Challenges in social media measurement

Look beyond vanity measurements to tackle the real questions

Most institutions think they measure the impact and the performance of social media, but only a few have shown they are ready to invest the necessary time and resources to measure what really matters. How your school defines social media measurement ultimately determines how strategically it uses social media.

Many colleges use their social media presence as a vehicle toward a vaguely identified destination. As a result, these schools have their designated drivers hit the social media road, ride almost 24/7 and fill up on cheap or expensive gas whenever necessary.

Without a precise road map, the passionate and talented social media drivers are asked to cover as many miles as possible to keep up with the cars of the other schools—resulting in a social media race to nowhere.

Without strategic directions from campus leaders, it becomes impossible to measure anything beyond the “vanity metrics” (followers, likes, etc.) spit out by the top social media platforms. In truth, most social media measurement reports include little useful, actionable data.

The cycle of no clear goals and useless measurement data can never end. Yet this loop of doom is a reality in many schools still struggling to measure the impact of social media.

Need proof? Look no further than the social media accounts managed by the busiest person on a campus: the president. According to the 2014 Annual Survey of Social Media in Advancement conducted by CASE, Huron Education and mStoner, there was no measurement process in place for more than two thirds of the 46 percent of college presidents active on social media.

Too much information

Fortunately, some institutions have started to realize the importance of social media in their integrated marketing strategy. Yet challenges persist for higher ed social media professionals.

“We struggle with defining and measuring our success and conveying both our challenges and wins to colleagues who are less familiar with social media,” says Kelsey Seymour, communications officer at the University of New Brunswick.

For Amanda Waite, web news editor at the University of Vermont, the sheer volume of available measurement data makes things harder. “My biggest measurement challenge is not getting lost in all that’s possible to know,” she says.

The best approach is to first define the question you want to answer with your social media measurement data.

Incomplete picture

Another challenge often mentioned by seasoned social media professionals working in higher education is the data collection work required to get the full picture. “It’s hard to take piecemeal data and come up with true analytics,” says Candace Steinlage, e-communications director at Upper Iowa University.

A few social media management tools like Sprout Social, HootSuite or Buffer have tried to make it easier with their own twist on social media analytics. But they provide only a partial solution. LinkedIn University Pages, Instagram, YouTube, and even metrics from your website are often missing from these reports.

“It’s a lot of additional work to have to pull the other metrics from networks that present them in so many diverse ways,” says Alicia Nestle, assistant director for multimedia and PR at Nazareth College (NY).

Less is more

So, what’s the solution? Less data, more focus. As I tell the students in my course on social media marketing for higher ed, you have to start with your social media goals. Then, write down what actions—online or offline—the members of your target audience will ultimately take if you are successful.

Add what other things they might do as they consider making their final decision. Finally, focus on how all these actions will align with what you can do on social media to find what to measure. Only collect and report data related to these few key performance indicators.

That’s what really matters and all you can probably do in the time you’ll have after doing everything else.

Karine Joly is the web editor behind, a blog about higher ed web marketing, public relations and technologies. She is also the founder of


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