In my last two articles, we looked at how to plan and execute a delicious social media sandwich that entices people to dig into your research and ideas. Finally, we come to the all-important -- but often overlooked -- toppings that bring the whole thing together: follow-up and evaluation. (Shameless plug: if you've found this series helpful, please join us for even more social media advice at our upcoming free webinar on social media strategy, scheduled for Sept. 23, 2020).
A common mistake on social media is to slap up a post and be done with it, without taking the time to engage with other accounts, evaluate how well your post did or gather lessons on how you might improve. As we’ve helped support the social media strategies of numerous academics and research institutions at Footnote, we’ve found follow-up and evaluation are vital for increasing the reach of posts and the ideas they contain. Think of these last steps as the avocado, aioli or pickles on your hearty social media sandwich -- the key ingredients that bring everything together and transform an OK meal into a memorable one.
Ironically, some people use social media in surprisingly antisocial ways. I’ve seen countless users tweet out a question, provocative idea or link only to move on without ever responding to any of the ensuing comments or shares. Your goal is for people to interact with your posts by liking, sharing or commenting on them. If people start responding and you never acknowledge them, you are missing a huge opportunity to boost the reach of your ideas, start dialogue and make meaningful connections.
A small amount of effort to engage can make a big difference in your impact on social media. When someone asks you a question or makes a thoughtful comment on your post or in your direct messages, take the time to respond. You may not be able to engage with every account that likes or shares a post, but you can thank key individuals who you’d like to build connections with or those who took the time to comment in a particularly thoughtful way. You can also show appreciation by following accounts that engage with your content and sharing relevant posts or links from those accounts. These interactions make it more likely that people will follow you and your work and interact with future posts.
Even more importantly, engaging with others on social media is an ongoing way to build relationships and connect with people from across institutions, fields, backgrounds, geographic regions and perspectives. Social media sites have become central platforms for sharing ideas, building movements and effecting change in the world. Engaging in dialogue, rather than simply putting out your own posts, will enrich your experience and connect you to a global community. This can be especially meaningful during a time when many of us are physically disconnected from each other and confronting a number of deeply rooted social and economic challenges.
Evaluate Your Effort
How do you know if your social media planning and posting has paid off? People often skip this final step, but if you want to improve over time, it’s essential to measure your success and evaluate how well you met your initial goals. Below are a few ways we at Footnote track how successful we’ve been sharing academic research and expertise via social media.
Some goals are easier to measure than others. The first (and easiest) step is looking at the post itself to see how many people liked, shared or commented on it and compare this with past posts. There’s no objective number of shares or likes that constitutes success -- it all depends on how big your following is and how much engagement you typically attract. The important thing is to continue growing over time and to learn which kinds of posts attract the biggest response from your target audience.
You can also try to measure the ripple effects of a post, especially if you’re sharing an article, website or other external link you want people to visit. You can paste the link URL into the search bar on each social media platform to see whether other people have been sharing it on their own accounts. While Twitter should show you all relevant posts, on Facebook and LinkedIn, your view may be limited to public accounts or accounts you are connected with. Regardless, searching URLs on these platforms will give you a wider picture of who is interacting with the content than you can see from your posts alone.
You may want to experiment with URL shortener sites like bit.ly, which shorten long links to make them less clunky while also allowing you to track how many people click on the link, regardless of where it is shared. If the link sends people to a page on your own website, you can use Google Analytics or another web analytics tool to see how many people were directed to your website from each social media platform and which pages they visited. This can help you estimate how successful you were at conversion, or convincing people to take an action -- in this case clicking on your post link and visiting your website.
If you want to take a deeper dive into social media analytics, there are numerous websites and apps that provide useful metrics about your posts and accounts. Most of them require a monthly fee, but many offer free trials or provide certain features for free. It’s worth checking out sites like BuzzSumo, Hootsuite or SharedCount for basic metrics that show how many people engaged with your post on various social platforms.
Don’t forget that you can also glean some basic insights from the analytics provided internally by Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms. You can see your top-performing posts, which can help you figure out what kinds of posts are most effective for your account. You can also learn more about your audience demographics, what other accounts they follow and who your top followers are. You’ll want to keep an eye on how your number of followers grows over time. If growth is flat, you may want to tweak your approach and experiment with new strategies.
Enjoy Your Sandwich!
The social media sandwich is no skimpy PB&J. It has a number of ingredients and requires a dedicated chef to be deliciously effective. The truth is social media is work. As I mentioned at the start of this series, some people’s entire jobs are to manage social media accounts. You don’t have to spend hours every day perfecting your social media strategy (unless you want to), but even a few dedicated hours a week can lead to a big payoff. The process may seem daunting at first, but your effort will translate into greater attention for your research, new professional relationships and exposure to a wider network of people and information.
We hope this series empowers you to take steps toward increasing the impact of your research and ideas via social media. If you’re hungry for more tips on how to build your own mouthwatering social media sandwich, please join us for our upcoming free webinar on social media strategy.
At Footnote, we believe that for research to have a wider impact, the academic community must work to educate, inform, influence and excite a broader audience. Social media plays a critical role in finding and connecting with that audience -- and in learning from them yourself. Are you ready to take a big bite?
Kristen Weiss is a scientist turned science communicator who is the social media manager at Footnote, an organization that collaborates with the academic community to increase the impact of their research and expertise through better communication.