Wet Willies, Kegs, and Social Media Causality

Things were much easier when I was younger.

If my younger brother was watching television and I didn’t agree with his program selection, all it would take was a “noogie” or a strategically-timed “wet willy” (and the threat of more to come) for him to cede control of the remote–until, of course, my parents found out what I did and I would be sent away to my room for the rest of the day or evening.

As a college student, things were even simpler. When I lived off campus, all we had to do was purchase a few kegs; make some phone calls (I was an undergraduate well before Facebook and texting arrived so we had to rely on much more rudimentary modes of communication); and, before long, our living room would be crammed with fellow students sipping (okay, chugging) red solo cups full of “Natty Light.”

Now that I’m a little older–okay, I’m more than a “little” as my fortieth birthday will be arriving this spring–I find that it’s much more difficult to “make things happen,” especially when it comes to my kids; I consider it a huge victory when they put away their dishes or hang up their coats. This challenge also extends to my social media work, and in this post I’ll share some strategies I use to influence (I hope) the actions of those I interact with and how I can “prove” the causality of my outreach.

Directing (and Measuring) Traffic

In my previous post titled, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Social Media,” I shared some best practices for “selling” the merits of social media to your supervisors and other leaders in your organization. Another way to make the social media argument is showing, in concrete terms, the results of your Twitter, Facebook, and other social media-related work. Granted, this isn’t always possible as I’ve found it very difficult to prove causality when it comes to Facebook and LinkedIn. By “causality,” I mean being able to say with clarity that my efforts contributed to an alumni contribution or event registration. I’ve spent A LOT of time thinking about measuring impact–if you’ve read any of my previous posts, especially “Explaining the ROI of Your Social Media Efforts” and “Social Media Event Coverage: An Integrated Approach (Part 3)” you understand this–but it’s always been a challenge (if near impossible) to claim that “yes, I helped play a part in making this–webinar registration, donation, etc. happen.”

But I do think I’m on to something, specifically a way to use social media to both influence and measure alumni action. Here’s the story…

A few months ago, I was approached by a colleague at the Harvard Business School about promoting a webinar. In the past, I would have gone right to TweetDeck–after getting approval from my supervisor to help my colleague–and start tweeting immediately to alumni who might be interested in the webinar. This time around, I took a different approach. First, I spoke with my colleague and found out when she planned to share the webinar information with alumni via email, since I wanted my tweets to be sent at least a week after her email was so I could determine, with some reliability, if my tweets had led to an increase in registrations.

Once I determined the optimal dates for sending out my scheduled tweets, I went to my Twitter tracking sheet (for more on social media tracking, see my post titled, “Rules of Twitter Engagement”) and, since the webinar focused on charitable giving and its positive impact, I pulled Twitter handles for all alumni who included “nonprofit,” “President,” or “CEO” in their bios.

Using these handles, I created four different Twitter “messages” and scheduled them, using TweetDeck, to be sent at one hour intervals over the course of seventy-two hours. Prior to scheduling these “direct” tweets—and by “direct’ tweets, I’m referring to those that include the handles of specific alumni followers—I sent a series of “broadcast” tweets (those that did not include handles of alumni), as well as posts on Facebook and LinkedIn

Once I completed my social media outreach, I conducted my analysis. Here’s what I came up with.

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As you can see, the numbers above aren’t that impressive. Even though we have more than 8,000 followers, I didn’t see much in the way of clickthroughs, retweets, or comments. Also, I have no way of gauging if my broadcast tweets had any impact on webinar registration.

Here’s what happened when I sent out my direct tweets.

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Obviously, I had a lot more activity with this direct approach, evident in the amount of clickthroughs (68), retweets (12), and comments (11). But more importantly I was able to draw a direct link between my direct tweets and event registration–five alumni registered for the webinar based on my tweets.

How did I figure this out? It’s simple, really. I contacted my colleague and asked her to send me a spreadsheet listing all alumni who registered for the webinar in the hours after I sent my first direct tweet. I then reviewed the list and located the names of alumni I tweeted the event information to.

Granted, five webinar registrants is nothing to brag about (I was actually very disappointed by the tepid registration response, but I was happy with the number of comments) but what I have now is a model that I can replicate–in fact, the day after Thanksgiving I have a series of direct tweets going out for another webinar. Moving forward, I will be able to make the argument that, at least when it comes to event registration, there is a casual relationship between my activity and alumni action. This is yet another way to sell–especially to “higher ups”–why social media matters.

Was this post helpful? Is there anything I missed? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Robert Bochnak manages social media for the Harvard Business School’s alumni office. He’s also the former writer and editor of GradMatters: The Blog for Tufts GSAS. 

Follow Robert on Twitter at https://twitter.com/RobertBoc.


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