If there’s one thing savvy, social media professionals love to talk about, it’s metrics. For those not in the business, this can be either coma-inducing dinner conversation or insomnia-curing nerdiness.
During the past year, I’ve heard many people dismiss Facebook likes as nothing more than a vanity metric, suggesting they do not serve as evidence of engagement. I’ve come full circle with regards to my opinion. When I first began dipping my toe into the social media waters, I was frequently excited when posts received dozens of likes and was obsessed with increasing the overall like count of the page I was managing. Then, as I developed social media maturity, I took up arms with the vanity metric caucus, turning my focus to posting content designed to trigger comments versus the “lazy” alternative of liking a post.
(Too lazy or too busy?)
Now, I have a new perspective on the like. As our team continues to explore prospect identification through social media, I now believe that a like is much more than just low-level engagement. Recently, we made a post on the Cornell Alumni Facebook page that received more than 500 likes. At first, I thought “that’s great, but what are they SAYING about it?” Then, after climbing down from my social media high horse, I realized that I had a list of 500 people who had just admitted their affection for a specific area of the university. Facebook no longer allows you to see a list of everyone who has liked your page, but it does allow you to see who liked a post (500 is a good number to start with). You can then check these names against your database and see if they are tracked prospects.
Sure, simply liking a post or page isn't the same as volunteering to host an event in your backyard, but it shows interest nonetheless. It is opt-in interaction regardless of whether a person leaves a five-sentence comment or simply takes a second to click the like button. At times, it seema like we dive too deeply into defining engagement and what it means to have a bustling, active online community. When it comes to proving social media's return on investment, it comes down to the individuals within your community who can help to advance your institution. Highly successful people don’t generally have the time to write long, thought-out comments, but almost everyone has the time to like something.
While interesting and authentic content is stil important, can we really dismiss ANY metrics in an industry where we struggle to connect dollar signs to our day-to-day activities? We’re in the social media business and have a deep commitment to technology, trends and an overall geekiness that can lead to overthinking things. We need to remember we do social media ON BEHALF OF a department that’s very much in the people business. The next like on your page could be that of your next $100,000 donor who just provided your gift officer with a conversational piece on a silver platter.
This week's #casesmc chat was co-moderated by Chandra Towler of Big Fish, a marketing firm located in Memphis,Tenn.
Our Park Tudor planned giving committee is trying a new approach to identify prospective donors—starting with a list of our most active Facebook fans.
The existing donor database is perfect for identifying major donors who may be interested in making a planned gift to the school. But, there may be people out there who have never given, or occasionally give, but are otherwise loyal to the school. How do we identify those people?
Enter Facebook. People put their names out there on Facebook. It's a giant database of people. By simply liking your page, people tell you that they have some sort of affinity to your institution. By going further and liking and commenting on your posts, they tell you just how loyal they are.
Starting this year, we began cross-referencing the names of people who like or comment on our page with our donor database to create a targeted group of prospective donors who have a clear loyalty to Park Tudor.
To begin, I went through every post on our page in January and tallied up each like and comment. I ended up with a table of names including the number of likes and comments each person had made that month. I calculated a score for each person. Since comments take more effort than a like, I gave them a weight of three. I added likes and comments*3 to get a cumulative engagement score.
Identifying a list of our most engaged fans each month has many purposes including planned giving, alumni giving, volunteering, leadership roles and school groups. The goal is to identify people who are loyal to the school and turn them into lifelong advocates and donors.
Have you used your Facebook fans to identify prospective donors? What other ways can we leverage the loyalty of our Facebook fans?
As a retired, unsuccessful stand-up comic, I know when a room has gone cold. And, based on my experience, the era of using social media and tech as a punchline during your institutional functions is over.
This is an unprecedented time of competition for most universities with regard to both admissions and alumni engagement. Talented high school students have many options for their undergraduate years and our alumni have an endless pool of nonprofits soliciting them for financial support. So what kind of message does it send when administrators or ambassadors inadvertently expose their own technological shortcomings by using Twitter as the basis for a joke that questions the legitimacy of the social web?
