There’s a lot of discussion about the importance of libraries being active on social media sites like Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, blogs, and wikis. But there’s not much information on how to define and measure success in those media, although we should be assessing these promotional efforts and measuring their return on investment (ROI). How important are friends or fans, RSS subscribers, and social bookmarking faves? How can you evaluate the public conversation about your library or institution?
|Quality is being redefined to include
considerations about how popular
a page is with end users.
A recent MLS How-To discussed getting your library’s sites noticed and monitoring what people are saying about them (“How to Drive Traffic to Your Website” by A. Schmidt and S. Houghton-Jan, Nov./Dec. 2008, p. 1). Our article will explain more about tracking and quantifying these social media efforts. If you’re tempted to discount social media conversations and links to your library, look at some evidence that shows the major impact they have. The 2008 Edelman Trust Barometer study (www.edelman.com/trust/2008/trustbarometer08_final.pdf) found that people in Brazil, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and the U.S. trust information about companies when it comes from “a person like me.” Customer complaints and bad news travel quickly, so librarians need to monitor complaints and respond to them.
Search engines are also paying attention to social media. Google presents users with mixed search results that integrate web, image, video, news, blog, and other vertical results into one page of relevant information. Given that, ranking results for any particular topic are being influenced by a presence in social media. A Google search for the name “Denver Public Library,” for example, yields the following in the top 10: a link to the library itself, a link to a highly rated YouTube video it produced, and links to its Wikipedia and MySpace pages. Denver PL dominates the first page of Google search results in large part because of its social media activity.
But rankings look at more than just presence. An August 2007 editorial in Search Engine Journal (www.searchenginejournal.com/social-medias-direct-influence-on-search-engine-ranking/5576) discusses the Google and Yahoo! trend to assign higher rankings based not upon simple presence in social media, but on social media voting as well. Recent patent applications by Yahoo! and Google detail ways to alter ranking algorithms based upon, for example, the number of times an article is bookmarked, which is an indicator of popularity. Quality, then, is being redefined to take into consideration not only how popular a page or an object is with other content producers, but also how popular it is with the end users.
How to Measure Social Media Success
Part of the difficulty in measuring “success” in social media is that much of what we’re trying to understand is intangible. If your library has a blog, you can look at quantitative measures like site traffic and number of comments, but equally important are the qualitative measures such as the tone of the conversation and the degree to which readers and commenters are engaged. Those aren’t easy to measure, but it’s not just libraries that are struggling with these issues. Prospero’s 2007 Social Media Survey asked large corporations about their social media ROI, and while 35% reported positive ROI, 41% said it was “unknown” (http://snurl.com/3a5wh).
While trying to arrive at a workable means of measuring success with social media, you might benefit from applying the Trinity Approach for web analytics developed by Avinash Kaushik (www.kaushik.net/avinash/2006/08/trinity-a-mindset-strategic-approach.html). It arrives at actionable insights by focusing on three components:
1. Behavioral Data: This is the “what” of user behavior that librarians are used to collecting. How many blog posts? How many readers? What did the user do?
2. Outcome: This is the “so what” that gets to the heart of why you have an online presence. Take a look at your social pages and ask “so what?” Have your users and your library benefited? Have users found your applications and services useful and valuable? Are they more satisfied?
3. Experience: This is the “why they do it” question. At its most basic level, this is about listening to the voices of our users. What are they telling us? How are they experiencing our social media content and online services? We should invite comments and respond honestly, conduct surveys and act on the results, and let users help design our websites. By finding out “why they do it,” we can design and implement social media projects that result in optimal user behaviors and in win-win situations.
There are those who argue that social media is too difficult to measure and others who point out that while the metrics are imperfect, they are still performance indicators. The reality is that quantitative measures can only tell a small part of the social media story and that qualitative measures are very important. Used together, they can help us answer the “what,” “so what,” and “why” questions that will help librarians chart their courses.
One simple way to start assessing your brand’s credibility and reputation in the eyes of online users is to monitor what they’re saying about it. Is your library accumulating positive “stars” or negative “scars”? Is the first page of search results about your organization filled with complaints or compliments? Compare the results from standard search engines with the results from Technorati, Google Blog Search, Feedster, and other vertical search engines that tap into the “live” web by indexing consumer-generated content in real time.
Charlene Li, formerly an analyst with Forrester Research, did some groundbreaking work when she examined the effectiveness of General Motors’ corporate blog, FastLane. She offers a framework for measuring the ROI of blogs (http://blogs.forrester.com/groundswell/2006/10/calculating_the.html) that we customized and adapted for libraries. In ONLINE magazine, where the longer version of this article first appeared (Nov./Dec. 2008), there is a template that readers could use to start developing their own outcome measurements for the Trinity Approach.
For libraries, there are special challenges for measuring social media success. First, many libraries don’t have (or have only recently developed) cultures of assessment. Doing things such as setting clear objectives before creating and uploading YouTube videos, precisely defining desired outcomes, and planning for integrating these metrics into a library’s overall assessment framework are not the norm. While many businesses rigorously track their customers’ activities and opinions, libraries often take the side of privacy and confidentiality, so they don’t use such customer relationship management (CRM) tools to monitor which emails, blog posts, or books individuals read, comment on, and rate in order to create personalized services. This makes it harder to measure impact.
