Research Shows Associations Measuring Social, Mobile ROI

Even if you think auto racing is boring, the recent Daytona 500 was hard not to like. Star driver Matt Kenseth may have won, but Brad Keselowski, a little known driver on the NASCAR circuit, stole the spotlight by tweeting and posting real-time photos and commentary of the race while waiting for a horrific accident to clear ahead of his car. “I’m in that 18-49 demographic and find  myself asking, ‘What would I want to see?’” Keselowski told reporters.


  • More than one billion people worldwide have some form of social media account and 25 percent of online time is now spent on social media.
  • Organizations must adjust to a social networking culture of “brandividuals” who are very collaborative and transparent about themselves and their organizations.
  • Measuring for the sake of collecting numbers is a waste of time. Only measure something if you can learn from it.

Still skeptical about social media’s hold on our subconscious? Fasten your seatbelts. There’s more.

Researchers at PQ Media say the average U.S. adult spends about 400 hours a year on the Internet, with about one-fourth of that time now devoted to social media activity. Here’s an example of why: While waiting for the fiery fender-bender to be cleared ahead, Keselowski pulled a smartphone from his racing suit pocket so he could show fans what the race looked like from his vantage point behind the wheel. He also took time to answer fans’ questions in real-time while waiting out the delay. For real!

Keselowski’s accident photos were re-tweeted thousands of times and his Twitter following instantly tripled to 200,000 by the end of the accident-filled race. Your organization’s live events and legislative updates may not be as dramatic as a NASCAR crash, but the ability to send your members simple, un-edited, real-time updates that they care about from a trusted source (you) can be highly effective and rewarding.

Too large an audience to ignore

Facebook has about 800 million users according to research firm Marketo. Twitter has about 300 million users, LinkedIn boasts 116 million users and newcomer Google+ claims 60 million users. When you add in YouTube’s 800 million unique users, it’s clear you have a lot of new competition for your members’ attention.

But you can’t be all things to all people, cautioned Michael Jacoby, executive director of the Illinois Association of Business Officials (IASBO). You have to figure out which social media platforms are working for you and which are not. Most associations don’t have the resources to be fluent in all, but you better become fluent in some form of social media.

As Connecticut-based social media strategist De Boone explained, your “absence of presence” on social media will absolutely kill your brand. “If you don’t post a response to something that affects your members ASAP—or react to something someone else has posted, whether it’s good or bad—then someone else will.”

Age of experimentation over

OK. So associations know they need to be all over social media, but are they doing it well? Generally, no. As our benchmarking and client gap analyses show time and time again, members’ perceived value of their association’s social media offerings (3.35 out of a possible 5.0) remains lower than their perceived value of the association’s live events (4.30), print publications (3.97) and online media (3.95).

Members’ perceived value of association media types:

Social Media 3.35
Live Events 4.30
Print Publications 3.97
Online Media 3.95

Source: Association Adviser enews and Naylor, LLC, N=674

Like many experts we interviewed, Boone said association leaders, particularly the over-40 crowd, have to understand the social networking culture better. They’re not used to being so transparent about themselves and their organizations. They’re not used to thinking of themselves as individual brands.

“If it’s all a one-way dialogue—talking about itself instead of letting members
share comments and experiences they’ve had with your organization—that’s a turnoff,” she said. “You’re not really building a community and members aren’t coming back,” she said.

What to measure

Our association communication benchmarking study found that one-third of associations (35.4 percent) do not measure the outcome of their social media offerings, and among who do measure, they’re still using crude metrics such as the number of followers, friends or contacts (55.8 percent); the number of posts (41.8 percent) and unique users (16.8 percent).

There’s just too much to measure and too many tools that can overwhelm you with data, according to Jamie Notter of Management Solutions Plus Inc. (MSP) a consulting and association management firm in Rockville, Maryland.To make it simple, he advised, just measure things you can really learn from. “So you started a Facebook fan page and got 100 likes. So what? Are those fans and 100 likes helping you get more members, advancing your industry or moving the needle with regard to public policy?”

Naylor’s Vice President of Online Media Marcus Underwood noted, most associations (and businesses) are still struggling with how to measure ROI on their social media efforts. “Counting the number of Twitter followers or Facebook likes gives some indication about whether or not you grabbed their attention, but it doesn’t tell you if members were really engaged with your message. Likewise, with mobile, the number of application downloads shows interest, but offers little in the way of ROI,” he said. “To truly capture ROI, associations will need to provide more action-oriented content through these channels so that engagement can be tracked more effectively.”

READER NOTE: See Marcus’s story last month about the importance of content with wide distribution.

