In the age of technology, many social media managers are finding there are more and more data points available – both natively and within other tools – to measure social media efforts. But with an increase in data comes an increased likelihood of confusion for managers and their teams. Which data points matter? Are the number of “fans” important anymore? As social media became a larger part of the digital strategy for many institutions, these growing data points have been gathered up, thrown into charts, graphs, and presentations and then sent off to senior leaders to show the ROI of efforts.
But who said this report had to be boring?
Jamie Lewis and Kalena Stull sure didn’t. As members of the Division of Marketing and Communications at the University of Georgia, they spearheaded a templatized and designed social media annual report that looks so good even people who hate numbers will want to read it.
Tackling an annual report can sound like a daunting task, especially because many social media platforms give you only a small window to download data from the previous month. “I set a monthly reminder on my calendar to go and collect all the data whether or not I have enough time to analyze it,” Kalena explained. It’s this consistency in monthly reporting that is the key to an organized and robust annual report.
Data for social media platforms can be found natively, but many accuse it of being inflated or inconsistent. For social media engagement tracking, there are several platforms: HootSuite, Sprout Social, AgoraPulse, RivalIQ, and a ton more. Usually, these platforms have fewer limitations on how much later you can download data, so there’s less pressure to download on the first of every month.
On a monthly basis, Kalena and Jamie organize a dashboard that is shared in their division and with others on campus — all the way up to the office of the president — in order to show off successful efforts, highlight interesting trends, celebrate the wins, and ultimately prove the ROI of social media. The dashboards contain metrics including followers, reach, engagement rate, and peer/aspirant school comparisons. Of course, these variables aren’t the only ones out there. When developing any report, from weekly to annual, it’s important to consider the goals of social media efforts, and then choose metrics that prove success based on those goals. It’s easy to fall back on vanity metrics that make us feel good, but that’s not always the best way to prove social media is supporting the larger goal of the division and institution.
From monthly reporting to an annual report
Jamie and Kalena, like many social media managers, initially developed their annual report as a larger version of the monthly dashboards and sent it off to the same groups of stakeholders they always had. On the whole, it would provide a great deal of numbers, but not a lot of context around them.
“We were already collecting all the data, so we thought, why don’t we just put it in an annual report format?” Jamie said.
The difference between an annual report and a year-end summary
While the idea of an annual report and a year-end summary seem synonymous, there are slight differences in the execution that make it worthwhile to consider when creating a game plan.
The key difference is in the presentation. Specifically, the amount of context provided. A year-end summary is a general overview of yearly trends. This can include increases in followership, top-executing campaigns, and whether or not a goal was reached that year. These summaries are most beneficial for those who are part of the social media production process, because year-end summaries don’t provide the reader a lot of context around the discussion of goals or decisions on how each effort was executed and why.
That’s where an annual report comes in. These reports are much better suited for the “higher-ups” in an organization. They not only show the what, but the how and the why behind the numbers. While a year-end summary is nearly all numbers, annual reports have helpful descriptions of what the numbers mean, the strategy behind the top-performing content, and an overall clearer insight into the efforts from the team over the year.
The end of 2018 was the first year that Jamie and Kalena had year-over-year data, and they were excited for the opportunity to showcase improvements as well as highlight a well thought-out strategy behind the efforts from that year — in part thanks to Jamie joining the team in April 2018.
“We really wanted to flesh it out with the strategy that came with all the data,” Kalena said. For her and Jamie, moving away from a year-end summary was a means of highlighting the hard work done by this new team to important stakeholders on campus, but that wasn’t the only audience. “Our thinking with this report was, ‘let’s go beyond the president’s office,’” Kalena elaborated. “We wanted to show it to other deans and departments to show off the great work we’re doing.”
Before long, the vision for a social media annual report grew into a larger project — incorporating web, news, and public relations efforts. The final product was a well-developed and visually appealing record of the strategy, efforts, and results of the Marketing and Communication team.
Jamie and Kalena also use the annual report as an opportunity to share work with peers in higher education, who were equally interested to see the report. “A lot of people were impressed with the visuals of it,” Jamie mentioned. “We just hope they were inspired to create their own,” added Kalena.
Elements of a great annual report
Whether you like them or not, good data is the core of a good annual report. As Kalena and Jamie quickly realized, it is very important to consistently gather data from all platforms on a routine schedule in order to develop an accurate report at the end of the year.
Because the annual report is read by many different people with a range of understanding about these variables, it is important to consider data visualization to simplify complex numbers and get the point across. Bar and line graphs, pie charts, even visualized maps can be greatly beneficial. Jamie and Kalena teamed up with graphic designer Lindsay Robinson, who was responsible for the format of the report as well as the important task of data visualization. “I wanted to keep the layout clean and make the numbers stand out, but give them a subtle context using iconography,” Lindsay said.
“We’re always asked about the aspirant school data,” Jamie mentioned. These data points have added value because it helps contextualize efforts in comparison to peer and aspirant institutions. At UGA, Jamie and Kalena partner with data analyst Leslie Colvin who manually measures follower counts on major platforms from peer and aspirant schools each month. While a longer process, these data points are invaluable at the end of the year. “It’s so motivating to see how much we’re gaining on our peer and aspirants!” Kalena explained.
Data visualization is great, but without context, others may feel left in the dark. An annual report should provide the details about:
- What the numbers in the report mean
- What the trends imply or inform
- The efforts executed
- The overall strategy for each platform
When considering the words that match the numbers, first identify the most important point the reader should come away with and quickly address it. While it’s important to write up information to provide clarity to the reader, there’s no need to make it a novel! Keep descriptions brief but effective.
It goes without saying that readers are much more likely to want to pick up a clean, stylized report rather than a black and white word document. When designing the report, consider brand colors and fonts. Better yet, team up with the graphic design team to develop a template that can be used year over year. A key feature in an annual report’s design is the use of font, size, color, and style to emphasize important points for the readers. These can be follower counts, increases in engagement, or even increases in rankings over aspirant schools.
It’s easy to pull together numbers and organize them in a report, but there’s more this report can offer to the reader. By including examples of top-performing content, or as a means of summarizing a specific campaign, the reader will have a more tangible understanding of the efforts that year.
UGA highlights the efforts and outcomes of their Digital Dawg ambassador program.
Social media is often boiled down to organic efforts on the “big” platforms, but there are plenty of great things that happen in concert with these campaigns every year.
If your team has a digital marketing budget, an annual report is a perfect means of justifying it (or an increase, am I right?) and showing the ROI of each effort. Plus, these campaigns can be tied up to highlight the overall impact of paid strategy on key institutional priorities in an appealing way.
There are several other efforts that can be featured in an annual report. Consider hashtags, student content, user-generated content, video series, or social-first content. The sky is the limit for these reports, but be sure the information is relevant, contextualized, and doesn’t overwhelm the reader.
Author’s note: This blog post originally appeared on Jackie Vetrano’s blog after an interview with Kalena Stull and Jamie Lewis.