The 6 Ways to Measure Awareness Campaigns


Warning, this a VERY important topic to us and we are VERY geeky about it, so… You’ve officially been warned that this article is incredibly long, but worthwhile. Awareness campaigns are a veritable hallmark of the social impact nonprofit sector and the way it seeks to influence good in the world. If a nonprofit’s mission depends on changing hearts and minds, then there is no more important effort than measuring and quantifying awareness.
The main question we look to answer after a campaign has run boils down to: how many humans did we bring from 0 to 1 on this issue?
The complicated part comes when we begin to define 0 and 1, then try to calculate whether that 0 remains a 1. Or in non-data-impact-geek parlance, how do we measure not aware/no care to aware/care shifts in humans and does it stick? Defining this is what we call crossing the ‘Digital Impact Chasm’ and is a must read to extract the most out of this post.

Before you Measure Awareness Campaigns: Define a Goal and Target

A properly created awareness campaign will have a goal and a target audience (steps to setting up an awareness campaign). These should be measurable goals that potentially roll-up into the larger outcomes of the organization. For example, if you’re the National Aphasia Association, your campaign may be focused on increasing the number of people aware of the condition. This might be narrowed by trying to measure the # of people that learn the fact that it is a speech disorder that doesn’t impair cognitive function. The reason why this matters is that it will make the lives of people with the condition easier if others understand the fundamentals. The secondary impact of the campaign may also be to drive people to the website so they continue to support the work of The funnel below may be used as a tool to define how this trickle down from aware to care is related and measured.

The following areas are measurement buckets, a sampler of different approaches that may be taken depending on the outcomes you are trying to achieve. It is not necessary, nor recommended to try to do all of them, rather choose what works from the buffet and don’t let your eyes grow bigger than your stomach.

Awareness Campaign Metrics Glossary

Below are some terms to review before you start measuring. Note that this is meant to be an overview of metrics, not a suggestion that each of these need to be measured for every campaign.

  • Share of voice: Percent of people talking about a topic that are also talking about your brand. IE – People mentioning JetBlue in all “flight” conversations.
  • Reach: Raw total impression number depending on the medium.
  • Mentions over time: Number of people directly referring to your organization over a time frame.
  • Sentiment: Is a given conversation on a topic/brand positive or negative as measured by a semantic text analysis tool.
  • Subscribers gained: People that have opted in on given platforms.
  • Inbound links: Count of the links other sites have to your organization’s site.
  • Engagement rate: Number of interactions that require an action (like a click, share, like, repost etc.) over the total amount of messaging.
  • Brand recognition and recall: Measure of what percent of people associate an organization’s brand when prompted with the category.
  • Brand term search: Direct searches on a search engine of the exact name of an organization, often found in Google Analytics organic keyword data.
  • Cause term search: Searches done for a keyword(s) that represent the topic, found in tools like Google Analytics, Google Trends, AdWords Keyword Planner and Google Search Console.
  • Content resonance: Amount of shares of direct content created by an organization. For a website this may be found through the analytics provided by tools like Addthis or Sharethis. Social media listening tools may be used as well.

Now you’re ready to start measuring the impact of your campaign!

1. Social Reach

Direct Social Reach

This is the measure of your organization’s owned social media channels. The social reach impressions on these channels tend to be the first stop on the measurement and reporting trains because they are so readily available. Every major platform tries to make it as easy as possible to determine this impression and engagement number for posts that relate to your organization’s main account. When looking at these broad impression numbers remember that the quality of those impressions are akin to a car driving past a yard sign at 60MPH. The impressions on platforms like Twitter and Facebook include anytime your post was loaded on a screen, regardless of any engagement.
To extend beyond an impression number and examine actual human behavior, you need to evaluate engagement metrics. In Avinash Kaushik’s blog post on measuring social mediahe breaks down the four critical measures as follows:

  • Conversation rate: The number of replies/comments over post
  • Amplification rate: The number of shares/reposts per post
  • Applause rate: The number of likes/favs per post
  • Economic value: How traffic translates to value-backed goals on your site

Each of these may also be tallied across platforms as a roll-up engagement number to give a 30 thousand foot view of a campaign over a period of time. Some tools that might help measure this across platforms:

