Social media doesn't necessarily lend itself to easily tracking performance like your website or e-mail campaigns do. It's not always possible to figure out how effective a status update on your Facebook Fan Page or a Tweet from a university Twitter account is.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't try. We offer a number of ideas for determining the success of your social media efforts.
Capitalize on Existing Metrics Offered
Take advantage of the existing metrics offered and track changes over time. For Facebook, that might be monitoring the number of fans and wall posts for your Facebook Page. For Twitter, you might keep tabs on the number of followers for your account.
Don't just peek at these numbers on occasion. You might want to create a spreadsheet where you record these numbers over time. This will allow you to better understand what caused significant increases. Was it a blog post, a mention in your alumni newsletter, a big athletic event? Did you post a status update or tweet that was especially engaging?
Determine the Effectiveness of Calls to Action
Utilizing these existing metrics is just the start. We assume getting a Facebook Fan or a Twitter follower is not the end goal. You are typically going to want these fans and followers to take some sort of action. For alumni, you may want them to donate money or return to campus for homecoming. For prospects, you may want them to apply to your school or accept your admissions offer. For current students, you may want them to buy tickets to Saturday's football game. Asking your fans or followers to act on one of your messages is referred to as a Call to Action.
When you post a Call to Action via social media, try and do so in a way that you can measure the responses. An easy way to do this is via tracking links. With tools like Google Analytics, you can incorporate special codes into links, allowing you to determine how many people got to your website via a given link and which pages they viewed. So you can find out how many people donated money after clicking on a link from your Twitter account. Or how many prospects completed an application form after you posted an Apply Now link to your Facebook Page.
By measuring the performance of these Calls to Action, you will not only start to understand the value of a Facebook Fan or Twitter follower, but you will also get a better understanding on what types of Calls to Action work best on each of your social media outlets. What works on Facebook might not work on Twitter and vice versa.
Survey Your Users
Get information directly from your Facebook Fans and followers. Find out what constituency they are a part of. Are they alumni? Prospective students? Current students? Parents of students? Fans of your sports teams?
You might ask them what sorts of information they want to receive. Do they want sports scores? Information on upcoming campus events? Alumni news? Admissions tips? The more engaged they are, the more likely they are to respond to your Calls to Action.
It's hard to understand how you are doing if you only focus on your own efforts. See what colleges and universities in your peer group are doing. How does your performance stack up against their performance? For schools that seem to be doing a better job attracting Facebook Fans or Twitter followers, what are they doing differently? Are they posting more pictures on their Facebook Page? Is the tone of their Twitter account serious or more light-hearted? Are they running contests?
We've built a resource that will hopefully help you with some of this benchmarking. Our Facebook Page Directory can help find data on hundreds of college and university Facebook Pages.
None of these methods for measuring performance should be considered as one-off initiatives. These should be ongoing efforts that help you hone and refine your social media strategy, helping you better understand who your audience is, what types of information they want, and what types of actions they are likely to perform.