There was a time, maybe about five years ago, when social media folks could get away with waving our magic social media wand and enchanting people to people that the intangible social media fairies were going to come and grant everyone’s wishes. That time, while entertaining, is thankfully gone; today, we need to prove success. We need to face the question, “how do you track the ROI of social media?” with more than just a deer-in-the-headlights stare. If you’re in charge of your school’s social media program, you had better be prepared to answer this question. As schools dedicate more and more resources to social media channels, it’s increasingly important to have clear ways to track and measure success in this area. Yet many enrollment marketers have trouble providing a clear explanation for why their social media efforts are working.
There are certainly schools out there which, essentially, believe that social media engagements with customers are intrinsically valuable and so they don't try to track them back to a revenue generation, but instead look purely at engagement metrics (things like number comments, customer service questions answered). If you’re in one of those schools, you’re in a good spot, and measurement is a relatively straightforward thing to do. If you’re like most school marketers, and you’re not in an environment like that, you have a bigger challenge ahead. Selling the idea that social media is implicitly important is a hard thing to do, but not impossible.
Method 1: Measuring social media engagement against key business metrics
The first method involves thinking about the overall goals of the specific social media campaign and what type of business metrics you might see that affect. Then, measuring both social media engagement metrics and the business metrics, you can look for correlations over campaign length when compared to time periods where the social media campaign was inactive. This isn't a perfect solution because there could be other things that affect the business metrics besides the social media campaign. Even though it isn't exact, it is one way to demonstrate value.
Method 2: Tracking metrics around social media presence
Alternatively, depending on exactly what the objective of the campaign is, there's quite a few ways that we can track metrics regarding a business's social media presence. Things like reach, content reseeding and engagement are pretty simple. We also have the ability to actually integrate social monitoring and publishing solutions with some types of website analytics software, so we can see, say, how a post generates conversions on a website, or which topics and conversation styles work are effective on individual social media venue. However, the failure of this type of model is that it doesn't account for some of the brand loyalty and perception benefits of social media.
Method 3: The hybrid approach
Depending upon exactly what you're attempting to accomplish, a hybrid approach is usually best. Measure all of the metrics that you can that make sense (reach, content reseeding, engagement both in terms of click-through and response, etc.) and, if possible, attempt to correlate trends in social media metrics with business metrics. At the same time, if possible, conduct brand perception surveys both before and after a campaign to see if there is a correlation, and conduct surveys of people that have actually engaged with you over social media.
Some of the more compelling case studies out there involve presenting results like, "One in four of the entire student body found the social media presence helpful in making a business decision. 87 percent of students who used it said it enabled them to connect with staff members better. And students that engaged with the social media presence were six times as likely to enroll as students that didn't." Basically, "Overall perception. Perception of users. Measure result metrics."
Ideally, whatever method you use is specifically tailored to the goals of each individual social media campaign. The unfortunate part of this is that it requires a comprehensive knowledge of what's trackable in social media, how you track it, what types of engagements correlate to business metrics, how you correlate them, and, ultimately, how you tailor it for specific business goals. At the same time, that's the reason that social media experts exist. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.