Evaluation and ROI


Walking through the trees, Worcestershire

Okay, so you get it. You see the need for social media to be an important part of the media landscape and that it’s not going away. But how do you evaluate it all? In fact, should we?

There’s been a debate about this for some time and often the scrutiny is far closer on digital communications that on the traditional ways as people need convincing. That’s fine. Because there are things you can do.

The returns for social media depend entirely on why you set up the channel in the first place or ran that campaign. By winding back to that point you can start to work out if it is working.


Return on investment? Or return on influence?

Return on investment is often the way people have gone about looking at how to see what they are doing is successful. That’s working out the amount of time and resources spent compared to what they’ve got back.

But that’s a lot harder in local government than the public sector. We don’t, after all, sell widgets so we can’t always measure sales.

Local government social media manager Helen Reynolds argues that what we should be looking at is not return on investment but actually a return on influence.

She writes on her blog:

“Those people who insist on measuring ROI for council social media just don’t get social media. So they mistrust it and they mistrust their staff. We should be past the stage of justifying its use by now.

“My guess is that CEOs and management who use social media well don’t ask staff to prove what the benefits are. And, back to the point about phones and meetings, they don’t ask for RoI reports on things they do use well like email or speech.”

That’s a fair point. There are lots of things all organisations do which are vital but don’t have a monetary value. What’s the cash return of consulting on a road scheme, for example? Probably nothing that can be put into the bank vaults right away. But maybe it all contributes towards making that £5 million road scheme as effective as possible.

The chasing followers myth

You can count followers and you can count likes. But really as you can buy YouTube hits and Twitter followers by the thousand these days that’s all a bit nebulous. Sure, it’s great to have a Facebook page with 1,000 likes and a Google Plus account with 2,000 adding it to their circles but really and truly that’s not going to change the course of local government.

What’s really mission critical is what those people do once you have their attention that really counts. What’s also important is to have not lots of followers but you have the right followers. If a park friends group has a Facebook page with 200 people liking it and 170 of them are regular users that’s fine. Don’t chase the numbers for numbers sake.

The Barcelona Principles are your friend

There’s a great set of principles that cut to the chase of social media measurement that have been produced by the

Chartered Institute for Public Relations. In 2010 they met up with their US counterparts in the Spanish city of Barcelona. They talked through the challenges that PR faced by social media and a whole range of other things.

One of the conclusions they reached was that it’s not by measuring audience that you can measure social media. It’s what they do. That’s a beautiful conclusion to embrace and share. So in other words, the result is not that the 200 people in the Friends of the Park Facebook group were sent a message. It’s that 30 of them came along to the litter picking day and barbeque to make their green space a better place to visit.

Of course, once you think about it it’s a bit obvious that’s what you should be measuring. It’s gloriously straight forward.

But this won’t give you an across the board scoring matrix that can fit everything. The 30 who came to the litter picking day is a result just as much as the 100 who fitted smoke detectors as a result of a campaign. But get over yourself. That’s what local government has been doing for more than 100 years.

Evaluating channel shift

There is nothing quite so compelling as demonstrating a real financial return on what you are doing and there’s a place for that in social media too.

The Society for Information Technology Managers – SOCITM – did some research that looks on the cost of a resident getting something done by telephoning, calling in at a public-facing information centre and by using the web. It’s useful research. What they found was that the costs were as follows:

ROI chart

In other words, it’s cheaper to do something on the web.

We can use those figures in evaluating social media use. If someone asks a question about gritting to a social media channel during a snow flurry we could say that this has stopped them calling the council to ask their question. It’s especially valuable to do this when the snow is falling and engineers are putting all their time and effort into co-ordinating gritting the roads and keeping traffic flowing as best as possible.

We can count the one message to us asking the question. What we can’t count is what hasn’t happened. In other words, if we tweet a reply to one person it also goes to our 500 followers and we can never know if someone hasn’t called in as a direct result.

Evaluating a financial return

It’s also possible to engage people on social media with the aim of saving money if that’s what the project you are working on dictates.

Let’s use the example of smoke detectors. A drive to get people to get smoke detectors has two aims in mind. It’s to save lives, firstly. It’s also got the aim of getting fewer avoidable call-outs. When each one costs around £400 that’s something measurable.

So, if we can get 1,000 people signed-up with smoke detectors using data we may have we can work out how many fewer call-outs we can predict further down the line.

Evaluating engagement

One of the great things about social media is that it can plug you into what people are thinking. You can also do that in real time. If you are doing something truly right or truly wrong you can listen to what people are saying.

This is where social media stops being a broadcast comms channel and starts being customer services and a consultation channel. But it’s important to remember that we are all customer services and we are all consultation. We always have been. But in social media we need to fulfil these roles more publicly.

A spike of tweets or comments about a particularly troublesome set of roadworks in the town centre should be plugged into the existing networks a council has and reported back to the area that needs to know. By doing so we can build up intelligence and if we need to do more comms and put up more signs explaining what we are doing then let’s do it. If it means we should be working at weekends more to avoid rush-hour tailbacks then let’s do it.

If we need to have feedback on a proposal or an idea then it needs to be plugged into the consultation process. But be warned. Social media doesn’t stop when the six week window we allow people to have their say comes to an end.

Evaluating fun viral content

With all the emphasis on financial return, channel shift and influence it’s also important not to forget that social media is meant to be social. Chase hard figures and returns solely and you’ll come unstuck.

That’s why it’s fine to keep tabs on viral content. Content that you’ve created without a specific goal in mind. Wolverhampton City Council did this when they posted a clip of water cascading down a set of steps after a flash storm. Almost 20,000 people viewed it and 6,000 liked or shared the content. Tim Clark wrote about how it worked here.

By creating some fun content that didn’t have an overt business goal you can create the important medium of an audience. People liked the Wolverhampton page as a result of the flooding clip and stuck around for when the council had some important messages to share further down the track.


Conclusions on ROI and Evaluation:

  1. Don’t chase followers for the sake of it.
  2. Don’t have big followers have the right followers.
  3. It’s not the size of the audience. It’s what they do.
  4. You can evaluate channel shift.
  5. You can evaluate financial benefits.
  6. You can evaluate viral content.
  7. You can measure engagement.



Picture credit




4 thoughts on “Evaluation and ROI

  1. Pingback: Why I’m proud of the Best by West Midlands whitepaper | The Dan Slee Blog

  2. Very informative blog post! I like how you have shown that there is a difference between active users and numbers, so page likes and how many people actually communicate on the page. Some people have yet to see this and only like to see a high number of likes.

  3. Pingback: Bruce's IT-ish world

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