Facebook ROI

Don’t bother measuring Fans and Likes, said Boone. Many people will like your page without ever coming back. You need to measure engagement. How many people are sharing your content? How many likes are you getting on the comments (as opposed to likes on the page)? Facebook measurement tools like Insight will tell you what kinds of news, facts, photos, etc. resonate with your audience. Edgerank is Facebook’s analytical tool that decides the viewing availability on the user’s personal profile wall/news feed. Several experts told us a good metric to use is the number of member complaints that you’ve diffused quickly via social media. That’s highly measurable as member retention and goes straight to the bottom line.

When it comes to Facebook strategy, Boone recommends adding a welcome page to your arsenal. Research from PageLever found that a good welcome page raises the probability of someone liking your fan page by 46 percent. A good welcome page will have a minor call to action, Boone said, and will tell customers or members what they get in exchange for liking your page. She points to Coca Cola’s welcome page as a good example.

Twitter ROI

People (and organizations) like to brag about how many followers they have, but again, the numbers don’t mean anything if followers aren’t engaging with you regularly, said Boone. “Re-tweets are a better metric—how many tweets do your followers think highly enough of to share with others? Tools like Klout can tell you who you’re influencing.”

See Kelly Donovan’s article in today’s issue for more Twitter tips and best practices.

LinkedIn ROI

Notter said the value of LinkedIn is best assessed by the degree to which you’re creating loyalty and stronger bonds with members and prospective members. LinkedIn is ideal for nurturing relationships, added Boone. “It’s nothow many total contacts you have in your network. You have to look at how many contacts are making referrals on your behalf or regularly participating in your discussions. How many quality engagements are you having?”

Videos and video blogging

Jay Karen, President & CEO of the Professional Association of Innkeepers International (PAII), now does his upfront article as a video in PAII’s digital member magazine Innkeeping Now. Karen also creates frequent five-minute video blog posts for members on PAII’s private YouTube channel Innkeeping TV, and uses video blogs rather than written reports to keep his board of directors up to speed. Karen said feedback shows the board pays better attention to his video reports than his written reports.

Like Karen, IASBO’s Jacoby also produces a video companion to his organization’s member e-zine The Journal of School Business Management andserves up videos of the annual awards ceremony.

While the overall number of views your video gets counts for something, Boone said it’s more important to measure how many viewers watched all the way to the end. How many shares, likes and comments did your video get? People can watch your video without liking it, she warned.

Peer-to-Peer Networking ROI

While Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn get all the buzz, private social networks are still thriving at many organizations such as the 2,200 member IASBO. The association’s Peer2Peer Network launched last year, has 19 sub-groups according to Jacoby, and members have enthusiastically supported hot discussion topics such as legislative alerts, collective bargaining, proposal language and best practices. Jacoby said IASBO not only measures how many members are participating and the number of posts, but closely monitors the percentage of members who ask each other questions and the click-throughs from its Legislative Alert emails to the P2P Networking site.

Mobile ROI

Forrester Research estimates that 112.5 million U.S. adults—one-third of the adult population—will own a tablet by 2016 and already 37 percent of U.S. tablet owners are bring them to the office or job site. What’s more, of the 285 million mobile phones operating in the U.S., PQ Media says about one-third (34 percent) are smartphones. Rest assured your members are included in those stats.

MSP’s Notter said about the small-screen format, “You’ve got to be brutally clear about what you want people to do with what you send them—i.e. register for your event or attend your webinar.” You can measure the response to those calls-to-action pretty easily, he said, but you can’t ask members to do more than one thing at a time. The screen space won’t allow it. Mobile can also be measured from a cost-savings perspective, he said. “Look at how much money you’re saving when an app replaces all the conference brochures, agendas, schedules and exhibit guides that you used to print.”

Social media success stories

Notter said the Non-Profit Technical Network is doing a good job of empowering staff to speak to the outside world on behalf of their industry. The American Red Cross also does a great job with social media, he said. “They really do a lot of listening to members’ and the public’s concerns about safety issues.” While some organizations get antsy about losing control of the discussion in the social space, it sometimes works to your advantage. For instance, Notter said the American Speech Language & Hearing Association discovered an unaffiliated group was using its logo without permission on a Facebook group for speech pathologists. But before sending a cease-and-desist order, they discovered 5,000 active participants and were so impressed by the level of engagement that they allowed the group to continue and helped support it.


We all know texting and driving is dangerous, but so is a slapdash social/mobile communication effort. Without a clear road map, both activities can lead to disastrous consequences if you’re not paying attention. So take off the training wheels. Keep your eyes on the road ahead and measure what’s important. Your members will thank you time and time again.

Hank Berkowitz is the moderator-in-chief of Association Adviser enews.