MPK Note ~ Darin Grimm, a family farmer in northeast Kansas, grows corn, soybeans, wheat, sunflowers on 2000 acres with 1100 head of beef cattle.  Darin loves technology, particularly data related to improving the decision-making ability for agriculturists, having been involved with precision ag tools for a number of years. In the last year, his interest in technology has attracted him to analytics of social media.  He wrote this guest post in response to a question posted on #AgChat, a weekly streaming moderated conversation on Twitter.  I applaud him for taking the initiative!

“How do you measure the number of people reached or the success of #agvocacy through social media?”  @debbieLB (another farmer on Twitter) asked this question and it  gets my personal vote as the best #agchat question of the year.  (MPK note: “#agvocacy” is a ‘hashtag’ used on twitter to talk about agricultural advocacy –  see the archive of this Jan. 5 chat that had more than 1000 messages over two hours.)

First, I want to touch on the idea that “we don’t need data/metrics this is “social media”.  While true that success is far more than a numbers game, I will argue that there is significant value in having some type of measurement system to judge performance and identify the best areas to focus improvements.  If you are part of an organization that requires measured results to justify a budget or time commitment this is even more true. A few of my favorite tools include:

Bit.ly A nice place to start looking at data and metrics.  You can create an account, link it to your twitter account, and than when you add a link and tell bitly to “shorten it” it creates a link that is much easier to share on Twitter.  The important thing is you can view data on how many people clicked on your link in real time, as well as over the past week/month or overall.  Bit.ly stores all the links you shorten with the service so you can see the click results of various links over time.  One unique way I use Bit.ly, often times I will want to gauge popularity of a webpage link I see on Twitter that I am not interested in tweeting myself.  You can easily go to the webpage, copy the address to Bit.ly, shorten it, and watch traffic.

Google Analytics If Bit.ly is a nice place to start, Google Analytics is the power hitter.  Unfortunately, with all that power comes what can be a steep learning curve.  Google Analytics measures traffic to your website, and can tell you a lot about how people are using your website, how they are finding your site, even down to the specific search terms they may be using to get there.  One challenge for some in using Google Analytics, you must insert a bit of code on each of your web pages, which can be intimidating.  There are many good resources around the web for learning the tool, but I recommend this  very useful piece on Google Analytics.

Twitter Tools So many tools, focus on a few that benefit, such as Tweetdeck, Tweetstats, and follow an account such as @twitter_tips.  Or, you can take a look at this list of over 50 tools.

The first step is learning to integrate these tools into your routine and decision-making process, using the data appropriately. The second step is even more difficult;  understanding that most often the data only fine tunes and focuses your personal passion/work.  It would be a mistake to let the data drive too much of what you do.  I will use Bit.ly and a small personal example here.

When I first started on Twitter with only a handful of followers, I tweeted out a link to a new ag video site.  I was shocked as I got several re-tweets (forwards) of the video resulting in a total of over 90 clicks (tracked on Bit.ly) at a time when most of my posts would get 2-3 clicks at best.  From that, I could summarize that I should focus on providing links to video content like this.  But if that is the take home message I am using the data VERY incorrectly.  It is not my personal goal on Twitter to get large numbers of clicks around topics that really don’t interest me that much.  My passion is numbers/data, and even though the audience may always be small, it is where I want to personally focus.   Now that doesn’t mean that there was nothing to be learned by the high interest in the video link.  As an example, it might indicate that there is more interest than I expected in something like a training video on how to put Google Analytics on your site.

Key points for you to take home:

1)  Know there is a plethora of tools regarding tracking and measuring results
2)  Start slow, don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to do it all at once
3)  Don’t let the data take away from your enjoyment of social media.
4)  Take advantage of the social network you have, ask questions, look for advice, share!

Just remember “Data gives good managers the tools they need to succeed”, it alone will never do the managing for you. Hopefully this helps you take advantage of the opportunity social media offers farmers to tell their story.

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