Introduction Impact

You probably know this by now, but you’re on a journey that never ends! While you picked a bearing point early on and have made huge progress towards it, you’ll find that the terrain keeps changing. That’s the nature of the digital landscape, of audiences, and of your organization’s voice, its strengths, and its editorial flow. You’ll want to stop along the path to rest, reflect on where you’ve been, take stock, and share that reflection with others.

The blessing and the curse of digital media is that it is exceptionally easy to measure things. Each digital user leaves us a trail of what was clicked on, shared, linked to, and liked, and we can know how much time people are spending on our websites and apps on a feature-by-feature, page-by-page basis. The challenge is that not everything we can measure has meaning or relevance. We can track a lot of indicators without learning anything from them, and also, the relationships we want to foster are not reducible to clicks and likes.

That said, we do think you should learn the rudiments of social media analytics so you can get a sense of how people are engaging with the content you create. That way, if you see people drawn to particular kinds of images or information, you can learn from their interactions and make adjustments in what you do. For example you may be spending a lot of time and money on writing narratives, collecting images, or making videos that the audience is either not interacting with much at all, or conversely, is sharing like crazy.

But quantitative analytics will only get you so far in thinking about the impact and influence of your work. You will need to introduce other ways of collecting examples of impact as you think about the experiments you want to construct and where you might find meaningful evidence. It is not only a question of how many people visit or participate, it’s also about the qualities of their experiences, interactions, and engagements—just as would be true for a concert, play, or gallery visit. Knowing how you touched someone’s mind or heart, or opened them to new perspectives, is something you may not be able to know. Accepting this will help you remember that “counting” is only part of the total picture of our impact. Knowing this, we count some things anyway, and keep moving.

In this section we will help you consider what data and tools you’ll need to gather in order to tell stories of influence and impact. We’ll try to put your focus on the measures what will help you deepen your work, and we’ll share an interview about assessing and adjusting activities as you grow. Finally we’ll ask you to think about the audiences—internal and external—who will want to know about the data and stories you collect.

You’ve likely (hopefully) lost perspective and found it many times over by now. Mountains are mountains, again, or maybe they aren’t right now. Our orientation is this: by trying, measuring, learning, and iterating, you can become a meaningful participant in the media landscape of the 21st Century. Entering this mountainous landscape can seem daunting. Rather than framing your journey as a test of strength that you can either pass or fail, think of your travel as one of learning and trying anew. We know you will be rewarded.

15 minutes to skim
2 hour exercise (min)
1 hour reflection
30 minutes to explore links
15 minutes to read again
4 hours minimum, across several days

Interviews Practitioners on Making a Difference

It really just has to make a difference to one person and then it ripples out from there.

Impressed by Wonderbound’s rich content across channels and media, we reached out to Communications Manager Amber Blais to ask how she thinks about the traction or impact of Wonderbound’s digital engagement—from blogs to social media posts to developing routines around video creation.

Read the Interview



Exercise Create a Listening Inbox

A “Listening Inbox” is a place for you to discover what others are saying about your organization, your community, and your mission. If thoughtfully cultivated and frequently visited, it can become a place of self-awareness, an opportunity to engage in conversation with others, and a source of stories about the impact you’re making.

Step one: Create an Inbox

You’ll need an inbox to collect the notifications you’ll receive. This could be the email inbox that you already use or, if you’d rather receive notifications elsewhere, create a new email address specifically for the alerts you’ll soon receive. Gmail is a reliable and free option.

Step two: Pick Channels and Conversations

Revisit your notes from the Channels section to decide which channels to listen in on. For each channel you choose, consider what information you’d like to track. For example, you might want to watch conversations on Twitter that mention your name (and common abbreviations or misspellings), or maybe you want to watch a #hashtag relevant to your community or mission, or even a stream of photos taken near your venue.

Make a list of each kind of conversation you want to track.

Step three: Connect Channels to Inbox

We’ve listed some common ways to connect your channels to your inbox, but depending on the type of conversation you want to track, you may need to do some research on Google. If that’s the case, start with search phrases like “instagram search to email” or “twitter mention rss feed” or “hashtag search to email.”

