The hardest part of putting this presentation together was using the template because it reminds me why I think powerpoint is evil! But it is always a good exercise to make your brain think in a different way.
Last year at this time, I was writing the chapter on ROI in the soon to be published book from NTEN called "Managing Your Mission." My chapter lays out a traditional ROI process that Nonprofit technology staff use to make major IT investment purchases such as hardware, video conference system, database system, etc. The chapter is based on interviews with folks in the field and includes step-by-step checklists, examples, and tips.
My goal for this presentation was to synthesize the traditional ROI process with the best thinking about social media and ROI from the gurus like David Armano and KD Paine. That's how I got the sub-title, "Insight Yields Return on Investment." I feel that David Armano's "Return on Insight: Listen, Learn, Adapt" process is something that you don't stop doing. And, it also includes measurement - not just qualitative information.
After you've been able to use metrics to learn what works and adapt your approach, you can use a traditional approach which begins with defining value and culminates with a financial calculation that could go something like this. Or it might compare the cost of one approach to another or the cost of not investing. It answers the "Was it worth doing?" question.
Return on Investment
Definition: An analysis that looks at the benefits, costs, and value of a technology project over time. It uses metrics to measure your results and help you improve your strategy over time. Helps us move away from tool driven decisions to results.
The Return on Investment financial process was created by DuPont and used by Alfred Sloan to help make General Motors manageable in the 1920s. ROI had it origins as an accounting term and was originally a measure of return on the total investment in the entire business. It is a flow chart that calculates business performance taking into account not only whether the company had a profit, but whether that profit was good enough relative to the assets it took to generate it. Over those 80 years, the chart has been polished, refined and so deeply embedded in business thinking.. Wall Street views it as the only legitimate means of measuring business performance. But ROI was not really intended to measure a technology project, program, or tool or any other isolated aspect of an organization.
Return on Investment is what many executive directors may be thinking when social media strategy comes up. They want to know:
- How much will it cost?
- How much time will it take?
- What are the results?
- Is it worth it?
And we wonder how do we calculate that? Can we calculate it if we haven't done anything yet?
Return on Investment is a much broader concept that doing math. If you lay it step-by-step, it includes these:
- Smart Objective
- Defined Audience
- Clearly articulated benefits statement that looks at tangible and intangible
- Use of metrics to measure your results
- Results translated into dollar value (donations or time saved)
- Financial calculations: net gain, opportunity cost, or comparison to other method
- Communicating the results
Return on Insight: Listen, Learn, Adapt
David Armano's "The Collective Focus Group:Listen, Learn, and Adapt" was written for the business audience in mind, but the concept and techniques can be used by nonprofits and more importantly lead to success. In an earlier post and presentation, I riffed on Armano's article and translated for a nonprofit context.
This process consists of three activities. Listening is knowing what is being said online about your organization and your field. Listening is the first step, but you do it before, during, and after the project. Learning is using experiments with metrics and the right questions at the right point to understand what works, what doesn’t. The definition of adapt is using insights to make corrections to improve results the next time around.
How do you apply these two methods?
You must begin with getting insight and once you've had learned enough and adapted, you can begin to subject your social media efforts to a traditional ROI process.
- Secret sauce of social media success
- It may require internal culture change – proactive listening and experiments
- May initially feel like “extra work” but should be embedded in your implementation process
- Requires longer-term thinking which is difficult given current financial pressures
- Should do once you’ve had several thoughtful experiments using Listen, Learn, and Adapt not on the front-end
- ROI analysis requires documenting, collecting data, and internal discussion and cooperation
- Must be more than math.
Listen, Learn, Adapt: Step-by-Step
The following are the key points. For links and more detailed, see my earlier post on Listen, Learn, and Adapt.
- Using monitoring tools
- Know your keywords
- Use your RSS reader like a rock star
- Engaging and monitoring responses from clients
- Engaging internally
The example to illustrate these points is from a panel I designed for the NTC08 on ROI and Social Media and including Wendy Harman from the Red Cross.
Learning is picking the right metrics to measure what is and isn't working. The most important point is that you need to think like a scientist - they measure and document everything and do experiments. You also need to think like Jane Goodall or a primatologist - who does field observations, sifts through qualitative data for patterns, etc. Above all you must pick the right metrics to measure what your doing and look for trends that can tell you what works and what doesn't.
Here's how I've documented all the social media fundraising campaigns:
- Objective and Audience
- Document on the fly
- Test and tweak
- Pick the right hard data points
- Harvest insights
- Look at what other nonprofits are doing in the space
- Pause for reflection time before next reiteration: How to improve results?
I used the example from the Facebook Birthday campaign.
This is hard part because it means making changes either with your social media strategy and potential your organization. Adapting is taking the insights that you've learned and using them to tweak or revise your strategy.
I used the example from the Humane Society's excellent social media work.
