Everyone Gather Around: Let’s create meaningful and measurable content strategies

Do you create content, measure it, analyze it and still wonder what, if any, impact that content had on your goals?

If you answered yes to that question, you are not alone.

In the majority of organizations we have spoken to, worked with, and now surveyed, there is a disconnect between content creation, measurement, and impact. Communicators, fundraisers, organizers, and senior decision-makers struggle to learn from their broad and varied content programs. The result: misallocated resources, testing the wrong things, poor audience engagement, and staff frustration.

Bright+3 partnered with Echo & Co. to create the Content Survey (you can still take it here) to help nonprofit leaders better understand how to develop and measure content that drives social change.

Our preliminary findings speak to a need to better align metrics with impact. Organizations can identify and use impact-based metrics when they operate from a collaboratively-built content strategy—one that engages multiple teams and diverse parts of the organization.

First, let’s look at some early results of our survey.

Who Took the Content Survey

So far, 67 organizations have participated in the survey. Of that group…

  • 30 are small groups with under 20 staff
  • 9 are mid-sized organizations with 21-50 staff members
  • 11 are large groups of 51-100 staff
  • 17 are very large organizations with over 100 staff

The methods a group uses can affect their content strategy. Most groups that have responded use advocacy and education in their work. Groups also use research, community organizing, policy making, and community service to achieve their mission.

Few Have a Content Strategy
There’s no clear correlation between organization size and having a written content strategy. Twenty-three percent of small groups have a content strategy — the same as large organizations.

Overall, only one in four groups report having a content strategy.

Content Strategy May Mean More Powerful Content

We asked people to assess the power of their content on a 0 to 5 scale. The typical respondent gave their content an OK grade — a 3. Those with a written content strategy rated their content a more powerful 4.

This is not a scientific analysis but rather an unqualified self-assessment based on an individual definition of powerful. But we think it’s a useful data point worthy of more exploration. Did you create a content strategy in the past two years? Have you seen greater impact from your content work?

How Do You Measure Success?

Content strategy or not, what matters most to any group is how their content helps them achieve their mission. We asked people how they measure success and what more they really want to know about their content. What we found is encouraging—there is a lot of analytics work happening in the sector—but also challenging. Despite having data onhand, people report not knowing if (and how) content is shifting audience behaviors and decisions.

The good news is that most groups are tracking multiple sources of content data. Nearly everyone follows pageviews, likes, and shares. And it’s encouraging that about half of respondents report tracking content-driven outcomes, such as donations and new subscribers.

On the flip side, most respondents, regardless of whether or not their organization has a content strategy, have big questions about if (and how) content is helping them meet their goals. We asked people to tell us about the one thing they wish they knew about their content but don’t. Here’s some of what we heard:

  1. “How it leads to real change—does it change hearts & minds?”
  2. “The direct connection between content and outcomes (and vice versa)”
  3. “If it’s helping us advance our core outcomes”
  4. “Better tracking. Where does it go? Who does it reach? Do they take it further?”

We Create Content. We Track Content. But We’re Not Sure If It Matters.

As many of our content survey respondents indicated, just because data exists and we track it, doesn’t mean we’re learning what works.

Analyzing, interpreting, and talking about content data doesn’t mean we’re measuring mission-related outcomes such as donations, actions taken, calls made, members attending a meeting, and votes.

Not all the data we need comes from pageviews, shares, and other analytics typically bundled with our content and social media systems. Jay Baer notes that these consumption and sharing metrics give a sense of reach, but lead generation and sales metrics should also tie to content. Beth Kanter has written about a similar four-sided content measurement rubric in the past, also (see image to the right).

Everyone Needs a Great Content Strategy (and a Great Content Strategy Needs Everyone)

This four-sided metrics approach not only ties to outcomes, it also engages multiple parts of the organization in a learning-based approach to content strategy. Often, content is seen as web pages and social media posts. It’s given to digital or communications staff to manage.

A broader set of content metrics reflects a wider organizational base for content planning and strategy. Revenue and leads (or their nonprofit counterparts like donations and prospective donors, volunteers and activists) assume a role for fundraisers, member services teams, organizers, and others.

Organizations that want to create powerful content that works hard on their behalf should be very clear about what impact and success look like and measure for those in meaningful ways. There are LOTS of tools to do that measurement, analysis, and reporting.

Too often, what’s missing is agreement on impact, success, and strategy. A content strategy is one way (though not the only way) to help make that happen. A collaborative content strategy also supports measuring, analyzing, and iterating content in a more timely manner.

We will continue digging into the challenges and opportunities of connecting content with impact. Let us know what you think about content measurement and check out a presentation of initial results from the Content Survey here.

Ted Fickes
founded Bright+3 in 2011 to focus on advancing progressive, people-powered campaigns, nonprofits and startups with innovative content and data strategies. You can follow Ted on Twitter @hayduke and Bright+3 @brightplus3.