Social media – trying to put context to numbers

Apologies for the rambling nature of this post – I wrote it to try and sort out my thoughts on this subject, and rewrote several parts as I went along. I hope it still makes some level of sense!

In my last blog post, I talked about getting more into the statistics for social media at work, because all of our output is now digital. However, I’ve begun to realise that the numbers don’t really tell you what you think they do – if there’s no context.

Many people will tell you that the number of people who see a tweet (reach), don’t count for much. Plenty of people will see a tweet while scrolling through their newsfeed and not care about it at all. So, you’d assume that it’s engagement that means something – likes, comments, retweets. To quote this article by SproutSocial: ‘Engagement is easily one of the most important social media metrics any company can track… A quick glance at your engagement rate should be enough to tell you whether your efforts are successful or not.’


One thing I’ve experienced in work accounts is that you get a group of supporters who engage with you on a very high level. They retweet everything, reply to everything. Very often they are heavily connected to your organisation. The problem is, if they’re retweeting – could that be said to be artificially increasing your numbers?

To return to that SproutSocial article ‘While likes are a sign that your customers appreciate what you have to say, a retweet shows that your followers really value your input.’ However, if you have people who are retweeting/liking your post, and they are doing it completely sincerely, but they are going to do that to your tweets regardless of content, what is the value there?

This feels like a really tricky situation, and I haven’t yet figured out how to resolve it. Perhaps that’s because I feel that people invest a lot into their social media accounts, so placing a ‘value’ on someone’s account seems – offensive? However, on a business level, you need to know if your brand, messaging and content is penetrating beyond an immediate social content.

So, this actually brings us back to reach. If you assume that some level of your reach is always due to your regular retweeters, because they are showing them to the same audience of their own followers, by going through your analytics to see which individual posts have higher reach levels, you can then find out if this came from an unexpected account. Again, the actual raw number of  reach doesn’t count, so thinking on through this as I write, the number that counts is the reach above average level. So, that’s something to get working out?

April. Predictions, Poetry, Proof

Today I realised that it’s been over a month since I last wrote anything here. That particular fact doesn’t bother me, I’ve left this blog for longer periods than that before. I think what bothers me is how little I’ve wanted to write anything – because, well, what do you write in a time like this?

People with more experience than me in marketing and the arts have written some excellent blogs that sum up where our industry is at. I can definitely recommend Sam Freeman’s ‘Arts Marketing – So What Do We Do Now?‘ and David Jubb’s ‘Time to Change‘.

However, there have been plenty more blogs, articles and opinion pieces that have simply frustrated me. Everyone is rushing to predict what we will be doing in three months/six months/twelve, and it will be so different/much better/much worse than where we are now. The fact is, none of us have any idea from the relatively short amount of time we’ve had (six weeks, people!) since the UK began to shut down, how audiences patterns; consumer patterns, have changed and will change.

So, in terms of work right now, everything that I’m currently doing is in the online sphere. The organisation I work for has been running creative projects via social media, which has meant trying to balance that kind of content with the overall direction of our brand. It’s also been an ongoing exercise in seeing where people engage best with that kind of content (Twitter, as it turns out – it’s much better for conversational sharing than Instagram/Facebook) and doing some bits of experimentation, with IGTV and with Facebook stories.

Elsewhere, we ran our first ever entirely online event – a poetry slam run via Zoom, and streamed on YouTube. There were technical hitches and issues, as there always are in such things, but if you have a few moments to watch a little bit of it I’d definitely urge you to. The audience and participants rallied round to make it a really nice evening. Since this was also an event advertised entirely via digital means (e.g. Facebook/Google ads, eshots, organic social and listings sites) I’m also grateful to other cultural organisations and news sites who helped us to cross-promote it.

Elsewhere in my work I’ve been spending far more time than I normally would going over stats – from social, from our website, and in as much detail as possible. We’re taking this time to try lots of new things, and so we need absolutely clear data on what has and hasn’t worked. There will be ongoing issues with this (what benchmark do you compare it to? What really proves audience growth/change?) but if we really are going to be in this digital-only state for the long-haul, we’re going to have to figure all these things out and prove that we’re doing things as well as we can.

Actually Getting on with Google Analytics – Notes

At the start of this month, I posted about going back over Google Analytics, specifically going over some of the videos for beginners. Obviously a lot of stuff has happened in the world and in my job since then, but now I’ve got a bit of free time to start looking at these. (Don’t worry, I haven’t been laid off! Just working from home for now, and using up some leave as well.)

