This action research project was led by Culture24 and involved 17 different UK cultural venues over a series of planning events and working groups from July 2010 to July 2011. The report How to Evaluate Success Online is available to donwload here. Seb Chan (Powerhouse Museum) has also done a blogpost here, as has Oonagh Murphy, PhD student here.

Key findings include:

  • “Be clear on what you are trying to do online and who for” – need to get more local, more specialised and more niche
  • Focus online investment – recognise that search is still the main way people find your content; that mobile access is increasing and social media may not be the driver of visits to your website that you thought…
  • Position online strategy, and particularly social media, within organisation’s overall audience development objectives
  • Most of the activity on social networks stays there and is not necessarily a driver to website (although I’m wondering now with more clever campaigns, offers and special deals whether this will change in driving social media visitors to our physical sites?)
  • Analysis questioned whether we are reaching new audience segments online or more of the same (this has parallels with physical visitors – research has found that the types of people who visit museum physical sites hasn’t really changed in 20 years! Maybe this will change with mobile? What are the profiles of our app users?)
  • Report suggests organisations could more effectively target UK residents to visit websites. I think this is a flawed logic as it needs to be based on need – what need do I have for information held by a cultural agency, how fast can I get in, get it and get out of there?
  • Report argues strongly for standardisation of reporting, showing some interesting comparisons between institution's website visits and social media engagement (I suggest you look at that bit yourselves)

Other points of interest:

  • Mobile traffic is growing considerably faster than social media traffic
  • Difficult to measure engagement on social media sites (although I think the methods they used were good) – stress the need to go beyond reporting numbers
  • Tagging links with is a good way to get analytics on use (shares, etc)
  • Time investment in social media seemed to be correlated to social media engagement, whereas time commitment plus brand recognition (e.g. Tate) leads to social media popularity – these are two different concepts
  • 65% had a social media strategy (they said “only 65%” but I think this is a high number, I’d have expected less)
  • Having a strategy in place not enough – need to be targeted and effective
  • An interesting conundrum – some reported that strategy/internal processes may “curtail freedoms that were passing unnoticed”
  • Before starting a campaign or new activity be sure to take a benchmark of the current position – seems straightforward but easy to forget!
  • Most had 1-4 staff regularly involved in maintaining, updating and creating social media content, with up to eight hours per week spent (mostly between 1-4 hours)
  • Overall, the cultural sector (in the UK and I suspect elsewhere) has low influence in the online space

Key things to do (page 26):

  • Adopt Google Analytics for reporting
  • Use multiple tools to measure
  • “Consider where, when and how you use social media to be the most effective” – investment may buy popularity but not necessarily engagement
  • Don’t separate online from physical – think about audience engagement first, then what platforms to use, whether physical, online or (now) mobile
  • “Get ready for mobile … Consider what your users want on the move”
  • Look at patterns, not just numbers. This reminds me of a quote I’ve often used – ‘it’s not how many visitors you get, it’s how valuable are their visits’.

Also came across this new blog post from MuseumNext: Measuring Social Media Success.