06/15/2010 06:30 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Networked Nonprofits Know How To Experiment Their Way To Social Media Success

One of the big themes in The Networked Nonprofit, the book I co-wrote with Allison Fine, is the importance of doing low risk, thoughtful experiments. Further, it is important not to frame them as success or
failure but as learning. It's a topic we're eager to discuss with you
June 21 from 1-2 PM PST for the virtual launch of The Networked Nonprofit. Allison Fine and I will talk about social media experimentation and other themes from our book.

Thomas Alva Edison held 1,093 patents for different inventions. Many of them, like the lightbulb, the phonograph, and the motion picture camera,
were brilliant creations that have a huge influence on our everyday life. However, not everything he created was a success; he also had many failures. He also did not find the successful inventions with his first experiment. In his question to create the storage battery, he
conducted 10,000 experiments before arriving at a method that worked.

have to be like Thomas Edison in approaching social media and
experiment. It isn't whether your experiment is an immediate success,
it is more about what you learn about what works and what doesn't. If
you want to be successful using social media, you need to use actionable measurement, reflection, and retierate.  The problem I see all too often is that many nonprofits expect immediate success and at the first "failure" they quit.

Social media experiments are fast, cheap, and scalable. The learning that results
is what brings your more success. Experimentation also helps your nonprofit
organization make decisions based on audience feedback and analytics
data, not your own hunches. This try it, fix it approach leads to
incremental improvements which in turn leads to better outcomes.

Simply put: Failure is not a F-word.

(1) Simplicity Rules:  Your first social media experiments should be very simple and low risk. Try to answer only one question and be zen like in picking your metrics. Your experiment may be as simple as "How much time does it take us to do Twitter every day to be effective?"

(2) Just Do It: Avoid spending so much time
trying to design the perfect experiment with the perfect measurement
tool that you don't actually implement.  Learning means implementation
- even if you fail.   Here's some quick "experiments in a box" for social media and nonprofits.

(3) Test to Learn, Not Validate Your Decision: Don't think
about testing as a way to gather evidence that a decision that you're making is right.  Do it to learn what works or doesn't.

(4) Start with a Hypothesis: Your hypothesis should
embed a success metric.  For example, "My hypothesis is that our
Facebook Fans are more likely to engage with us when we post links that
have a question in the title."  

(5) Make Goals Evaluation Criteria and Up-Front Decisions: It is important to not only identify your success metric, but also establish the criteria to judge a victory.  Don't forget that learning how much time something takes is a victory.  So it knowing that something doesn't work - you won't have to do it again.   Remember too that all experiments look like a bust in the middle.  Don't make any judgments until the end.

(6)  Design Tests That Solve A Pain Point for Your Audience: Design your experiments so they address a point of pain for a customer or audience.  

(7)  Build Time in For Reflection at the End: If you're going to experiment, you
need to analyze your data and learn from it.  Even if your social media
experiment was a miserable flop, there is a lot of valuable learning. I've found that it's not just that we avoid talking about mistakes,
we avoid reflection that leads to breakthroughs.  We never see because we're too quickly onto the next action and haven't taken time to ask reflective questions.

(8)  Testing Cheerleader: It is important to have someone
who can preach and share why testing is important.

Finally, testing should be fun!

How has your nonprofit incorporated thoughtful experimentation for social media?   What have you learned?