Social media evaluation

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Last Update

  • Updated.jpg This entry is out of date, and will not be updated July 2017


See also Aggregation | Altmetrics | Bibliometrics | Citation analysis | Google scholar metrics | HootSuite | Netvibes | Social media aggregators | Social media policies | Web 2.0

"...there’s talk about the importance of libraries being active on social media sites like Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, blogs and wikis but not much about how to define and measure success ...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? — Fichter & Wisniewski, 2009

Basic evaluation of social media

Currently, in the business literature especially, there are arguments for both quantitative and qualitative measures to be used for social media evaluation (Geho, 2012; Bernoff & Li, 2008; Geho et al, 2010). Even though most information organizations are not profit-driven, there is some consensus that planning for the use of social media must account for gaining value from the initiative. Many studies discuss the time, effort and challenge associated with using social media for marketing purposes. With the advent of analytics and sophisticated measurement tools, many organizations are finding that they can take advantage of social media as a tool but use data to optimize their use of it accordingly.

Academic and public librarians are aware of the importance of assessing the use of social media within their libraries and institutions. One of the many questions librarians have, however, is related to how public conversations about your library on social media can be evaluated reliably - or, perhaps more specifically, whether this activity is even worth tracking. Quantitative measures such as site traffic, number of comments on a blog or tweets sent over Twitter are seen to be increasingly important. However, what do they tell us in terms of the value or usefulness of social media? Qualitative measures such as conversational voice and tone, and the degree to which readers and commenters are engaged positively about your library and its mission should also figure in the analysis. Twitter suggests, nay, demands brevity in posting messages within your network but this should not mean that our responses to patrons are terse or truncated or less welcoming than they might be face-to-face. Any tweet, for example, should include links to supplemental information so that library's services can be promoted as much as possible.

One of the more interesting issues is how the web is changing from a place to access information to one where people interact with each around information, commenting on it and using it to create new knowledge. Social media facilitates this kind of two-way interaction. Related to this is the notion of building social capital. Understanding a library’s place in social media should reflect the view that the library functions as a community gathering space. Social media can do something no other medium can: directly engage and connect our user groups. Building trust and reciprocity in social media, itself an important part of social capital, is an important reason to establish a library’s online presence. As Solomon suggests "...think of social capital like a sort of intangible bank account; you earn it by listening to, engaging with, and doing favors for others."

Several academics are looking closely at social media evaluation but more research clearly needs to be done. Neiger et al (2012) discuss some of these issues and cover three areas of social media evaluation: 1) why are you using social media? (at the very least, outline why you use social media if asked); 2) what will be your key performance indicators? what is your desired return on investment (ROI); right from the start try to identify which social media metrics you plan to use and what they reveal. Finally 3) how will you match your evaluation metrics to your performance indicators? Remember that the best evaluation approaches combine quantitative and qualitative approaches – in summary evidence-based approaches.

According to Fichter et al (2009), the major qualitative and quantitative elements of a good social media evaluation are:

  1. Examining behavioural data: determining the “what” of user behaviours; how many blog posts were written? How many readers read them?
  2. What's the long-term outcome?: the “so what” gets to why you need an online presence in the first place; examine your social media usage and ask yourself “so what”? Are your readers benefitting? Have users found your services useful? valuable? Are they satisfied?
  3. The experience of users in your network: the “why they do it” about listening to users. What are they telling us? How are they experiencing social media? Do we invite comments and respond, and act? Do we let users provide input into our websites? By finding out “why they do it,” we can design and implement social media for optimal user behaviours.

As the use of social media increases in medicine, tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics of use will become more important for evaluation. Both of these measures are common in web analytics. Among the metrics are variables such as number of posts, tweets, fans, etc. Neiger et al (2012) also examine the use of indicators in measuring social media. These metrics comprise five areas: brand awareness, critical information dissemination, reach, public engagement and market insights.

What do you want from your use of social media?