When I first joined the world of higher education a year and a half ago, it was clear such material would generate a contagious chuckle among audience members. Now, I notice the laughter isn’t quite as prevalent as it once was. Teenagers, who are most commonly associated with being early adopters of new technology, are not typically known for fiscal responsibility. However, even their limited financial knowledge tells them they are staring down a possible price tag of more than $150,000 for an undergraduate education. Are they going to invest that money in an institution that laughs at the technology that has enabled entrepreneurs not much older than themselves to become billionaires?
As the majority of the world velcros their hands to a smart phone, the notion that social media is solely a young person’s pastime is complete bunk. As I continue to learn more about Cornell's online alumni communities, I’m finding they are chock full of high-ranking professionals who could single-handedly write a check that would fund a scholarship for half a dozen under graduates. Nearly 70 percent of our newly identified major gift prospects have accounts on LinkedIn, and they are not there because they are looking for a job. Our alumni are intelligent, accomplished and savvy. They don’t create online profiles because they want to keep up with fads. They are online because they know it is vital to their future success.
“Social media power-user” should not be a prerequisite for individuals working in higher education. But as students and alumni continue to use social tools to enhance their educational and professional development, we have to be mindful that there is great danger in being perceived as archaic. Prospective students have too many choices, and alumni are constantly being approached by nimble nonprofits that not only embrace technology but are also redefining the ways in which it can be used for fundraising.
For years, I endured the EKG that is the comedy audience only to see it flat line on several occasions. The influencers in higher education need to make sure this doesn't happen to them. They need to keep an eye on the monitor because once you’re perceived as obsolete, resuscitation is difficult.
Jen Doak is the online communications specialist at CASE.
At the 2013 CASE-NAIS conference, held Jan. 13-15 in Washington, D.C., I was lucky enough to find some room in the “Crowdsourcing as Stewardship: Sharing Your School’s Story” session. It was led by Travis Warren, president of WhippleHill Communications, and Peter Saliba, head of school at the Tilton School.
Peter and his team started with a really basic idea: He was the new guy, and he needed alumni to let him know what made the Tilton School special.
So he asked people to help him out. And they did. “From this effort we got 50 or 60 emails—a huge turnout for us,” he said. His team members then asked themselves how they could best showcase these stories for alumni, prospective students and the broader Tilton community.
The answer: The Tilton Experience.
Since the launch of the crowdsourcing project, alumni have shared stories, pictures and videos on the site, which after a quick vetting are posted in an easy-to-peruse tile format. There’s a low barrier to sharing: Users simply click on the giant “Share Your Experience” button on the page, fill in their information and push send. “Tilton previously had not had a good record of stewarding its alumni,” said Peter. “This started a groundswell.”
What’s the longer-term benefit of the site? “It’s too early to say what’s happened, but I’m achieving my goal of being a better steward,” said Peter. His team sends a follow-up note thanking people for submissions, which it hopes will turn into a long-lived stewarding relationship. There was even a person “of development interest” who posted a story, which provided an opening for Peter to reach out and begin building a relationship.
Crowdsourcing sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Kiva provide outlets for artists and developing-nation entrepreneurs to get funding from people who want to support them. “Crowdsourcing is a new normal,” said Travis. “Get used to it. It represents a huge opportunity for students, faculty and alumni.”
The Tilton School was successful in part because it included a personal request to alumni for help with a site that was easy to use. Interested in trying out crowdsourcing yourself? Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Peter has gained a new perspective from his school’s crowdsourcing project. “I would say this project has had a secondary effect in that I believe [we can try] a greater number of new ideas and approaches because we tried something new and it worked and is working.”
Has your institution tried crowdsourcing? Has it worked? Tell us about it in the comments.
Those who know me know that I tweet—quite a bit.
