be possible to measure the success of social media. However, in government, getting funding or even approval to try something new/different usually requires some “proof” of success making it viable or worthwhile. I think it can be measured – just that NIST is not ready to recognize what success really means. Certainly Amazon.com has measured the success of their dicussion forums, or recommendation feature. I’m not the only person who has purchased more because I am involved in their community.

I also vehemently (don’t get to use that word too often!) agree that NIST/DOC is stuck in a rut with the idea that social media doesn’t work unless we’re posting as frequently as humanly possible. It appears to be the main stumbling block to Twitter, or having individual or lab pages on Facebook. Why must we have the largest audience possible all at once? I can almost envision a Facebook group in the vein of “Can this poodle wearing a tinfoil hat get more fans than Glenn Beck?” [Apparently it could]. “Can this cat wearing pajamas get more fans than NIST?” I don’t mean to be glib, but that we are so focused on building an audience – any audience – rather than targeting those that could benefit most and have a real relationship with NIST is disconcerting. A Facebook page for NIST seems less beneficial than a Facebook page for a specific group at NIST.

I don’t feel the authors I friend on Facebook are slacking if I don’t get a daily post on their progress of chapter 7. A post when the next book is coming is welcome news. NIST could benefit from “quality versus quantity” approach, as you suggest.