John Kelly and Ken Deutsch, Morningside Analytics
Social media can be the handiest new gadget in an organization's tactical toolbox -- but how can you be sure that the time and dollars you are investing in it are really paying off?
Some goals can be pretty easily quantified -- such as dollars raised, actions taken, or members recruited. But what about equally important intangibles, such as increasing your organization's influence or shifting the public debate on your key issues?
Social network analysis can help you determine whether you are making an impact in these areas and help you more effectively target your efforts. Using network analysis strategically can you help you stretch your budget -- and enhance your effectiveness.
Social network analysis looks at the relationships between individuals and/or groups to understand how information and ideas are moving. This can tell you how widely your message is spreading and if it is spreading to the right audiences.
Morningside Analytics focuses on blogs, a publicly discoverable and vitally important component of social media. Examining blog data, we analyze which messages are most effective with specific audiences and which of those are going viral. We also analyze the information sources used by different types of bloggers, the key to impacting discussions on your issues.
So where do you start? Let's use a case study of how organizations are influencing the health care debate.
1. Defining the Network
There are millions of blogs online, from those hosted by highly influential media personalities to high school students communicating with their friends. The first step in applying social network analysis is defining the relevant part of the network to examine. To create a health care policy network analysis, we developed a list of semantic markers of the discussion, including words and phrases, specific URL's and tags (both blogger defined and user defined), to identify the 6,000 blogs most focused on health care policy.
2. Mapping the Network
Once we identified these blogs, a map was created (diagram 1) using a “physics model” algorithm to visually cluster the blogs, represented by dots, into “proximity clusters” or network neighborhoods. In the map, each blog is represented by a dot. The size of the dot is the number of other blogs that link to it, a crucial measure of its prominence. A general force acts to move dots toward the circular border of the map, while a specific force pulls together every pair of blogs connected by a link.
3. Identifying Attentive Behavior
Next, we statistically analyze blogger behavior to find groups of blogs that link to similar things online. We call these groups Attentive Clusters (diagram 2). These clusters are represented by different colors on the map, and given labels based on the kind of information they link to.
4. Determing Organizational Influence
Now that we have a map, we can look at where we are -- and figure out how to best get to where you want to go. In the next maps, we examine the impact of organizations based on which blogs are using them as sources. The maps show that the SEIU (diagram 3) and the AMA (diagram 4) are strongly influencing the debate, but each impacts different parts of the network. A closer look at the data reveals the media outlets, blogs and allied organizations that either organization could tap as potential avenues to expand their support. While some organizations use such data for targeted advertising campaigns, others turn to direct outreach to increase their impact on parts of the map where they would like to enhance their profile.
5. Tracking Messages
Tools such as Technorati and Google Trends can measure how messages are moving across the Internet as a single whole. But measuring how messages are moving through the specific network clusters -- or target audiences -- allows organizations to differentiate between mobilizing existing supporters and reaching new ones.
The same is true for individual pieces of content -- you can look on YouTube to see how many people viewed your video, but are they the audience you wanted to reach? To see how videos are playing across different audiences you can check the Political Video Barometer at http://www.shiftingthedebate.com/shifting/videobarometer.html
6. Measuring Impact
While a single social network analysis provides a snapshot of how an organization and/or an issue is positioned to influence a social network, measuring changes over time allows an organization to track the impact of its actions. Through measuring changes in links and looking at the shifts in language used within targeted clusters, organizations can expand and adjust their tactics as their campaign progresses.
It's now common practice to measure the effectiveness of a direct email solicitation, and make adjustments as needed to enhance your effectiveness. As social media continues to evolve, new strategies will be available to effect greater impact. Organizations with the best measurement tools in place will be those best positioned to take advantage of these techniques.