I started tweeting in March 2009 and have come to the conclusion that Twitter is the best continuing professional development tool that has emerged for fundraisers since I started in the profession 15 years ago.
Back in the old days, if you wanted to keep up-to-date on fundraising, it was an expensive business. You would probably need to subscribe to at least two or three fundraising journals and attend at least two conferences a year where major charities, respected agencies and consultants would be presenting their latest case studies. You might hear on the grapevine about fundraisers who were doing excellent work. But unless they happened to write an article in a journal or you knew someone who knew them and could introduce you, you’d have little or no idea about the specifics.
Twitter has changed all that. In the UK, the directors of fundraising of most major charities tweet. The managing directors and senior creatives of many of the most successful fundraising agencies do too. Twitter and linking through to blogs is the shop window for their latest thinking. Thanks to the informality of the medium, few people mind someone else joining the conversation—as long as they add to it constructively!
Am I overselling? To illustrate, let me share a couple of stories about good things that have happened for me, and my institution, thanks to Twitter:
The agency that beat all of our previous appeals
Early on in my time on Twitter, I identified one person who consistently tweeted and blogged excellent content on donor motivations and how to create fundraising appeals that truly spoke to them. “A” was the creative director of a UK direct marketing agency (well-known among charities but not universities). I responded to some of her posts, and as we tweeted at one another, it emerged that she was a graduate of the University of Leeds–did I know? No, said I, and went back to check our database. She wasn’t on it. It turned out her details had never come through to us from student records. Score 1 for Twitter.
As conference co-chair, I invited A to come and speak at the CASE Europe Annual Giving conference and share some of her ideas around creating truly compelling direct mail appeals. Modest, thoughtful and wryly funny, she was a star at the event. Another university hired her agency almost immediately and the agency delivered the institution’s best direct mail appeal results in 10 years, on a very short lead-time. Score 2 for Twitter (but not for the University of Leeds quite yet!)
Armed with this information, I invited A’s agency to be one of those tendering for work at the University of Leeds&151;a process the agency staff won fair and square with the quality of their thought and planning. The first appeal they delivered for us was seven times more successful than our previous best. In fact, during the course of 12 weeks, the appeal raised more money and acquired more donors than the previous eight years’ worth of direct mail put together. Home run for Twitter, if not out of the park.
Finding a ready-made team of student researchers to bring our history back to life
In the UK—apart from Oxford and Cambridge—the university sector is still only beginning to rediscover the philanthropic tradition that founded so many of our great institutions. The University of Leeds has just one book that details the donations made between 1831 and 1951—and it is 60 years out of date. And there are no pictures.
I’d already been through the book, looking for information to bring the philanthropic story of our university’s beginnings to life for our new generation of donors and show them the proud tradition that they are now taking up. I was trying to work out what some of these donations would be worth in current values—staggering sums, including a public appeal that raised £500,000 in donations from more than 4,000 donors, in 1925.
But I had no time to visit the archives and try to find the letters and other original materials that would help bring this story to life.
Then I saw a story on Twitter about a group of undergraduate history students who were researching the history of philanthropy in Leeds and Yorkshire. I found out who in the school of history was supervising their research and got in touch. Were they looking at gifts to the university? No, not at the moment. Would they like to? Almost certainly, yes!
A few months on, I am about to brief five of our undergraduate students on a 200-hour project to hunt through our archive materials and find letters, photographs, newspaper stories and anything else to help build the story around philanthropy at the university. Fingers crossed, I think they will find wonderful things, and I hope they, and our donors, will love the results.
Neither of these things would have happened had I not been on Twitter (and had a couple of lucky breaks, of course). I can’t guarantee that you will have similar experiences but if you only follow 50 people or aren’t on Twitter, then you’re missing out. Get on. Follow everyone who looks interesting—I follow nearly 1,800 people. Don’t worry about saying anything to start with—listen, learn and click through. Maybe you’ll get the chance to make your own luck, too.