Start Measuring Your Impact
Being active in the social media sphere is important because it provides innovative ways for us to connect with users we may never see face to face on a personal and meaningful level. Beyond making a connection, though, social media is a way for libraries to encourage, promote, innovate, learn, adapt, improve customer service, and to discover and deliver what users want. So now we’ll offer up some easy-to-use tools and techniques for tracking your social media impact.
There are some wonderful commercial services that can help you measure your online reputation, but those are usually beyond a library’s financial reach. However, there are a number of free alternatives that yield a lot of information about outcomes and customers’ behaviors and experiences.
1. Assess internet search engine results. Begin by searching for your library’s name in Google. Capture and save the top 10 or 20 results and look at two things: First, does your library dominate the search results list, or is it sparsely represented? How many of the top 20 are either direct links to your products and services or are clear discussions of or references to your library? This is your quantitative measure. Second, review these results again and calculate a score based on “stars,” “scars,” and “neutral.” When you assign stars, consider the quality of the headlines and descriptions for “interestingness.” Does the library look engaging and like it offers a lot of services and resources? How much of the content is created by your institution and how much is created by library fans (the trusted “someone like me”) on social media sites? This is your qualitative measure.
We did a sample analysis to point out that some libraries have work to do in order to have a strong social media presence and to show that others are already seeing positive results from their efforts. We did a Google search on a handful of public libraries and looked at the top 20 results of each. (To be fair, we didn’t include the name of the lowest scorer. And we excluded “spam” directory-type entries that mention the library, as well as references from traditional media.)
The color chart shows the combined effect of the scores for Library-Generated Top 20, User-Generated Top 20, and Stars to present an overall view of a library’s impact on search engine users.
You’ll need to decide on the duration of your evaluation period. Some campaigns and ideas may be short-lived; others may take a great deal more time to seed, nurture, and blossom. It can be useful to perform the same searches every 90 days. Consider which search keywords or phrases the library should rank high on. For example, if you’re holding lots of job-seeking workshops this summer and they’re listed in your social media activities, you’ll want to see where those workshops rank when you type in the name of your town and “job hunting” or “job seeking.”
2. Focus on specific social media search engine results. In addition to popular search engines like Google, we should be mindful of our presence in social media search engines for one very important reason: Folks who use these specialized engines tend to be highly connected users who have great influence over others. With that in mind, choose the specific social media search engines that match your media efforts and your locale. Here are a few examples of sites and how they can be used to measure activities:
• Technorati (www.technorati.com): If your service includes a blog or RSS feeds, claim your blog on Technorati and monitor the authority score. That measures the number of distinct blogs linking to yours in the past 6 months, fans, and your blog’s rank. Keep in mind that you should combine these numbers with some qualitative research. Which blogs are linking to you? Are they blogs that your target audience reads and respects? Are readers able to see the blogger as someone who is “like me”?
Repeat the same methodology you used on internet search engines with special social media engines to see how you’re ranking for particular terms. These social media engines often allow you to subscribe to a feed of your search results and collect the results daily.
• Delicious (www.delicious.com): Is your site, resource, tutorial, or blog worth bookmarking? Use Delicious’ built-in statistics to monitor links to your content, tags, and notes. Search for your library, project, or service and see how many people have bookmarked it, when they did, and what comments (if any) have been posted.
In the social media world, you have to give to get, so not only do you have to have content that’s bookmark-worthy, but you have to make that content easy to bookmark by putting “add to” buttons or links on your pages. For example, if you decide to add a “bookmark this on Delicious” button (see the images for buttons below) to certain of your pages, are you getting any ROI? Have the number of refers from Delicious increased? The AddThis Social Bookmarking buttons also provide statistics on how many times your content is bookmarked per tool (http://www3.addthis.com/bookmark.php). You can configure the AddThis bookmark graphic to display just a handful of the tools that you are targeting.
• Twitter (http://search.twitter.com): More and more companies are monitoring the chatter of microbloggers to catch bug reports, complaints, and positive buzz as it pops up. For example, JetBlue’s PR manager responds to Tweets about the company. You can plug your search terms into Twitter and monitor your results before, during, and at the end of a campaign.
3. Create alerts. We highly recommended that you create alerts, whether you have a social media project or not. You can create a Google alert (www.google.com/alerts)for a specific term, such as your library’s name. Be sure to choose the “comprehensive” option so you receive notices from news, blogs, web, video, and groups. You’ll be notified when your term is found during indexing.
4. Go beyond counting and assess the nature of the sentiment. One of the old standards for measuring the success of a website was page views, but that’s inadequate for social media metrics. Now you need to assess how users are interacting with the page. See how many people are doing the following:
What’s the caliber of the interaction? Are people just doing quick drive-bys, or do you have repeat visitors and positive, lively discussions that feel like a community? What types of posts/topics sparked discussion? Is there a pattern?
- Leaving quickly versus staying for a long time
- Rating the page or items on it
- Bookmarking it
- Blogging about it
- Linking to it
- Doing something new based on it
Understand What Your Users Think
If this is your library’s first foray into assessing public relations, brand awareness, user satisfaction, marketing, or community engagement, take heart. You have started to learn more about your customers and your library than you ever knew before. Don’t worry about having all of the answers or getting it perfect. Instead, focus on finding a few great insights and generating some great questions for the next round of assessment. Be tough in your evaluation; make sure social media tools are the best channel for reaching your goals. Pay particular attention to what works and why and build on that knowledge as you enhance your social media activities.