In the quest to engage alumni, alumni organizations are constantly seeking innovative methods. However, it is crucial to use the right metrics to measure progress, as using the wrong ones can lead to a distorted perception of success or failure.
Regrettably, many metrics only provide a partial view of the situation, while others are simply deceptive.
Having worked closely with both large and small member organizations for several years, I have compiled a list of five digital marketing metrics that alumni organizations should avoid using.
1- Social Impressions
When an alumnus comes across your page or social media content, it's a huge assumption to think that they actually absorbed any of it. The metric of "impressions" on Facebook and Twitter only measures the number of times your content was displayed in a member's news feed.
Unless your main concern is branding rather than engagement, the "impressions" metric is essentially useless. When it comes to alumni engagement, what matters is action, not just visibility.
However, I must admit that Facebook's viral impressions may provide some valuable insights. It counts the number of times your content was displayed in a story that a friend has republished. 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. This metric seems to be a much more effective way to measure engagement.
2- “Likes” or “Favorites”
I find it a bit embarrassing to still be discussing the ineffectiveness of the "Like" and "Favorite" metric, but I frequently come across groups boasting about the number of likes they received on their social media posts. Avinash Kaushik, a renowned digital marketing expert, refers to these actions as the "applause rate," but they are nothing more than a superficial measure that may make you feel good but doesn't provide much insight into your audience.
I understand that having more likes may increase the visibility of your content in your newsfeed, but as a standalone metric, it doesn't necessarily correlate with your conversion rate. It doesn't indicate whether alumni are actually clicking through to your website to sign up for events or engage with your organization.
Clicking "like" is a simple and safe action that has little to do with measuring true engagement. On the other hand, sharing or retweeting content reflects amplification and requires a stronger commitment, which holds more meaning for your organization.
3- Total emails
The number of email addresses you have is useless if many of them are undeliverable or junk emails. Quality emails are more important than quantity. To ensure quality, focus on delivery and engagement rates. Manage your email list by monitoring open rates and tagging unengaged addresses. Send separate emails to unengaged recipients with incentives to engage. Send frequent emails to engaged recipients. If your organization delivers emails to less than a third of your alumni, invest in updating your database.
4- Email opens
The measurement of email opens can be misleading as it depends on various factors, such as the email client being used. Some email clients consider an email as opened when the images are downloaded, while popular clients like Outlook have default settings that prevent images from automatically loading. Additionally, if your email is text-based, it may not be counted as an open even if the recipient reads it. Another issue arises with preview panes on certain clients, where alumni may read your email in the preview without it being reported as an open.
Instead of relying solely on email opens, more meaningful metrics to consider are click-through rates (which calculate unique clicks divided by the number of emails delivered) and conversion rates (which measure the number of people who take desired actions like signing up, donating, or joining). These metrics provide insights into the relevance of your email content, the level of alumni engagement, and the overall effectiveness of your email campaigns.
Unsubscribes don't always mean rejection; they can be due to reasons like lack of relevance, repetition, or fatigue. Some people may unsubscribe to simplify their inbox, while others may simply stop engaging without unsubscribing. Considering unsubscribes as beneficial helps clear your email list and gain a more accurate understanding of audience engagement. A spike in unsubscribe rates may indicate a problem with content and relevance. Comparing unsubscribe rates to click rates can help measure email success/failure and guide improvements in messaging, content, and email list quality.