This playlist has fourteen videos, and this morning I went through the first seven of them to start off with. A lot of it was stuff that I’m already familiar with, but it’s always good to go over these. I’ve made some notes as always, which I’ve written up below. I’ve also linked each video

Welcome to Google Analytics

Google analytics is about setting up the stages of buying and the purchase funnel – it’s harder to see these stages in the digital sphere than in the physical environment. With Analytics you can spot where problems occur, how the path from discovery to loyal customers runs, how to create better marketings with provable data. Analytics can cover mobile apps, games, CRM system etc as well as websites, and can compile it on one dashboard.

Overview of Data Collection

I already knew some of this with regards to adding the tracking code to each page to see info about users. But I didn’t know that sessions end after 30 minutes inactivity. I did know that you can filter out data like internal company views, which is always useful to remember.

The Analytics Account Structure

Tis video is really useful to see how multiple accounts could be organised, which is something I’ve personally not done before. Also, exactly how properties work was good – I have used multiple properties before, but it’s useful to see how Google describes the layout.

Navigating the Full Audience Report

It was useful to be reminded that goals and e-commerce will only work if you’ve set up those separately. This one also goes over the summary views, which I’m pretty familiar with.

Introductions to Dashboards and Shortcuts

This one was useful! Definitely one I want to come back to, to help me collate all the most useful metrics on the account at work in one place. I also learned that you can share and download dashboard templates in the Analytics Solutions Gallery, so you can get dashboard designs which other people have found to be the most useful.

Finally, there was Audience Reports Overview, which I didn’t write any specific notes on, as it was more of a quick run-through reports which I’m already familiar with, though it does give some good suggestions on how you could use audience data to refine your marketing – for example, considering different language support on your website if you’re getting a lot of hits from a particular country.

So, I’ve gone over the basics and picked up a few extra tips. At some point soon, I’ll make sure to watch through the rest of the videos, and write up a part two of notes to make sure that I’ve got a record of it.


Beat Beethoven – Fundraising and Running for Sport Relief

This Friday 13 March, I’ll be heading down to Salford Quays to do a charity 5k with a bit of a difference.

In Beat Beethoven, runners need to complete the 5k course in less time than it will take the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra to perform Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which they’ll be doing live in the studio at MediaCityUK (and broadcasting it live on Radio 3). A quick google through some existing Beethoven 5 recordings suggests that the average time is around 33-35 minutes, so while I run 5k quite often, this will need to be a little speedier than normal!

Beat Beethoven is in aid of Sport Relief, an event which raises money to help vulnerable people in the UK and abroad. The larger part of my run entry is already going towards the charity, but I wanted to set up a Justgiving page to try a get a little bit extra donated, if anyone would like to donate. You can find my JustGiving page here.

You can also find out more about Beat Beethoven (and join in via the Radio 3 broadcast – even if you can’t be at MediaCityUK, you can do your own personal run) here.


Image BBC Radio 3

March Update – Finally getting to grips with useful Analytics

I’ve not been reading, studying or posting much these past few weeks because I’ve been busy getting to grips with a new job role, but I’m now starting to figure out where the gaps in my knowledge might be in that new role, I know how to start solving them going forward. Plus, spring is finally on the way (I think?) so I’m feeling a bit more energetic and keen to learn!

A big one has actually turned out to be Google Analytics. I have used Google Analytics plenty of times in the past, and even been to a few Google Garage sessions, but I’m discovering that I’ve only used it at a basic level. Now, I’m in a position where I need to be able to critically evaluate campaigns and customer journeys through a website right from first entry to buying something – and figure out how best to test and improve it. So, I’m going to be spending some time this week going through Google’s Analytics course videos, and making sure that I’ve got all the basics down.

After this, I might start looking through some of the Google Garage online courses, and getting a better grasp on some elements of e-commerce tracking.

Is Twitter really managing fake news?

This is a post that I’d originally intended to be just a couple of tweets, but, ironically given the subject, Twitter decided to not load on my laptop… so I’m popping my thoughts up here instead.

Techcrunch has published a very interesting and substantially detailed article on Twitter’s recently announced ‘manipulated media’ policy – basically, Twitter’s new attempt to highlight and label posts featuring misleading, fake or manipulated media, in an attempt to clear some of the overall poor reputation that social media platforms have for quality control.

You can find the article, which goes into some of the details of what Twitter considers to be ‘manipulated’ and how it judges the content here: ‘Twitter’s manipulated media policy will remove harmful tweets & voter suppression, label others‘. It’s absolutely worth reading.

