Measuring communications for higher education has special challenges and opportunities. If you are just getting started, it’s best to focus on the basics…
1. Agree upon how your efforts contribute to the business goals of your institution.
While each institution may have its own goals and metrics, there are certain KPIs that university presidents live and die by. The president of almost any university can tell you off the top of his or her head their ranking in the US News and World Report survey, their alumni donor rate, their retention/graduation rate, average SAT scores of their incoming freshpeople, and their discount rate (the difference between full tuition and what students are really paying).
Your budget lives and dies by the same statistics. So what you need to figure out is how your communications campaign/PR program/social media effort, etc. contributes to those metrics. Sit down with your boss and your president and get consensus on what role you play in achieving one or more of those goals. Get your goals aligned with those of your boss. And then get your measurement aligned with those goals, too.
2. Get your hands on as much data as you can.
You may already be monitoring your social and traditional media, but stand-alone data really doesn’t tell you very much. You need to compare your media data with conversions on your website to see what’s driving true engagement, and add in budget data to see where the efficiencies are. To get those answers you need to get data from Google Analytics or whatever platform you’re using. If you haven’t set up goal conversions, do it now and track them going forward. (Watch our video to find out how to set up goal conversions in Google Analytics.)
Agree on a definition of engagement that includes a time as well as pages per visit and anything else you feel is indicative of a potential donor or applicant moving down the journey towards revenue. Set up tags and specific URLs, like those for admission applications, that are key to business goals. You might want to add in data from alumni surveys to better understand what motivates them to stay engaged. Other data that might be useful would be social data from recently accepted students and/or the recently graduated: What do they say about the institution? How engaged to do they remain?
3. Be really clear on who you are trying to reach.
Your measurement priorities depend on the size of your institution and the type of students or faculty you hope to attract. Counting up the total “impressions” you are making in social and traditional media rarely has any value unless those impressions are in fact reaching the people you want to reach, i.e., qualified applicants, alumni, or potential funders. So, who cares that you reached 3 billion eyeballs? Very few of them will meet your criteria for a “target” audience. Focus on reaching the people you need to reach in order to achieve your goal.
4. Factor in the cost of your efforts.
Resources are always limited—not just by budget and bodies, but also by the availability of subject matter experts, executive time, and the realities of an academic calendar. So every metric should have some element of cost or resources spent. Typical efficiency metrics are cost per engagement, cost per conversions, or cost per placement. That way you can better allocate your limited resources.
Don’t obsess on the details; use your team’s budget, or the agencies fees as the cost factor. If you can’t get your hands on the budget (and that’s a huge problem right there) assign a rough “resource to accomplish” factor, say, from “Total Pain in the Ass to “Easy-Peasy.” Make a list of all your campaigns, programs, or initiatives for the quarter and force rank them with the highest score being a total PITA, and a 1 being something that really didn’t take many resources at all. Then plot them on a chart like the one below that puts the resource rank on the horizontal axis, and the engagement level on the vertical axis. Voila! You’ll quickly be able to see which efforts got the best results for the lowest resources.