The Art of Social Media Analytics, Part 1

Summer is the “off-season” for many of us in the arts world. Why not take this time to refresh your social media strategy? This is part 1 of our three-part series on social media analytics tools.

This is your brain on social media. Image from Your Social Move.

Social media marketing is an artistic endeavor as well as a scientific one. We use the right side of our brains to create the perfect message that will engage our audience and the left brain to crunch numbers on views, comments, etc. We know instinctively how to talk to our audiences, but we don’t always know how they are reacting to that message beyond a peripheral “feel” of the importance and sentiment behind the comment or action. There is often not an obvious way to categorize or quantify reactions to gain insights into your audience’s thoughts and feelings and to chart your own impact.

With the economic situation as it is right now, nonprofit employees are under more pressure than ever maximize their productivity and capacity. With technology, and social media in particular, as the most nebulous, mysterious, and constantly shifting elements of an organizations’ marketing/PR operation, it can be frustrating to track social media interactions and to gain resources from management for social media. Often initiatives face “death by delay” or end up being based on assumptions rather than data. At the Center for Arts Management and Technology, it’s one of the issues we talk about most often amongst ourselves and to clients.

It’s not just the arts, though.

In the non-profit arts world, we have the tendency to think that we are insulated and that our problems are due to a lack of time or resources. Some of these questions are ones that the social media field as a whole is trying to answer. While in the Masters of Arts Management program, I participated in a Social Media Analytics class where we had real-life clients. My team was working on the account of a major sportswear manufacturer. At first I thought that the questions that this company would have about social media would be very different than the ones that I worked on at the Center for Arts Management and Technology for our mostly non-profit arts clients. However, the more we worked with our client, the more similarities I noticed in the questions they asked about ROI, tracking, and analysis of social media initiatives.

Throughout the research that I’ve done and the conversations that I’ve had, I’ve heard social media right now described it as “the wild west”. Like web analytics was in its infancy, we are just now building the hallmarks and benchmarks for social media analytics. It’s an exciting time, and an extremely fast-paced one. If you have been keeping up with how businesses are using social media for the last five years or so, you’ve seen Facebook dominate MySpace, then Twitter edge its way in. As we moved to mobile, a slew of geo-location platforms arrived on the scene and now we’re trending toward game-based platforms.

As much as social media trends change, it is imperative to have a social media strategy, not just to spend your marketing dollars most effectively, but also to get to know your audience better. How do you get a social media strategy? You need information first. That’s where analytics come in. There is a wealth of information about your patrons hidden in their interactions on social media—like your own on-going focus group. But (A) how do you get to that information and (B) how do you draw conclusions from it?

A. As of today, what are your options for social media tracking? There are thousands of analytics tools out there and more being developed every day. Nonprofit arts organizations are faced with a dual bottom line: to serve the community and to create, present or preserve great art. Which tools are most useful to a nonprofit arts organization in gauging how they meeting the dual bottom line? In Part 2 of this series, we’ll take a look at some popular analytics tools and how to evaluate the tools out there given your organization’s more specific goals.

B. How can you use analytics data to make management decisions? There are many ways to slice and dice the data you might get from those tools. What are some strategies for using the current tools available? How can you make a confident decision about what is essentially a moving target? Given the tools and tactics in the above questions, when is it worth it to pay for analytic tools? In Part 3, we’ll address the problem of structuring your social media tracking efforts to find information relevant to your day-to-day decisions.