Introduction to Evaluating Social Media for Extension Professionals

By Sarah Baughman, PhD Virginia Cooperative Extension

This is the first in a four part series on evaluating social media for Extension professionals.  Social media use among Extension professionals has increased significantly over the last few years and anecdotal evidence indicates more and more time is spent on social media activities.  There are currently over 3000 social network accounts listed on extension.org for Extension professionals (http://www.extension.org/people/colleagues/socialnetworks) and events such as agchat, gardenchat and other Twitter chats include an Extension presence. 

As the eXtension Military Families Learning Network evaluation specialist I have been exploring how to evaluate our social media efforts.  Our communities of practice (CoP) use social media extensively to engage audiences, reach new audiences and build relationships. The MFLN and its CoPs can be found on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Pinterest.  One of the most common requests I receive is how to evaluate social media efforts. 

I encourage Extension professionals to approach evaluating their social media activities like they would any other activity or program.  First, remember that social media is primarily a tool that can help improve your educational programming.  Occasionally social media may be a stand-alone program but in general it is used as to enhance an existing program.  As with other programs, begin with the end in mind.  Ask yourself what you hope to accomplish with your Facebook page or Twitter account.  Are you trying to reach new audiences?  Do you want to build relationships with other professionals in your community?  Are you trying a new way to reach existing audiences that may be heavy social media users such as teens and young adults?

So the first step in evaluating social media is to clearly define your purposes and what you hope to accomplish.  This may even help you decide which social media channel to use.  Choose your metrics based on your purpose and track those metrics regularly and consistently.  I have found it useful to keep spreadsheets with our metrics that I update at least monthly to help track changes over time.  I also do “spot checks” sporadically throughout the month to catch any big events that may occur, such as a retweet by an account with lots of followers on Twitter or a lot of shares from a Facebook Page.

My next posts will cover the specifics of getting started with measuring specific social media channels.  If you have specific questions related to evaluating social media please comment or email me.

Author: Sarah Baughman (@programeval, sarahbaughman@extension.org)

This article (Introduction to evaluating social media) was originally published Fridday, September 7, 2012 on the Evaluation Community of Practice blog, a part of eXtension.   This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.