Higher ed communications leader (and Alumni Futures advisory group member) Charlie Melichar periodically speaks about social media's place in advancement. At a conference in 2010, an audience member asked Charlie about "getting more alumni to spend time with our Facebook presence."
Don't worry so much about whether a few more people spend two minutes a day with your Facebook content. Get the people who already spend two minutes to spend a few more minutes a day. Don't focus solely on ROI. Focus on ROA – Return on Attention.
Charlie urged us to make our existing supporters' experience more rewarding, instead of only trying to attract more fans and more followers.
At the 2012 CASE Summit, I had a moment of clarity about why this made sense. Charlie was on stage again, this time discussing technology with MIT's Sherry Turkle. She had just described how technology can isolate us from one another, hindering genuine interaction. The discussion sparked my memory of Charlie's earlier remarks, and I suddenly realized why I found his advice appealing. In a nutshell:
Measuring ROI means assessing the value we get from our investment in online engagement.
Measuring ROA focuses on the engagement's value to our audience.
You should assess whether your organization is using its resources wisely, and ROI is one way to approach that.
However, "return on attention" puts the audience first. That's a worthwhile goal for those of us trying to connect with our audience in ways that matter to them.