Share of Conversation

Conversation and share of conversation begins to look beyond owned channels at the broader ecosystem around a given topic. For instance, might not just care about it’s own channel reach, but how many conversations that mention “Aphasia” and then what percent of that they appear in.
More advanced tools may be used to monitor and measure broader conversation activity around topics:

On Platform Measurement

Unless you are ready to shell out serious dollars for cross platform tracking, the best option is to use the native analytics provided with the individual platforms you’re using. These native analytics are consistently more in depth than third-party tools because they put limits on their data that can be accessed via API. Here are some quick links to learn more about using some of the native tracking for major platforms:

  • YouTube does an AMAZING job showing data for depth of plays, minutes watched, demographics, geographic regions, and sources of views. This is a very underutilized tool for organizations that share video PSA’s and messages online. Here is a clear guide on using YouTube analytics:
  • Facebook has the most robust analytics platform of all the major players because of their access to personal data. Their demographic and interest data are very accurate and can give a great idea of the users your campaign is attracting and resonating with. The reason why they offer this up for free is because they want to convince you to advertise with them.
  • Twitter has purchased a number of analytics companies in order to beef up their tweet tech. The analytics view offers info on demographics, geographic regions for followers, and interests of followers.

2. Traditional Media

Traditional print, in-home and outdoor advertising is not a specialty of Whole Whale’s, so we won’t pretend to be experts on this. However there are a few digital tricks to consider layering into a classic approach of keeping track of all articles and placements in a spreadsheet.

3. Reputation

Reputation can be a soft metric based on perception and anecdotal evidence of how your organization is referenced at conferences or in general conversations. Here are some more tactical ways to think about and measure reputation.

  • Book/Paper references with Google Scholar: This tool will help you search references of your brand or topic across all of the published works that Google has access to. This metric will not shift very quickly over short intervals, however, for large brands this can be a great way to monitor how academia might be using them as a case study.
  • Reputable Source References with Google Search Console: As mentioned above, Google Search Console will show all inbound links to your site as well as the keywords and pages they are referencing. If your campaign’s goal is to become the reliable source/voice for a certain term, this is a great way to track how online news outlets are referring to you.
  • Documentary Film impact, Harmony-Institute project Story Pilot: This tool is perfect for looking up media and documentary film impact across broad awareness metrics. It also provides excellent frameworks for how to shape an awareness reports.    
  • Target Audience Awareness with Google Analytics: All traffic is not created equally, for instance, if you are trying the change the minds of U.S. college students, why would you care about traffic from India? This is exactly what happens when a broad website user or sessions number is used as a proxy for awareness. If your campaign has a target audience like college students, government officials, age demo, or regional demo, you can use Google Analytics segments to filter and measure that performance.
  • Social Reputation with, All retweets and reposts are not created equally. If you are trying to be the trusted voice on a topic, then it follows that the influencers around that topic should be mentioning your brand or resources. These tools may be used to research who those influencers are, then you can create a list of these people and track engagements with these influencers as a measure of reputation.
  • Branded topic reference with Wikipedia Stats: Every page on Wikipedia allows users to see the number of times it has been accessed over time. If you are trying to bring awareness around a branded concept you don’t own like a warlord, celebrity, or disease you can track this interest in pageviews. More on this in our next section!  

4. Search & Interest Volume

If your awareness campaign is trying to bring attention and comprehension around a specific issue nationally, there are few better measures of this awareness than this type of search volume.
Looking at demonstrated interest around a topic through behaviors like search and information discovery can be very helpful indicators. Search volume on Google is an excellent indicator of aggregate interest as it serves as a reflection of the world’s quest for information. These data have been able to predict elections and the spread of the flu. In the example of tracking the flu, people who think they have the flu search for “flu symptoms” in the same way that someone curious about Aphasia might search “what is aphasia?”

