Measuring the impact of outreach

It is widely acknowledged that connecting science with the public is a must, and many organisations put significant resources into doing so, but how can we know when these efforts are successful? This article looks at the European Space Agency’s outreach activities for the Hubble Space Telescope to give some guidelines on how best to evaluate the success of science communication activities.

This is an excerpt on social media evaluation from an Euroscientist article written by my ePOD colleague, Oliver Usher, ESA/Hubble PIO with inputs from Lars Lindberg Christensen, Head of ePOD and myself.

Social media has opened the door for science communicators to a world where “the public” is now resolved into individuals with personal opinions. Each individual connects with hundreds of other individuals and creates their own sphere of influence. The potential of viral information is enormous and hard to keep track of, but not completely obscure. Even if the impact of social media is hard to grasp, there are still a number of indicators that tell us if our inputs have results.

For our Facebook page we track the number of fans. However, since everything we post on our page is publicly available to everyone, not only to our fans, people do not have to “Like” our page in order to see them. For this reason, there are other more relevant indicators, prime among them Facebook’s “Insights” service, which provides interesting statistics — for example, in March 2011 we actually had three times the number of ‘post views’ on Facebook as we had visits to our website. We can also look indirectly. For example Google Analytics tells us that Facebook is the second-largest source of visitors to spacetelescope.org, right after Google — evidence of a large community reading news on Facebook and looking for more on our website.

We also look at numbers of monthly active users, and numbers of people responding to or posting on our page, for example with questions or comments. This gives us an indication of the degree to which we succeed in engaging people rather than simply informing them in a one-way process. Facebook also gives data about the gender and age of Facebook friends, as well as the countries and cities where a page is most popular, which can be an important variable if you have a local impact you need to justify.

In the case of Twitter, evaluation is harder because unlike Facebook, it does not have a well-established monitoring service. This has meant relying on simple indicators like numbers of followers or website visitors coming from Twitter. However, HootSuite, a software platform used to manage social media accounts, has recently launched a tool that generates reports on activity and impact. In future, this should allow for more detailed insights into how best to engage with social networks.

Read the whole article here.


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