Because the types of channels, notifications, and inboxes are customizable, there are too many ways to combine them to adequately illustrate them on this site. Here are a few common things you might want notification for and how to collect them. Use these as a starter way to collect the data you’re interested in.

Step four: Weekly Review

Schedule a time each day, or once a week, to go through your inbox.

Click on any conversations, images, or posts that seem interesting to you and ignore the rest. The goal of this exercise is to listen and increase your awareness of the impact you’re having or the potential you have to make an impact in communities that are are already engaging around you and/or your mission.

Feel free to take a screenshot and collect examples to share with your team or board.

As a bonus, this weekly review may also reveal who to follow or conversations you may be able to meaningfully contribute to.

Reflection Mind Mapping Your Impact

In the Strengths section, you created a mind map to explore how your community might remix your assets. For this section, you’re going to create a mind map to discover ways you can measure the impact of your digital engagement work.

Step one: Read the Following Article

If you haven’t already, have a look at Stanford professor, Rick Reis’s, 5-minute overview of how to use mind mapping for brainstorming.

Step two: Create a List of Your Experiments

Your list should be on an experiment-by-experiment level. For example, a list item wouldn’t be “Twitter,” it would be a hashtag campaign or conversation you’re experimenting with. It wouldn’t be “Facebook,” it would be a series of photos you’re posting on Throwback Thursday (Wikipedia) of what your building looked like in the 80s.

Resist trying to measure a specific channel and instead explore what’s happening on and across channels for a single initiative/content-focus/experiment.

Step three: Create Your Mind Map

Write the name of one experiment from your list on a sheet of paper and circle it. Then, draw two lines emerging from either side of the circle. Label one qualitative and the other quantitative.

Using lines a spokes, draw lines from the word qualitative, listing all the things you might observe about why and how people participate in your experiment.

Draw similar spokes from the word quantitative, listing all the things you might count regarding whowhatwhere, and when your audience(s) participates.

Last, draw lines from the observations and list how you could collect information about each one. If applicable, draw lines across observations or circle areas where collection methods are similar, related, or mutually beneficial.

Repeat this process for all the experiments on your list, taking creative liberty to note and illustrate connections across and between experiments. Use color, highlighting, drawings or diagrams to make your mind map memorable.

Step four: Highlight One (Optional)

Creating this mind map is a complete activity. If you would like a concrete thing to do with the map you’ve drawn, consider reviewing it and selecting a collection method for an observation you think would either help you understand your impact and/or help you tell the story of your impact.

Research the best practices for that method and spend the next month investigating what you learn based on collecting that data. Revisit the map as often as you like to do the same.

Go Further On Impact with Chad Weinard

Chad Weinard is an independent technologist and digital strategist. He connects people to museums and museums to people. Most recently he was director of digital media at the Balboa Park Online Collaborative, where he led a team developing mobile, web, video and in-gallery experiences for museums. Previously, Chad led digital engagement initiatives at the North Carolina Museum of Art, including social media, web, mobile, and in-gallery technology. His background is in fine arts, art history, design and web development.

Chad’s Links on Quantifying Impact

#1 – Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics: The Nonprofit Social Media Data Dilemma

Measuring what we do is important. It’s how we know we’re making an impact. “The problem is that the very act of measuring and reporting on a person or an organization changes their behavior.” Optimizing for social media performance risks losing sight of why you’re using social media for your nonprofit. (You’re not using social media to be great at social media, you’re using it to further the mission of your organization.)

#2 – An evaluation framework for success: Capture and measure your social-media strategy using the Balanced Scorecard

The goal is to measure how effective social media is at furthering the mission of your organization. Measuring outcomes, instead of outputs, is an effective approach for nonprofits and mission-driven organizations.

Chad’s Link on Telling Stories of Impact

# 3 – Storytelling with Social Media Data

How you report your social media impact to stakeholders is crucial. It’s important to add context to social media metrics in order to focus on organizational goals rather than social media success. Storytelling and anecdotes can be more effective at communicating outcomes (the “…so what?”) than raw numbers or data visualization.

