Make it Count: Social Media Analytics for Public Libraries

Of the tasks that can make you go cross-eyed during your off-desk hours, one might be measuring social media analytics. Often, you have more questions than answers. What should we measure, and which measurements matter the most? What do the experts say? How does that apply to my library, and what can I show my administration or board? How do we even know if our numbers are good ones?

We invited Laura Solomon, author of The Librarian's Nitty-Gritty Guide to Social Media and Library Services Manager at the Ohio Public Library Information Network, to our August webinar. Here's what she said matters most when it comes to social media analytics in public libraries.

How Other Libraries Use Social Media Analytics

We asked our webinar attendees if they were currently tracking social media numbers for their library. The majority of attendees (60 percent) said that they are measuring some sort of social media analytics. We also asked how they use social media numbers.

A chart of webinar responses

Welcome to the Analytics Jungle

Laura opened up her presentation with the results of a survey of marketers on social media marketing trends. When asked what were the three most challenging aspects of their social program, 60 percent of respondents said that measuring return on investment (ROI) was the most difficult. In other words, is the amount of time you put into your social media really supporting your library's goals? And can you actually measure that support? As Laura said, social media analytics are "a hot mess." 

Laura showed this example to reassure our attendees that everybody­ — even marketers at Fortune 500 companies — is struggling with social media — not just libraries. Not only do social media platforms differ in terms of the analytics they measure, but there are no absolute guidelines for what your numbers should actually look like.

And to make things even messier, there are some things you can't even get a number for. Shared Facebook notes, for example, can't be counted as of right now. According to Businesses Grow, 70 percent of what's shared on the Internet is "dark," meaning it's shared in a way we can't track.

On top of everything, libraries don't have clear conversion rates. In e-commerce, a conversion is the act of converting site visitors into paying customers. Because the focus of libraries isn't to generate revenue, the concept of conversion is murky. Laura shared that virtually all library administrators are familiar with this dilemma, so your library isn't alone if its struggling with this issue. Measurement isn't always going to be a clear-cut process; however, she also noted, "The need for metrics is always going to be there even if the process is in flux."

Talking to Your Administration About Analytics

Big picture

What can you bring to your library's administration? Laura advises keeping the goals of your library at the forefront of your social media reporting. Your social media goals should be aligned with the strategic goals of the library. Your library shouldn't use social media just to be on social media — you should use it support the library's goals.

The Matter of Metrics

So what can we measure, and which metrics should we give more value? Laura divides metrics into three tiers. First tier metrics track relatively passive actions by the user that require minimal effort.

  • Likes or favorites
  • Number of fans or followers
  • Reach or views
  • Retweets (without commentary)
  • Click-throughs

Laura argues that we should be giving more weight to what she calls second tier metrics. These metrics track things that require more action from the user. These user activities have a higher barrier to engagement and therefore they should be valued more for success.

  • Mentions
  • Comments

The third tier, the gold standard for metrics, is sharing. If you create something that's so useful to your fans that they need to share it, you yourself become useful.

A Few Analytics Tools

Laura did a walk-through of Facebook Insights, giving us a peek at how OPLIN measures its Facebook posts. One feature that she highlighted was "post hides," the red bar that shows up when somebody (or a few people) hides your Facebook post. This counts as negative feedback on your Facebook Insights dashboard. You'll never know why those people decided to take some sort of negative action, but make sure that you note that information for whatever you post.

Twitter has analytics tools similar to Facebook's. One of the interesting features Laura called out was the Interests feature (part of the Audience Insights metrics) on Twitter Analytics. This tool shows you what topics interest your community, such as politics, technology, books, and so on. This tool is a great way to see what your audience is following, what they're talking about, and what they share.

Instagram now offers analytics tools for business and brand accounts. Laura also shared out this blog post, Top 6 Free Instagram Analytics Tools Uncovered (Brandwatch), for other tools.

This post is just a sliver of the wonderful advice and tips Laura shared. Watch the whole webinar here and visit Laura Solomon's Website for even more social media insight.

 TechSoup Social Media Resources