Yesterday marked the end of my maternity leave and I spent the day in Manchester (a city with which I am in love) splitting my time between an exhibition and meeting in person a fellow girl gov geek who’s tweets and blog posts have inspired me for a while, the absolutely lovely Louise Kidney.

While I’ve been doing my Keep In Touch days Lou and I have been thrashing around something we’re both working on and towards – creating performance indicators or metrics for measuring social media activity.

Neither of us have much experience of this type of reporting and we’ve struggled to satisfactorily build check points which we really think capture the full story. We’re hoping to run a brainstorming session on it at LocalGovCamp this weekend so if this is your thing and you’ll be there please do come!

Here’s where we’ve got to so far:

Council’s (and other public sector agencies) have up until now been dipping a toe in the social web and many are still fighting the battle to get networks unblocked for staff or used for more than broadcasting PR messages. However, those at front of the pack who are starting to use profiles more proactively probably need to start measuring and evaluating their success there. This intelligence can then be used like any other business measurement – to improve their offering, transform their service delivery, become more efficient and just damn well fit in online rather than swimming against the digital tide.

What do they measure though? Lou and I have done a fairly basic split into qualitative and quantitative data a council should be looking for – and one of these has been more easy than the other to list metrics for!

Quantitative

So let’s start with the easy one, the low hanging fruit on this particular tree. This would be the number soup which is probably already being served up to anxious senior managers in various councils. Let’s remember though that a number has no meaning except that which you place upon it. On the other, more practical hand, we have to start somewhere!

So, how many followers does your twitter account have? How many likes for the Facebook pages? Subscribers to your YouTube channel and corporate blogs? All delicious figures which are easy to grab but what do they really mean? Where is the context?

What else? The beginnings of trying to dust off layers of actual engagement? Passive, albeit, but how many retweets are you getting? How many mentions out there on the interwebs?

And then go one step further; how does this fit with the rest of your portfolio? How many click-throughs to your website are you getting from your own or other social profiles? What time of day is best? Which day of the week? What, if any, impact is this having on number of calls to you? Can you attach a best guess cost?

You can throw in some classic marketing type metrics here such as opportunities to view but already there are a whole load of questions and possible routes to widen out here and that’s before we go to the tricky climb; qualitative data.

Qualitative

So you’ve got 2000 followers on Twitter, a few hundred likes on your Facebook page, you can generate decent click-through when you post on the social web and in certain cases there is the glow of the coveted channel shift as calls, post and face-t0-face contact drops. Are you winning? Maybe. But how do you know what people are really thinking about the whole experience? How do you ask every human behind your lovely analytic data?

You can start to get some idea by looking at the interaction rather than the blunt visitor-type figures. How many @ messages or comments? What sort of posts or service areas attract the most interaction? Are people talking directly to you or just about you? What do the comments say? Are they positive or negative? Despite what you want to talk about what are people actually discussing or posting about you? I suspect very few councils have a dashboard set up to get even the vaguest overview of this.

More questions… *le sigh*

Why measure?

Well, because in Lou’s words (or thereabouts: “We’re using public money for this and so we need to be accountable”. Simple as.

But even if we could bang this grid into some sort of shape we’d still be struggling to see a consistent way to measure the real rub; how can we see the wider impact? How many of the online interactions result in a real-world change of some kind? If you have 400 visits to your Facebook page how many of those are unique people rather than returners and how many of the unique people spread the word in a non-digital way? How do we track someuser459 reading a post about school closures, not feeling the need to comment or go to our website but immediately ringing her friend down the road to pass the message on and then leaning over the fence and telling her neighbour too? Even if we could work out how to know this stuff without actually using the Matrix or a Big Brother style surveillance system would it be used to intelligently evolve how services are delivered?

And one final question: do we need a common metric? Council’s have been subjected to various scorecards from National Indicators to Better Connected which all attempt to see how well each council’s foot fits the universal glass slipper and then celebrates which one is Cinderella for that particular evaluation. But is benchmarking worthwhile? Would knowing how well Blackburn with Darwen were scoring benefit Derbyshire or should we all just go our own way and work out what we each want to know and how we’re going to find that information?

Hopefully we’ll be able to interest some other people in this enough that Lou and I can ask these questions again and start unravelling the social media metric mystery at LocalGovCamp. If anyone is doing this or is further down the line please let us know!