How councils can measure social media

(This is a full version of an article I wrote for The Guardian’s Local Leaders Network on how councils can measure the success of social media. You can read the edited version on the Guardian’s site.)

According to the 2013 BDO Local Government Social Media Survey, 98% of UK councils are using some form of digital or social media to engage communities, digitise services and make websites the first point of  contact for residents.

Kate Denham of BDO wrote a great article summarising the report for The Guardian, titled “Local Councils Embrace Social Media”.

This is fantastic news for local government in the UK, with the benefits of better transparency direct interaction with residents, real time customer service and additional feedback for services that social media brings being a Good Thing for all.

The Cabinet Office currently estimates that the introduction of new digital services – and the redesign of existing ones – will “save the taxpayer and service users around £1.2bn by 2015, and at least £1.7bn a year thereafter.”

But despite three-quarters of local authorities believing that social media represent an opportunity to make financial savings – presumably part of the £1.2bn that the Cabinet Office is looking to save – only 5% have been able to demonstrate savings of more than £10,000.

63% of those surveyed believe that social media provides savings but they have struggled to demonstrate how.

With 40% of the councils surveyed by BDO investing more than 1 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) day per week into social media, that means that social media person is costing them money, not saving it.

The BDO report goes on to give lots of useful advice and tools for managing social media in general, but it doesn’t offer any suggestions for how local councils can measure the savings that social media brings.

There are 3 areas to bare in mind, taken from the UK Treasury’s Value for Money Framework, when seeking to measure savings through social media:

  • Economy: Maximizing inputs that can be acquired for the same resources
  • Effectiveness: Making sure the best outputs are selected to achieve the goal
  • Efficiency: Maximizing the number of outputs per input

Better buying can lead to increased economy, better inputs create more effective outputs and producing more outputs for the same number of inputs creates improvements in efficiency.

Ideas to measure the success of social media

 

Here are a few suggestions of how this looks in in practise, which you’ll see goes beyond the basics, such as counting the number of retweets to show engagement:

  • Economy: Calculate the value of getting additional  feedback through social media channels and the estimated added value this feedback has brought to council services.
  • Effectiveness: Use Visitor Flow analytics (Google Analytics has this, as will other analytics packages) to illustrate the path various users take as they click through to your council site from different social media sites. Calculate where they visit from social and if their needs are answered better this way than through another customer service touch point.
  • Efficiency: Keep track of how many customer service enquiries have been completed via social media and see if this have saved time for employees in dealing with the issue, comparing time saved to other customer service channels.

The above suggestions are just ideas, but hopefully how how you can go beyond measuring likes and retweets to show the savings made through councils being active on social media.

And to the 5% of those surveyed who have managed to show how they have saved over £10,000 through their social media use? It would be fantastic to see some knowledge sharing in this area about how you have measured this, so the other 95% can demonstrate this too.

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