Are you measuring digital outputs rather than real world outcomes? Do you really know what your content is doing for you?

One of my favourite Facebook pages at the moment is Cats on Synthesisers in Space. I’m more of a dog person but synths and space float my boat (or should that be fire my rockets?). It’s quite a recent chart topper for me – I’ve been doing heart eyes for the ‘The Same Picture of Jeff Goldblum Every Day’ page for a while before this (seriously, you need it more than you know).

Time suck or engaging content, whichever way you look at it these pages have captured my attention and make me smile as I scroll through my newsfeed. There’s a value in that to me – but if you are in the business of creating content because you need someone to do something (put their bin out on a different day, stop making a GP appointment for every sniffle, buy the records you’re lovingly releasing…) engaging content isn’t enough – you need content which converts, and you need to be on top of measuring, evaluating and adapting to achieve that.

My guess is that there’s a lot of public sector communicators currently dabbling in paid content – Facebook Ads and boosted posts, promoted Tweets, Google Ad Words. Some may have stepped a little further and be dipping their toe into retargeting (showing their ads on social networks to people who have visited the website / web page previously) but – and perhaps this is a dangerous assumption on my part, based on anecdotal evidence at best – I doubt that many are looking beyond the engagement metrics of content and ads, to the conversion rate on their sites: the real-world outcome on service delivery.

I’m going to run with that assumption and go a bit deeper into what we mean by conversion, how you measure it, and what to do as a result. If you’re currently under pressure to do more with less (and who in the public sector isn’t?) then getting into true evaluation is a smarter way to use your time and spend (or even to improve the content you’re posting up for free because your budget disappeared some time back).

Consume, engage, convert

Gathering basic metrics are probably (hopefully!) part of your standard practice with both ongoing and campaign content. These metrics of consumption let you know, broadly, whether anyone is seeing your content. On your website it might be the number of users to a certain page (although higher user numbers aren’t always an indicator of success!), on social media it might be the impressions for a tweet or the ‘seen by’ number on a Facebook post, and on email it might be the number of subscribers to your email newsletter.

You might also gather some metrics around engagement – starting to understand where your user moves from passive to active, where you start to make a connection with them rather than being digital detritus passing quickly from their views and thoughts. You might measure how long they spend on your page and where they come from, or how many shares or retweets you get, or how many opens or click-throughs there are on that email.

The final stage is moving to measure not just the performance of the content, but the value of the action is causes. This is the conversion rate of your content – how many people clicked on your FB ad purchased tickets to your event, how many people who clicked the link in your text opened the agenda for the next council meeting?

Whatever type of metric as long as you remember that a number has no meaning apart from that which you place upon it, and do the extra work to place the results in context, then you’ll start to really understand what your content is doing for you and whether your time is being well spent.

Don’t just measure, evaluate – define and find your success

Gathering your metrics is only the start – carving time out to understand what they mean, track trends over time, and ultimately adapt your approach isn’t easy in the current pressured work climate but it is one of the most important tasks you can do as a practitioner.

Ultimately success is down to how you define it. That might be getting 10,000 views on your latest video, or 10 new page likes this month. It might be about the amount of shares or retweets, the reach beyond your direct followers and fans. But do these efforts make a difference to the cost of delivering your service, to changing the behaviour of people for a healthier population in the long-term? I think in most cases it would be tenuous to suggest they do – although they may be a contributing factor you’re not measuring the right things to know for sure.

So, it might be about conversion and the actions your communications efforts cause people to take on your site. It might be tracking through to know that the advert you carefully crafted and targeted on Facebook after begging for budget, while shown to 1,500-2,400 accounts, resulted in just 2 of 100 tickets sold for your event. When you know this and can compare it to the effort made in other channels you can adapt your approach, fast-track success next time, and – vitally – use this knowledge to justify budget and worth to your wider organisation.

In the age of decreased budgets understanding the real world impact of your content may be more valuable to you than whether or not your live tweeting of council meetings is more or less viewed on Facebook than Cats on Synthesisers in Space.

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I’m a freelance digital content strategist offering services across transformation, leadership, digital content delivery and training, all tailored to your needs and budget. See how we could work together and get in touch.