Disclaimer: I will be revealing in this post the simplistic approach I take to measuring the value of the social media services I run for Plant Science, a botanical service of over 1.5 million type specimens, reference works, art, and other primary sources. I have written about our social media ‘strategy’ before and our use of DISQUS for sourcing data correction and resource improvement (mostly a healthy experimentation with trial and error), but over the last few years a certain pattern has emerged that I consider promising. While this data and patterns might be promising, my use of charts is not so please bear with me. End of disclaimer.

What is ‘meaningful’ social activity around academic content?

The questions many of us involved in social media have, especially at the organizational level, are generally geared towards resource allocation and impact. Is it worth it and what is ‘it’ exactly? Time is money and so this needs to generate an observable phenomena. Logic like this (and organizationally, this is extremely welcome logic) drives decisions. But in this instance, we have a hybrid breed of organizational logic applied to academic investigation. How do we measure impact for services geared towards academic practice?

In the case of the plant sciences database, we (for lack of imagination) identified the scientific process being practiced (collect plants, identify plants, classify plants, preserve plants), and latched onto that practice for dear life. So, our social policy is driven towards

  • data correction and updating (on the site)
  • identifying plants and debating those identifications (on the site)
  • education-telling the word what these scientists are doing and why it is important

But I think different metrics beyond the simple visits, pageviews, and followers is needed to demonstrate meaningful social activity, at least enough to warrant organizational investment. Some of that data is elusive (for me) and many of the measures I will be including in the subsequent graphs are apple/orange comparisons. But it is a start.

Working Assumption: Social Activity as % of Overall Activity is measure of user investment in the site

So basically we have two different kinds of data, the site data (usage of the Plant Science site and materials) and then the social activity around that site and those materials. Two interwoven, symbiotic bits of data, but distinct enough to drawn attention to.

So, my working assumption was that social activity as percentage of total activity would be a good working metric to determine impact. So for the purposes of Plant Science, we are hovering around 8% of social traffic vs. overall activity. We have modest visits and pageview for the site overall (around 35000 visits and 100,000+ pageviews per month). As for the DISQUS and Twitter traffic listed below, this represented significant activity in my estimation as it is a measure of sharing content (Twitter, retweeting or otherwise) or for DISQUS the comments generally represent an investment in improving the site. As most of the comments are directed towards data correction or plant identification (and some genealogical research), I believe this stands true.

What doesn’t really work is the inclusion of DISQUS and Twitter on this chart as it sort of equates all of this activity as equal. It isn’t, but I just didn’t know where else to put it. Over the last year we have seen steady increases in traffic overall (for both the site and the social media services) and an increase in the percentage of social activity vs. overall use. I believe this represents a positive investment from our audience in using the site and, I believe, warrants the resource allocation (ie, my time) our organization dedicated to it. Curious to hear how others are measuring the value and impact of their efforts.

By Michael Gallagher

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

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