Chad’s Thoughts on Scaling Impact

Social media impact can happen at multiple scales. The tendency is to associate social media with massive scale (numerical, geographic) and near-instantaneous time horizons. It may be that one-on-one interactions (providing “delight”) and unobtrusive, light, comforting daily presence over the long term lead to greater impact. Instead of global reach, social media may invite close-knit, local, in-person interaction that lead to long-term relationships. (Tweetups, Instameets, etc.)

Chad’s Links on Direct Impact

# 4 – Media relations in a disintermediated world

Social media allows organizations to take advantage of disintermediation—taking a message directly to an audience. Instead of lobbying a journalist to tell the story of an exhibition, for instance, social media allows organizations to tell their own story. (Mainstream media has fewer journalists with specialized knowledge; the experts in your community may well be working in your organization anyway.) “Content marketing” is an approach where businesses develop content that informs or inspires in order to generate goodwill toward the brand (which they hope will increase sales); nonprofits can use this approach to serve their mission directly.

#5 – Facilitation Toolbox

For nonprofits whose mission is to educate, inspire or advocate for social change, social media can be a tool to do this directly. An art museum, for instance, need not rely on social media to get people to attend a lecture to learn about art; social media can itself be a teaching tool. (This is a natural step for organizations that embrace inquiry-based learning.)

Chad’s Links on Organizational Impact

# 6 – Social Media and Organizational Change

#7 – Digital Storytelling for Social Impact

#8 – Using Data to Take Your Social Media Strategy to the Next Level

Social media impacts many departments in an organization. Marketing is a typical home for social media activities, but it’s not always a natural fit. (Marketing efforts are often measured by tickets sold, store revenue, attendance, etc., where social media is not as effective.) Education (online learning), Membership and Development (nurturing relationships), Curatorial (content and thought leadership), Visitor Services, Community outreach are all areas where social media can show impact.

Social media and social media managers impact organizations internally as a catalyst and change agents. Social media rewards speed (approvals/sign offs at an operational level), agility (flattened hierarchy), content and insight from across the organization (communication, transparency, collaboration), audience focus and empathy, data-driven decisions, understanding of how to operationalize mission and strategy, broad content knowledge (to make connections), as well as technical knowledge of media creation and social networks. Technology initiatives, and social media in particular, are pushing nonprofits to embrace organizational change. Social media managers exemplify the skills needed for nonprofits to excel in the future.

Think Deeper Know What You're Getting Into

What are we learning, really?

Digital engagement provides an opportunity for regular contact with our audiences. Through the process, they become familiar with us and we start to learn about them. But how well are we really getting to know one another? The more data we collect, the more we may think we have our audiences figured out, but there is a great variety and disagreement about the nature of such learning and a risk of making assumptions that don’t allow for the fluidity, shifts, and unexpected surprises that our audiences have to share. How can we approach data in a manner that enables it to perpetually inform our questions rather than expecting it to provide clear-cut answers? How can we develop learning frameworks that ask us to face our assumptions so that we can come to see more than what we can measure?

Impact is about assessment, but it is also about learning that enables you to refine your work in the future—foster more meaningful connections, reach more people, or run programs more efficiently. Unfortunately the key nuggets of knowledge often come after-the-fact. How could you build assessment into processes so you can learn—and improve—as you go? What flexibility is needed to respond to what you find out? How can you build relationships with your audiences so they could help you?

Is change always good?

When it comes to “measuring impact” there may be the presumption that people have to change their behaviors, participation levels, or online activity in order to meet the goals for digital engagement imagined by an organization. But is change always necessary? What can we accept—and learn—from our audiences as they are? What can what they already do teach us about them, their needs, and what they might want from us? How can learning from our audiences help us to improve the quality of our impact rather than just the quantity of clicks or likes?


This course was created to encourage small and under-resourced non-profit professionals to navigate the changing landscapes of digital engagement with a spirit of possibility, experimentation, and thoughtfulness.

Read more about what inspired the course and learn about its makers.

Wanderway was commissioned by the Wyncote Foundation

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