Alumni organizations are always trying to find new ways to engage alumni, but when you're trying to measure your progress, using the wrong metrics can give you a false sense of success (or failure.)
Unfortunately, many metrics tell only part of the story, and others are downright deceptive.
After years of working with both large and small member organizations, here’s a list of five digital marketing metrics that alumni organizations should stop using:
1- Social Impressions
When an alumnus is exposed to your page or social media content, it’s a big leap to assume that they actually absorbed any of it. The Facebook and Twitter “impressions” metric measures only the number of times your content was displayed in a member’s news feed.
Unless your primary concern is branding and not engagement, the “impressions” metric is basically useless. When it comes to alumni engagement, it’s all about action… not eyeballs.
However, I will admit that Facebook’s viral impressions may offer some meaningful insights. It counts the number of times your content was displayed in a story that has been republished by a friend. So when an alum comments, responds to an event invitation, answers a question or shares something from your page, it all counts as a viral impression. That metric appears to be a much more effective way to measure engagement.
2- “Likes” or “Favorites”
I'm a little embarrassed to still be talking about the futility of the "Like" and "Favorite" metric, but I still hear of groups talking about how many likes they received from a social media post. Digital marketing guru Avinash Kaushik refers to these these actions as the "applause rate," but they are little more than a vanity metric because they make you feel all good inside, but don’t give you much insight into your audience.
And yes, I know that having more “likes” means it will show more often in your newsfeed, but as a stand-alone metric, it doesn’t necessarily translate to your conversion rate (alumni clicking through to your website to sign up for an event, or otherwise engaging with your organization.)
Clicking “like” is a safe action that has little to do with measuring engagement. However, a “share” or a “retweet” reflects amplification, and it requires a stronger commitment, and has meaning to your organization.
3- Total emails
Knowing the number of email addresses you possess is pretty much useless, especially if you have a number of emails that are undeliverable, or are junk emails ending in Yahoo.com, AOL.com or Hotmail.com. Quality emails are preferred over quantity. And when it comes to defining the quality of your email list, the delivery and engagement rates are critical. (We’ll talk about engagement metrics like click and conversion rates in a minute.)
Much of this whole matter of quality comes down to whether or not your organization uses good list hygiene practices.
Are you managing your "list rot?” Nearly all email addresses get old, terminated or forgotten.The average age of an email address is 18 months, so make sure you know the date when the email address was obtained, and keep an eye on the open rates of your older email addresses. Tag your old, stale email addresses as “unengaged” once they have not opened several consecutive emails. Send a separate email to your unengaged list on occasion, with special incentives to get them engaged, but focus more on your engaged list, (measured by deliverability and open rates) and don’t be afraid to send frequent, regular emails. As I’ve written previously, successful membership groups are sending 4.3 emails per week. Now I’m not recommending that many emails for alumni organizations, but consider increasing your frequency, in order to boost engagement and renewal rates.
The quantity of alumni emails you possess doesn’t matter, unless you’re looking at the percentage of deliverable emails for your overall alumni database. If your organization delivers emails to less than a third of your alumni, I’d recommend you invest more in keeping your alumni database updated.
4- Email opens
Email opens can be deceiving. While the open rate may appear to measure how many people actually took action to read your email, the truth is… it really depends on the email client. Some email clients report an email as opened when the images are downloaded, but many popular email clients (like Outlook) have a default setting to disallow images from automatically loading. And if your email happens to be text-based, it won’t be counted as an open, even if the user reads it. Another issue is the preview pane on some clients, where alumni may actually read your email in preview, but it’s not reported as an open.
Click through rates (unique clicks divided by number of emails delivered) and conversion rates (the number of people who sign-up, donate, join, or take the action you desire) are far more meaningful metrics. They reflect the relevance of your email content, the level of alumni engagement, and the overall effectiveness of your email campaigns.
People unsubscribe from an email for many reasons. Lack of relevance. Repetition. Fatigue. Just to name a few.
An unsubscribe doesn’t necessarily mean they are rejecting you, your organization or your institution. Sometimes people are receiving multiple emails from you, and they are unsubscribing to simplify their inbox.
Conversely, many people may be unengaged, but won’t unsubscribe for any number of reasons. Instead, they’ll simply stop opening, clicking or reading your emails, and you won’t have the benefit of an unsubscribe notification. Consider your unsubscribes as good for business because you’re not wasting time and resources. More important, once you have cleared your list of people who are disengaged, you’ll have a more accurate picture of how well you are engaging your audience with your content. Despite our delusions of wanting to be liked by all of our alumni, the reality is, you can’t and you won’t.
A caveat to this would be whether or not you see a spike in the unsubscribe rate (unsubscribes divided by the total delivered). While it depends on the industry, the quality of your list, and the relevance of your emails, unsubscribe rates should remain steady at or below 1-2% per email. If you see a spike beyond that, you may have a problem with your content and relevance.
A rule of thumb for measuring the success/failure of an email is to compare the unsubscribe rate against your click rate. If more people actively disengage (unsubscribe) than engage (click), then it’s time to 1) improve your messaging and offer more relevant content, or 2) improve the quality of your email list. Or both.