  • To connect with others online? To change the world? The most important metric to consider is whether or not you are building a committed and engaged online community ~ or network.
  • Do you know your core audience? Is this audience on Facebook, Twitter or somewhere else?
  • Who do you want to have available in your social network?
  • How much interaction do you want? A little, once in a while, every day?
  • Do you want a local, national or international profile / reach in your network?
  • Do you want synchronous or asynchronous contact? a mix?
  • Do you want to start a blog? A YouTube channel? Twitter?
  • Do you want to share information or create new knowledge?
  • How much upkeep are your prepared to contribute to your use of social media?
  • Use a variety of methods, principally quantitative and qualitative.
  • After a trial period, evaluate your blog, Twitter or Facebook accounts. State how you will evaluate them.
  • Wordpress has a statistics feature which enables you to see (on a daily, weekly, monthly basis) page views, hits on each post, key terms used to find the blog, source (location) of incoming traffic and links people followed from the site to somewhere else.
  • See whether a mention on your blog or on Twitter leads to a spike in views. Blogger can use Google Analytics to do this; on blogs you can enable people to subscribe. Subscribers can choose to be monitored. With Facebook and Twitter, record numbers of ‘friends’ or ‘followers’ etc, numbers of ‘likes’ to postings etc.

Using the POST Method

The POST Method is an acronym that stands for People, Objectives, Strategy and Technologies. POST is a great way to define your goals and objectives before you evaluate your use of social media. By identifying a social media strategy beforehand, you can clarify your vision and aims in using social media. And, by having goals, strategies and tools, your organization is more likely to have a positive experience with social media.

P is for People

  • What do you want from your network? What people? Whose opinions? Jot down your ideas. Imagine you are entering the information field for the first time and want to build a new network of professional contacts from the ground up. You have so many choices about who you might want to know, which organizations to join, and which meetings to attend. Do you want to include mentors, colleagues, strategic partners, physicians, patients, communities or ? People are your most important resource.

O is Objectives

  • What are your primary objectives for using social media? Your objectives must be clearly framed. Your objectives can be to support existing research, networking and communication with collaborators, introducing a new project, learning new technology skills, etc.

S is Strategy

  • What social media strategy will you use? How will you find and create content to share with your network? Are you trying to improve communication between research team members or are you looking to advertise a product? Is your organization in an exploratory phase? Or are you ready to establish guidelines or writing a policy for your employees?

T is Technology

  • What technologies will you use? Many tools are chosen depending on the goals of the user. Will you have a blog and a Twitter profile? Will you explore LinkedIn and Facebook, or start a wiki? Consider your People, Objectives and Strategy to select the tool(s) that suit your needs.

Evaluating your strategies

There are three main dimensions of evaluating your social media strategy:

  1. Evaluating the effectiveness of the strategy
  2. Evaluating the relevance of the strategy in relation to goals
  3. Evaluating the impact of the strategies on desired outcomes

Analytics/Evaluation tools

"To measure is to know. If you can not measure it, you can not (im)prove it..."

Social media is widely-used in Canadian society, and the tools regularly visited by people generate tons of data about their digital habits and behaviours. The popular search tools such as Bing, Google and Yahoo use data-mining to track consumer trends and to improve search algorithms. Twitter and Facebook also use social data to improve their algorithms, and marketing of products. Consequently, it’s never been more important to build (and manage) your online reputation and digital identity. The question is how to measure your influence (and impact) accurately in these social spaces? Many brand monitoring tools are available (some free, some fee-based) which provide a way to monitor mentions you receive on social media, and both positive and negative comments. The social media measuring tools below are a way to put a figure on your impact, reputation and influence – but do not view them as definitive in any way as they are not entirely reliable. It is generally advised that you triangulate your data from several sources.

These social media monitoring tools use real-time calculations to determine impact. There is room for research into social media evaluation. All kinds of tools are being created to determine impact, reach and value. For scholarly impact, see altmetrics


Social media evaluation has logically followed its usage in the information professions. However, numbers do not necessarily capture the entire story. While there are many tools that help to track and aggregate tweets, blogposts and comments (positive and negative), the question is still how we will arrive at a more holistic view of social media's value. Any evaluation of social media should be part of an overall strategy for social media, how your evaluation will happen and at what intervals. In some ways, gathering feedback about your engagement in social media and with others is easy. Many of the tools are free and waiting to be used. Social media evaluation is an important issue and must be designed properly. Further, evaluation is an audit of activities and whether any value or benefit is being derived from them.


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