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PBS launches dashboard for tracking social media impact

Katie Donnelly

PBS has launched a new dashboard that allows stations to monitor their social media impact. According to Victor Acquah, Web analytics consultant at Blue Analytics, who helped develop the dashboard, in a recent Webinar, the dashboard allows stations to use "a common set of metrics to help gauge the effectiveness of their social media efforts."

Acquah noted that successful impact measurements start with the ability for stations to clearly articulate their social media goals. Stations should seek an active dialogue with their audiences, not "a one-way push for advertising content."

Public broadcasters recognize the need for consistent, easy-to-use tools to track online engagement. A November 2008 Center for Media Engagement Study found that public broadcasting stations are not, for the most part, using social media very effectively. However, some public broadcasters have done an incredible job of building effective communities, both online and off primarily through smart use of social media. We've written about many of these examples in the Public Media 2.0 Showcase before, highlighting projects such as Flu Portal, Facing the Mortgage Crisis, and Economy Story. The discrepancy among stations is notable—some public broadcasting stations are still struggling to incorporate social media tools at all. And until now, stations haven't had a way to share their successes and failures through the use of a freely available measurement tool.

PBS's new "engagement dashboard" aims to help stations track not only the size of their audiences, but also the level of engagement with the content. It includes measurements from the big three social media tools: Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, combining metrics from sources including klout.net, Facebook Analytics, and YouTube Insights Report.

Specific metrics in the dashboard include:

  • total followers
  • active followers
  • churn rate
  • total reach
  • total mentions
  • inbound messages per outbound message

  • Facebook

  • total fans
  • churn rate
  • pageviews
  • total posts
  • total interactions
  • average number of interactions per post

  • YouTube

  • subscribers
  • churn
  • total streams
  • total interactions
  • engagements per view

Over time, the dashboard will indicate trends, particularly fan base trends and engagement trends, and allow public broadcasting organizations to compare trends with one another. The dashboard does focus only on quantitative data, but stations could certainly find creative ways to supplement the data with qualitative evidence (similar to the WITNESS dashboard that I wrote about previously).

One disadvantage of the dashboard is that it is not web-based, and requires logging into several online systems and inputting data into an Excel spreadsheet. The dashboard unfortunately cannot be dynamic at this point, because not all of the necessary social media outlets have released their application programming interfaces (APIs), which allow developers to custom-build applications that pull data from them.

One participant on the Webinar commented that the amount of data entry in this system "seems like a lot of work." According to Amy Sample, director of analytics at PBS, after users become familiar with the dashboard, the entire data entry process actually only takes about 20 minutes each month. For severely under-resourced stations, however, the even the time it takes to learn the system might be too much.

The PBS dashboard team acknowledged that this dashboard is a work-in-progress that will continue to change over time. As Acquah said, "In the social media space, everything is rapidly evolving, even metrics."