Why Digital Health Communication Campaigns Measure the Wrong Things

I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that social media marketers get a little defensive when asked to quantify the ROI on their campaigns.  Often because those at the helm feel social media is asked to defend its use, where traditional media is not, but more frequently the defensiveness comes from an inability to measure.

Those in the non-profit realm are faced with another layer of complexity on top of the ROI question: public health and social marketing campaigns are typically difficult to measure and assign a “dollars saved” amount to, especially for short campaigns.  Despite this, health communication and social marketing campaigns have a greater responsibility to measure our campaigns and we need to do so honestly, accurately and transparently.

I’ve recently been able to review a handful of health digital media campaigns and it shouldn’t be shocking that they were either measured using the wrong metrics or have been declared successes using the right measures, when they were anything but.

Why What You Measure Matters

We are in the midst of a social media bubble.  There are far too many people in the social media field, selling products and services that clients don’t need, or delivering poorly implemented and researched campaigns.

Clients have noticed.

Measuring the wrong metric or declaring a campaign a success on the weight of a single metric alone will no longer hold water, and to be frank, it shouldn’t have passed muster all along.  Working on digital media campaigns in the public interest, we have a responsibility to measure responsibly and report accurately.

Using a metric that is ill-suited for what you’re trying to measure will give you an inaccurate result and when reported to the client, will give them a false impression of the success of the campaign.

How do You Know What to Measure?

Digital media campaigns need to be measured using a variety of different measures, just as with traditional media.  A print campaign wouldn’t be considered a success based on the number of impressions alone, just as a digital media campaign shouldn’t be based on CTRs alone.

You first have to know what the goals of your campaign are.  Are you just trying to drive traffic to a specific website or increase Facebook or Twitter followers?  Do you want to get an audience talking and sharing your message?  Do you want to recruit influencers to act as ambassadors or champions of your cause?

For each of the above scenarios you will use a different form of measurement to quantify the success of your campaign.

What Should We Measure?

There are two broad clusters of measures popularly used to quantify digital media campaigns: ROI and ROE (Return on Engagement).  The majority of the time, ROE measures are used to quantify public health and social marketing digital campaigns.  ROE measures tend to be more qualitative and measure message reach and spread, whereas ROI puts a dollar amount on an action or campaign.

You don’t have to use only one category to measure outcomes, but it’s important to note that ROI and ROE measure different items.

ROI ROE
–       Click through rate (CTR)-       Cost per event (CPE)

–       Cost per follower (CPF)

–       Cost per 1,000 impressions (CPM)

–       Conversion rate

–       Transactions/donations per visitor

–       % of conversation-       Brand/campaign awareness

–       Sentiment

–       Message reach

–       Message salience

–       Comments

–       Shares/RTs/likes/comments

–       Number of followers

–       Unique visitors

–       Returning visitors

–       Engagement rate

Reporting only one or two of these outcomes in isolation doesn’t give a holistic view of a campaign and can actually mislead your client into thinking a campaign was a success or a failure, when in fact, it was the opposite.

2 thoughts on “Why Digital Health Communication Campaigns Measure the Wrong Things

  1. Great blog, and a must-read for all of us who create campaigns and disseminate health messages through social media.
    The question I see asked is another “ROE” measure not on your list: actual behavior change. Being in public health, we are often asked about that. Of course behavior change is next to impossible to measure, at least in the short term, but that doesn’t stop the question from being asked, especially by people who are not enamored of social media and its methods. (Curiously, they don’t usually ask that question about traditional social marketing or health comm campaigns.)
    Any thoughts on how to respond when asked about that?

  2. Hi Curt, thanks for commenting. I get that question a lot in my day-to-day work, and my response is the same as you outlined, “how do you measure behavior change with traditional media?”
    As you said, measuring behavior change is difficult, as often all we have is self-reported information. I think the belief out there is that because people share so much of themselves on social media that we should be able to get more detailed information on behavior change, and that’s not necessarily so. Often people don’t share the type of health related information we’re looking for, and if they do, it’s self-reported, often anonymously online.
    How do you measure that? The same way you do with a traditional media campaign.

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