Revised March 23, 2017

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Evaluating Online Activities:
Online Action Should Create & Support Offline Action & Results

Your organization has a profile on an online social networking site such as FaceBook, and you have hundreds of "friends" linked from your profile.
So what?

Your organization has thousands of subscribers to an email newsletter.
So what?

Dozens of people virtually attended your virtual presentation on Second Life.
So what?

You have hundreds, even thousands, of people following you on Twitter or Instagram.
So what?

Hundreds, even thousands, of people voted for you on some contest as the "best" nonprofit, or the one with the best idea.
So what?

Hundreds of "friends." Thousands of followers. Dozens of "virtual" attendees. Those are impressive numbers on the surface, but if those numbers don't translate into more volunteers, repeat volunteers, new and repeat donors, new and repeat clients, greater onsite event attendance, legislation, press coverage, or public pressure, they are just that: numbers.

For online activities to be of any value, online action must create and support offline action or behavior, or measurable engagement with targeted audiences. What could this look like?

Evaluation of your online activities can be done formally and informally. Formally, there are email surveys, phone (or online audio) surveys, web-based surveys, and focus groups (which can be done online, using various tools, or onsite), as well as reviewing data, such as demographic changes among volunteers that could be attributed to your social media activities.

To track the results of your organization's online activities, you should:

Informally, you can ask volunteers, donors or others you encounter in a casual setting about your organization's online activities. "What do you think of the debate this week on our online discussion group" is a great conversation starter while waiting for your coffee, or a worthwhile last sentence in an email discussion something else. Informal or casual ways of seeking feedback are just as important as formal ways; creating an atmosphere where feedback and observation is welcomed at anytime means success and problems don't wait to be discovered. Keep track of what you hear or read informally about online activities by your organization. This includes compliments, complaints, observations, whatever. No matter what you hear about online activities by your organization, write it down for later investigation or to use in an internal report. This ensures that issues are really captured and will, hopefully, actually be addressed. Negative issues don't go away on their own, and may wait silently until remembered at the least opportune moment.

Taking this even further: is your organization touting its online activities as supporting its mission? Then you are saying that your online activities are helping to meet your organization's outcomes -- you are saying these online activities aren't just outputs, but that you have measures to show real impact by your online activities towards your mission. More on Measuring Real Outcomes from Hildy Gottlieb (the "Practical Examples" at the bottom of the page is particularly helpful).

Are there any online results that can reflect success regarding your organization's online activities? Yes. Instead of number of followers, consider these measures:

It will take internal investigation to find out if this is happening. If it is, then reflect these incidents and changes in internal and external messaging.

Contact me with YOUR ideas regarding how to evaluate online activities.

Also see this article on how social media success can actually mean a FAILURE in customer service. An excerpt:

No, Michael Dell, I don't want to use (Google+) Hangouts to connect with Dell customer service. What I want, from you or any company, is to ensure I actually get the best customer service experience possible when I actually use your "normal" customer service channels.

And consider this article on HOW TO: Calculate the ROI of Your Social Media Campaign. This is a corporate approach to ROI in social media that has some advice that's applicable to the nonprofit/NGO/mission-based sector - but also shows why for-profit approaches don't always work in the nonprofit world. For instance, I don't encourage anyone to value volunteers or donors only on the amount of revenue he or she will bring to your company over the course of their lifetime with your organization...

Also see:

 Other organization's resources:  
Return to my list of resources relating to online culture & communities of volunteers


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