The most interesting part is the actual wording of the policy. The policy has a lot of ‘may remove’ or ‘likely to be removed’, which the article suggests gives Twitter leeway in how it enforces the policies. This implies that Twitter might be intentionally enforcing the policy selectively, but I think it’s a different kind of get-out-of-jail free card.

Twitter as a company knows that it can’t possibly police every piece of content on its site. Part of that is down to the sheer amount of uploaded content, part of it is down to the limitations of the machine algorithm, especially if it lacks the context for a particular post from a particular user, and part of it is that users will always, eventually, find a way around the algorithm.

The article concludes that we’ll have to wait and see whether Twitter has taken on board the past criticism that it has received for managing these issues. I would be interested to see how much this new system actually affects Twitter content on a day-to-day basis for many people, and whether they have to alter their policy wording in any way to deflect criticism, since whether or not the system works, their automated and human moderators are going to be hard-pressed to keep up.



Cultural Exchanges and the European Parliament – Meeting MEPs


A board in Brussels Charleroi Airport celebrating the 2019 European Parliamentary elections

Yesterday (Wednesday 22 January) was my last day in Brussels meeting with MEPs at the European Parliament about keeping close ties between the UK and EU after Brexit, in particular looking at how free movement can be preserved, especially since our arts and cultural industries rely a great deal on close ties to Europe. 

You can read my account of the meetings we had with MEPs on Tuesday 21 January here, and my initial post on issues around Brexit and the arts here. 

Since the Tuesday post was so long, I actually had to leave out quite a bit! As well as the meetings, we also were able to attend a set of presentations around hydrogen fuel as a potential green energy source, first from lobbyists with the WWF, looking at specific industrial uses for the fuel, and how they could work with the existing gas industry, then from researchers at MMU on how they are creating resources for schools to teach about hydrogen fuels and their uses as part of their main science curriculum. There were a number of Green MEPs in the room who asked some quite searching questions about the research and industry support behind it – getting to see a bit of behind the scene European Parliament work in this way was really interesting, even if it was a long way from my reasons for visiting.

We also had a presentation with some details on how the EU works – how the parliament votes, how the different cross-parliament political groups form, what they can and can’t legislate on. It’s certainly true, if a bit embarrassing, that most people from the UK couldn’t properly explain the difference between the European Parliament, the European Commission and the European Council (differences that are taught in schools in other countries) so it’s actually a requirement that all groups visiting the EU Parliament have to learn a bit of this! 

Meeting with Terry Reintke

Now I’m all caught up to Wednesday, where we had one meeting with an MEP, German Green Party member Terry Reintke. Like the other EU MEPs that we met, she expressed her sadness at the UK MEPs leaving, as apparently many of them are considered extremely hard-working and have a big presence on various committees within the European parliament.

Terry has been involved in setting up a friendship group for current EU MEPs and soon-to-be former UK MEPs to keep in touch – she already has a list of 75 MEPs and would like to sign up at least one from every member state. In addition, she wants to make sure that they can be a point of contact for UK citizens living in EU countries, especially with the current levels of mistrust around the withdrawal agreements. 

She believes that, in particular, keeping the Erasmus programme going is vital, and this led on to a great conservation about the importance of cultural exchanges in keeping close and positive links with European countries. My father was at the meeting and talking about his (and my) volunteering work with sail training organisations, and in particular about Sail Training International’s Tall Ship Races, which has spent years bringing young people from different cultures and backgrounds together to a commons goal.

Overall, it feels like much of the EU understands that there are many people in the UK who want and need a close relationship with our European neighbours, and there are many MEPs who are happy to help facilitate this as far as they can, but we and they recognise that the final decisions are down to the UK government. Getting the chance to meet MEPs, and to give facts, figures and testimonies on how free movement will benefit all of us was an immense privilege, and I hope that when added to all of the stories, reports, analyses and more about the effect of Brexit (on all walks of life, not just the arts sector) it might help in some way.

I’d also like to say a big thank you to all of the MEPs and their staff to took time out to arrange meetings and talk to us, in particular Gina Dowding, Green MEP for the North West, who sorted out our group visit and passes. I’d also like to say a big thank you to the EU Civil Service, who showed us round parts of the Hemicycle building and gave a great presentation on the inner working of the EU Parliament and European Council. I’m so glad that the UK team members over there are getting to keep their jobs, but I’m sad that more talented British and Northern Irish folk won’t be able to join you any time soon.


This preserved section of the original Berlin Wall sits in a park next to the parliamentary buildings – a reminder of hard borders past.