Mastodon, Nonprofits, and the need for *some* kind of basic analytics to help justify spending time and resources
December 08, 2022
Why aren’t there more nonprofits using Mastodon? Why aren’t there more small businesses? What is taking these organizations so long? Shouldn’t they be already here?
These are questions I’ve seen raised repeatedly on Mastodon, and I’ve been asked directly about some of the organizations I’m involved with.
One challenge most nonprofits have was highlighted over on Reddit when Ben Jancewicz asked a question in r/mastodon:
Among many other things, I run social media accounts for large organizations.
Many of these large organizations are moving to Mastodon.
These organizations require reports; they want to know how their account is performing. Things like new followers, reshares, clicks, that sorta thing.
Is there an analytics.twitter.com but for Mastodon?
His question was unfortunately answered with a lot of criticism, and initially many “down votes” (which, on Reddit, can reduce or remove the visibility of a post).
I answered at some length… which became the basis for this post.
I think some folks in the thread were confusing the request for info *about the performance of your Mastodon account* with advertising and surveillance. But the question was NOT about ads or tracking visitors. It was about just getting very basic engagement analytics - which unfortunately are not readily available right now on Mastodon.
Having being involved with nonprofits for many years (as an employee, volunteer, board member, donor), there are some simple realities about nonprofits and communication / marketing:
- Most nonprofits don't have much money.
- What money they do have comes from donors who are giving to the organization to advance the mission of the organization and expect their donations to be spent for delivering on that mission.
- Most donors (and boards) do not view "talking about the organization" as part of the core mission. It is viewed as "administration" or overheard.
- Therefore most nonprofits have small communications budgets and teams.
- This often means that engaging with people on social media is handled by a very small number of people (maybe only one or even part of a person's time). Similarly, they often have a small IT team... or may not have any at all and use an external vendor.
- Those communications staff are usually buried in work because they are being asked to do so many things to communicate about the organization.
- With limited time and budget, the nonprofit needs to prioritize their activities to where they can engage with the most people in order to advance their mission.
- The nonprofit needs to justify to its donors why it is spending time / money on any activities.
Think about it… if you donate $100 to a local nonprofit organization helping feed people in your region (a food shelf, food bank, food pantry, etc.), most people would ideally like as much of that $100 to go to FOOD, versus to communicating about the organization's services.
But... the organization NEEDS to use social media / networking to communicate to potential audiences, to help people learn about its services, to find volunteers, to attract more donors, and just to engage with the community around it. Most nonprofits *want* to be part of their larger community, whether that is regional or global.
Centralized services like Facebook and Twitter make this easy because they can provide all sorts of stats and analytics about how many people see your content, how often things are shared, etc. They even provide nice charts and trends over time. You can go back to your donors and board and say "by spending our time/$$ in posting to Facebook, we've been able to reach X people. They have further shared our info with Y more people. We've had Z people 'like' our content, so we know at least that many people are seeing our info. Our account has been followed by N other orgs in our community/region", etc.
Of course, the platforms provide this info because they want to sell you ads, but even if you never buy an ad (because you may not have budget), these analytics help you justify WHY you are spending time on the platforms. You have a measure (which may be inaccurate, but it is *a* measure) that you can relay.
So if the person involved with social media wants to expand into using Mastodon, they need to be able to justify to their donors and board about WHY they are spending their time setting up a Mastodon account, sending out messages, interacting with people, etc.
The donors and or board will have questions like:
- how many people are you reaching?
- how many people are learning about the organization?
- are you spending our money wisely?
- or are you wasting our money experimenting with something that isn't going anywhere?
- shouldn't you be spending your time on Facebook or Twitter where we can know how many people are seeing our information?
With limited time and resources, nonprofit staff have to be able to justify any use of their time. 10 minutes spent on Mastodon is 10 minutes NOT spent on some other social platform.
One common reply was that “these organizations should just run their own Mastodon server!” Running your own Mastodon instance may be possible for larger nonprofits with IT teams, but may not be for smaller organizations without any IT support. Even then, the information you get may or may not be useful (I've not administered a Mastodon instance, so I don't know). And with posts/toots being federated, I'm not even sure what server logs would realistically show, since the posts are being viewed on servers all across the Fediverse.
Ultimately, if we want more nonprofits to move off of centralized services like Twitter and move over to decentralized services like Mastodon and the rest of the Fediverse, we need to help those nonprofit staff be able to justify why spending their time on Mastodon is a good thing! Hopefully over the months and years ahead, tools will emerge to help with this kind of information.
For the moment, I think the only option is what Anil Dash suggested in a thread that nonprofits need to view using Mastodon as a future investment.. but the question is whether resource-starved nonprofits even have the staff time to do that.
P.S. While I focused on nonprofits, you could equally say this for small businesses, just thinking of "investors" (which could just be the owner) instead of "donors".
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