In the next section of the presentation, I use my blog as an example of going through a traditional ROI process. I've been doing the ROI analysis openly on my blog for the past two years and the presentation uses a slightly more refined version of this benchmarking process. I learned everything about metrics ane measurement from reading the blogs of gurus - KD Paine and Avinash Kaushik
After defining objective and audience, the metrics that I use to measure my blog include:
- Raw Author Contribution
- Unique Blog Readers
For each one, I show an example of charts, graphs, or data that I've used to lead to an understanding of what works.
The tools I use are below. These are all free tools that do not require technical knowledge to install or use, although you have to spend some time learning how they work.
- Google Analytics
What's Up With Feedburner by Beth Kanter
Google Analytics Primer sponsored by NTEN with screencast and wiki created by Beth Kanter
Using Postrank To Evaluate the Top Content on my blog by Beth Kanter
Benefits: Tangible and Intangible
The next step is list all the benefits that your blog or other social media offers. Don't worry if you can't quantify them at this point, just list them. There are two types of benefits. Tangible benefits are those that can be easily converted into a standard measurement unit like dollars or time. Intangible benefits are those that are more subjective, usually behaviorally oriented and more difficult to convert into a standard measure. While both are important to track and identify, your executive director is probably most interested in the tangible benefits.
- Market Research
- Mainstream media mentions
- Inquiries for consulting
- Helps me prepare for trainings/consulting Program Ideas
- Increased Relevant Visitor Traffic
- Increased Page Rankings
- Fundraising – reach new donors – both small and large
Go through each of your tangible benefits and assign a value or specific dollar amount. You may need to think of terms of time or dollars saved.
- Makes me happy
- Makes me smarter
- Reduces my information overload
- People say they are learning as a result
A good exercise is to try to convert your intangibles. Sometimes with additional data collection or secondary research you can. Here's a conversion test:
- Does an acceptable, standard metric exist for the measure?
- Can the conversion be accomplished with minimum resources?
- Can the conversion process be described to an executive director and secure their buy-in in five minutes?
Track Your Time
Social media takes time to do well, a minimum investment of 5 hours a week. With financial pressures, you need to know how much time it takes you and figure out how to be efficient. Two years ago, I started to use my kids timeout timer to keep on track with my social media work. This had a double value - I was more efficient because I was tracking my time (sort of like keeping a diet journal) and I was to find ways to save time and use a more systemmatic approach.
What I discovered is that once I had my blogging work flow into a routine, I was to accomplish it more efficiently. If subjected myself to an tracking my time exercise in the beginning, I wouldn't be blogging today. There's a learning curve before you reap the benefits of efficiency.
One thing about a traditional ROI process is that you might need to collect other data to analyze the ROI. But careful, you don't want to spend more time collecting and processing data than actually doing the social media implementation!
- Staff Surveys
- Staff Interviews
- Client surveys
- Clients Interviews
- Data from system
- Task Analysis
- Times Sheet Analysis
- Field research (Listening)
- Secondary research reports
- Benchmark studies
- Budget and Financial Analysis
Now Do the Math
Now you are ready to do some number crunching. Here are some ways to think about the math part of your ROI analysis:
Compare the total cost/benefit of different options
Compare the total costs with the benefits/value
Compare the costs of not doing the project
Identify pilot(s) to identify cost/benefit (Listen, Learn, Adapt)
In researching the ROI Chapter of the NTEN book, I intervewed some staff members from Legal Services community. They wanted to implement a laptop program for the 40 attornies on staff - they knew it would be more efficient for those who working outside of the office. However, with such a large expenditure and not data, the project was not approved. So, they designed a small pilot where they tracked how much time was saved and what that translated into - including the ability for the attornies to spend more time taking on more clients. This lead to full implementation of the project. So, look for small, low risk pilots so you can understand the cost/benefit.
ROI Story Telling
It is important to communicate your results and be an internal evangelist for your project. Here's some points on that:
- Blend the numbers and non-financial factors into a concise and informative presentation
- Focus on the value
- Be honest about the issues and facts, but spotlight value to mission
- Creating effective stories is not hard, provided you clearly understand who these decision influencers are, know well what they most care about and understand where to place stories for the most impact.
- Insights translates into dollars over time
- Use Listen, Learn, Adapt especially in the early stages
- Pick the right metrics and track to improve what you’re doing
- Focus on value of social media first – tangible benefits
- Intangibles are important
- Numbers are important, but stories can enhance your case
There are a couple of bonus slides in the deck about how to use metrics for podcasts and video. Corey Pudhorodsky of the 501-Casts was kind of enough to create some slides for me. Go listen to his podcast session as part of this series.
My session was the last of 5-part series that started with a fanastic session by Amy Sample Ward on the building blocks, a webinar on Video by Jay Dedman and Ryanne Hodson, and Spreading Buzz by Danielle Brigida.
WeAreMedia: Considering the ROI of Social Media
ROI Blog Posts by Beth Kanter
Social Media Metrics Blog Posts by Beth Kanter
Listen, Learn, Adapt by David Armano
KD Paine Reputation Management and Measurement Session at E-Metrics by KD Paine
KD Paine Measurement Blog (must read)