Members of the CASE social media task force are interviewing colleagues at institutions they thought were using social media effectively. Below, Marina Pedreira-Vilarino, deputy development director at the University of Sussex, interviews colleague Sara Adamson, corporate editor with the university’s publications and branding team.
MP-V: What social media initiatives is the University of Sussex currently engaged in?
SA: We have a presence on Facebook, including a general Sussex fan page, an alumni fan page and a library page. We also have a YouTube channel and a number of Twitter feeds, including a general Sussex feed, a feed for staff and a feed for students.
We are currently developing a Flikr stream, and will be adding digg and reddit buttons to our website soon. We also have our own internal social networking site, SPLASH.
The Development and Alumni Office (DARO) also has a group on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Within Facebook, DARO has a fan page for the American Friends and also links to other other university pages and Sussex alumni geographical subgroups created by and large by alumni themselves.
MP-V: Which initiatives do you think are the most effective or successful, and why?
SA: Our Facebook pages are currently very popular, with a lot of alumni, prospective and current students interacting with the pages to ask questions, contact each other and start discussions. I think they’ve been successful because we keep them updated with interesting content and interact with our ‘fans.’
MP-V: What have you tried that you think hasn’t worked, and why?
SA: We do have a profile on other social networking sites (e.g. Bebo, Orkut) but it’s impossible to keep on top of all of these, especially since they can fall out of fashion so quickly. Using Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn is the most time-effective way we can use social media, as they are all such popular sites. The development and alumni relations office had a presence in Xin but it wasn’t as popular and we needed to focus resources on the sites that appealed the most to our audience.
MP-V: Looking forward, what social media initiatives are you considering or exploring?
SA: We’ve have recently formed a social media networking group from across the university so we can have a joined-up approach to our communication in this area. The group is made up of colleagues from the library, web team, other departments (e.g. student recruitment) and is fairly informal. We just get together and share knowledge, thinking about ways we can work together, and sometimes invite external guests in to share their ideas about what we could be doing in social media.
MP-V: Do you have social media policies or guidelines or common practices?
If there are any negative comments posted, for example, on our Facebook wall, we don’t delete or censor as this often causes many more problems than it solves. We try to reply to (and rub) the negative comment if we can, or in a pinch we add more content on top so it moves down the wall!
The Sussex Alumni Facebook group does not censor content either so that it is seen as a place for alumni to post anything they want openly. We respond to comments to show we listen and to create a genuine and meaningful dialogue with our alumni.
MP-V: How are your social media initiatives organized and resourced?
SA: There is no specific budget at the moment. It’s pretty ad hoc with different areas of the university managing their own social media presence. When revising the job description for the alumni officer post, the development and alumni office has made this area of work the responsibility of this post-holder. The director of communications has the ultimate responsibility for social media.
MP-V: What do you wish you knew when you were first exploring social media initiatives that you know now?
Not to be afraid! Embrace it -- it’s not going to go away. Also, that it’s worth starting small rather than trying to have a presence in too many social media sites and not being able to maintain it and keep content fresh.
MP-V: What are the most important pieces of advice you would give to someone planning to launch any type of social media initiative today?
Have a think about who you’re trying to communicate with and what social media will be best to reach them so that you stay relevant and targeted. Tone of voice is also important – you can be more playful in social media than you would in other media. Don’t forget it’s interactive, so it’s a useful tool for listening to your audience as well and communicating to them.
Am I wrong or is the conversation about social media metrics stuck in the mud? We are confronted by a preponderance of data that points to social media as something a lot of people use. To wit, on Friday, the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project reported that “the percentage of U.S. adults ages 50 and older nearly doubled from 22% in April 2009 to 42% in May 2010… During the same timeframe, the percentage of adults from 18 to 29 years old using social media rose from 76% to 86%.”
