How to Measure the Impact of Social Media for Public Affairs

Louise Day

Our Challenge: Social Media is for Marketers

Social media has become a veritable public affairs tool in its own right. Public affairs activities are incredibly difficult to measure, but with social media we’ve been given a gift. We have data, so much data, for free and at our fingertips. But there’s a problem.

None of these social media platforms were built with us in mind. Social media is for marketers. And marketers need numbers.

Marketers operate using the ‘marketing funnel’ – a simple concept that essentially demonstrates that you need to reach a lot of people, and try to bring as many as you can ‘down the funnel’ – i.e. to see your post. To click your link. To buy your product. To buy your product again. To become a brand ambassador, etc.

These are very clear returns on investment (ROIs) that are inherently measurable. Reach and engagement are critical in determining the success of a social marketing campaign. The more people you reach in the outset, the more clicks you get. The more clicks you get, the more purchases you get.

In public affairs, however, we are rarely looking for such clear and repeatable actions from large groups of people. In fact, the majority of the time we are looking to have a more nuanced impression – like start a dialogue, or present a point-of-view in a relatable way- in a very small, niche audience.

This means the data that social media platforms hand us so readily (reach and engagement) often have little bearing on whether or not our public affairs campaign was a success. What does it matter if your tweet for 100,000 impressions, but it was never seen by the policymaker you’re targeting?

How Do I Use Metrics that Matter?

It’s easy to be tempted by big numbers. Social media analytics tell us they’re important, ranking our tweets in terms of impressions and engagement. Numbers are also very satisfying, and allow us a way to track progress of our social media activity and communicate this progress internally. But other than making us feel good, numbers aren’t enough on their own. Even the marketers will tell you that.

Beware of the vanity metrics. Vanity metrics are things you can easily measure, but that don’t matter. Metrics that do matter are those that ‘move the needle’ on your social media strategy. They’re put into context, and provide actionable insights into your strategy and future decisions.

I have a very well-kept secret in that I am, by education, a lawyer (*gasp!!!*) so the most natural way for me to make sense of this phenomenon is to develop a legal test to ascertain whether or not a metric is useful. Since I am not a lawyer by profession, however, I drew a picture about it:



Here are some examples of metrics that, in my view, do matter:

  • Replies, likes, retweets, DMs from relevant stakeholders
    If your reporting always puts the numbers first, you’re in a losing game. Primarily because when they’re not put into context, bigger is always better. Instead, it’s better to build a story to demonstrate HOW this interaction delivered on your objective, and track it/tie it into your long-term strategy.
  • Anecdotal feedback 
    Ok, it sounds like a ‘cop out’, but Brussels is small. You’re already running in the right circles and speaking to policymakers and influencers all of the time. Gathering feedback from your audiences anecdotally (for example from an MEP in a face-to-face meeting) is well worth your time.
  • Moving the needle in the debate
    When any influential stakeholder takes your message/product and repackages it for their own purposes, that’s a great indication that you’re getting something right. If the media are using your material (be it a quote, a video or even a tweet) then this is an even stronger indication that you’ve managed to convince.
  • Cultivating a community 
    This means you have reached influential people who will spread your message for you. They might even consider you a thought leader. They may be regularly present in the comment section, articulating a point of view and correcting misconceptions, or they may share your post or (even better) be inspired to produce their own content/collaborate with you on the same topic.

Thanks for reading! As always, feel free to drop me an email if you have any questions!