Not too surprising. In fact, I would be bold enough to say that we can officially declare social media as "used" by our various constituencies, in the broadest sense. Where we may very well be missing the boat is in the balance of output and acquisition-based vs. outcome-conversion-based metrics being used to measure the effectiveness of social media efforts. Reflecting on the results of the CASE/mStoner/Slover Linett Strategies social media study, the three most frequently cited tools for measuring social media effectiveness were, number of friends who make a post, sheer number of participants, and click-throughs. Lower down on the list were things like event participation, donations and, the golden ticket in my opinion, surveys. How can we know if we are changing opinions and attitudes and inspiring action without testing the waters?
Having a strategy, complete with goals and associated metrics, behind your social media program is essential. Further, tying that strategy into your overall communication, engagement and institutional initiatives is critical to the internal relevance of your program. If someone at your institution asks "How's our social media program working?" we need to not only have the tools at hand to provide an informed answer, we should have the analysis to back it up and a plan to repeat the parts that have been successful.
Pointing again to the social media survey, the biggest challenge we have is likely resource-based. Nearly every respondent noted that they are using in-house resources to measure the effectiveness of their programs. This means that, in all likelihood, staff are either being asked to fit measurement into their already busy schedule (which was probably the same case when they were asked to take on social media responsibilities!), and have very little time to take a thoughtful approach to measurement. Sound familiar?
Welcome to CASE Social Media, a blog exploring trends and best practices in the use of social media in educational advancement. Our goal for the blog is to extend the work of the CASE social media task force by engaging a wide variety of members of the advancement community in the discussion.
The blog is for advancement professionals who:
In short, we hope to talk about social media best practices across the advancement landscape. We don’t want to talk to ourselves, so we invite and encourage you to join the conversation.
About the Task Force
The Joint CASE Task Force on Best Practices in Using Social Media was the brainchild of Kim Manning, chair of the CASE Commission on Communications and Marketing, and Andy Shaindlin, chair of the CASE Commission on Alumni Relations. The commissions serve as think tanks of advancement practitioners who advise CASE on trends in the profession and develop resources to help serve it.
Kim and Andy wisely realized that since both commissions were wrestling with the topic of social media, CASE had an opportunity to integrate perspectives through a joint task force. The task force now includes current and former members of the alumni relations, communications and marketing, and philanthropy commissions. We, the co-chairs, are Charlie Melichar of Vanderbilt University and Andrew Gossen of Cornell University.
Task Force Goals
Many advancement professionals are interested in leveraging social media on behalf of their institutions, but we realized that there is no reliable roadmap. Our hope is that the task force will develop resources to help people at CASE-member institutions grapple with social media issues in a relatively coherent, organized and rational way so they don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time.
We also hope to develop CASE-wide content for conferences, CURRENTS magazine, white papers, etc. and raise the bar of conversations about social media in general. Task force members realize that everyone’s at a different place in the conversation, though, so we know will lose people quickly if we end up saying “here’s what we have that will work.” Instead, we know we need to be and stay at the strategic level and engage the entire profession in the discussion.
Why a Blog?
Here’s how we respond to the question in CURRENTS:
Andrew: As we thought about what the end product of the task force was going to look like, we realized there was no way we could issue an authoritative white paper on best practices without having that white paper be obsolete as soon as we hit “save.” The environment is evolving so rapidly that our product has to evolve in recognition of that as well. And that’s why we’re focusing more on the notion of sharing the material at conferences in CURRENTS, and in a blog.
Charlie: There aren’t just easy mathematical answers about where this is going, so I think the way to go is to have the conversation out in the open with as many voices participating as possible. If the philosophy is that this is something that should evolve and be participatory, then why not open that up in the process?
CASE Social Media will be active throughout the life of the task force or as long as it meets the needs of the advancement community. We plan to talk about best practices, tools, guidelines, resources, organizational structure and more.
What are the social media topics and issues on your mind? Let us know and we’ll feed them into the work of the task force and the blog.