  • Google Trends for term interest: Google trends shows relative search volume around a topic including changes since 2004 and regional incidence. The trend data also reveal related searches as well as news mentions. This provides a powerful way to benchmark how a topic’s interest is shifting over time – though your organization’s causal relationship to this might be questionable.
  •  Google Ads Keyword Planner for topic keyword interest: The Google Ads platform offers more exact monthly search volume. This search volume allows for a more specific understanding of the awareness of a term. It also allows your campaign to set targets for increasing search interest in a numerical way and directly compare it year-over-year.
  • Using Facebook ads tool for market size: Facebook ads have a tool that lets you find estimated audience sizes against tons of attributes including demographics, geographics, psychographics, cause interest, and wealthjust to name a few. This can be a powerful tool for benchmarking your market size of people you are trying to reach. For instance, the number of people that care about strokes in Florida might be a good baseline goal for people that should know about aphasia for a Florida campaign. This may then be used to set a target for awareness and possibly, if used in the right way, serve as a way to measure a shift in awareness as audience sizes shift over time.
  • Wikipedia Topic ViewsEvery page on Wikipedia allows users to find the pageview volume of that page. This is an excellent proxy of knowledge seeking behavior, people that actually land on a specific wikipedia term page are clearly looking to learn about that topic. This can be added to a broad awareness and interest metric if you are trying to get the public to learn more about a topic. For example, if you are, you can’t expect every person searching to land on your site, or that they are even going to learn about the topic. However someone going to the Wikipedia page for aphasia is definitely trying to learn about the topic and those data can be tracked over time:
measure awareness campaign aphasia wikipedia

5. Site Traffic

The goal of many campaigns is to drive people to a website and then to do a specific behavior. The best way to track these behaviors is through a properly configured Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager Account.

  • Direct traffic, Direct traffic is the measure of users/session that type in the domain of the site directly into the address bar. This is a great proxy for brand awareness – people that know and ask for your brand by name.  
  • Organic Traffic, Depending on the awareness campaign you are running, the main traffic drive might be through a topic people are searching for. If the goal is to capture market share of people searching, there is no better metric than organic traffic.
  • Goal Behavior, Traffic is useless if it isn’t achieving the goal behavior of the campaign. Whether is it reading a page for 3 minutes, registering as a volunteer, signing up for a newsletter or donating – goals must be configured to understand how users are actually behaving on a site.

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6. National Survey

National surveys for target populations can be a great consistent measure of a broad awareness assuming they are done with a large enough sample size and scientific rigor. uses annual awareness surveys to discover the base level of people that are aware of the disease and in 2016 they were able to see that this rate is roughly 8.7%Assuming they continue to grow their awareness campaigns, they will hopefully see this number increase as a result of their efforts.

  • Create unbiased questions: Consistent and unbiased questions are critical to gathering the right data. Asking the wrong, leading questions in a survey will guarantee that the data collected is unusable and at worse guide the organization in the wrong way.
  • Create a national survey with There are many polling companies that can work with your organization, but our favorite is because of their audience targeting, interface, and professional support. Once the survey is done we recommend creating a summary page report on the findings so they may be shared, here is an example from our national Aphasia awareness survey.

  • Cause recall: Organization/brand recall. Another way to gauge awareness is to do surveys that look to measure brand awareness. Here is some more thinking on this:

Now What

By now you may be properly overwhelmed. The goal of this article is to show you what is possible for measuring an awareness campaign – not suggest that you need to be measuring everything. Us this as a shopping list of measurement ideas and tools that you may employ depending on the type of impact the campaign is trying to have.
When you’re ready to present it, we recommend Google Data Studio or custom branded presentations that clearly present one insight per slide.

A Challenge to the Premise of this Article

measure awareness campaign ice bucket challenge

This article is based on measuring the tactic of awareness campaigns. This tactic usually relies on surges of attention and investment from the organization over a defined period of time. As the ability to measure the net effects of these campaigns increase, it is worth challenging the idea that short sprint campaigns are better than longer, sustained campaigns. Many nonprofits rely on the awareness month and divert all of their capital towards it simply because it is what they have always done. The question is: has this been tested against dividing this capital by 12 and invested in a sustained effort?
The following is a chart of “ALS” search volume from Google AdWords. In Jan 2017, the level of searches were about 23% higher than in Jan 2014, prior to the #IceBucketChallenge that drove millions in donations. As a thought experiment, assuming this was a planned investment, do you think a goal of search awareness would have been better achieved over time as a sustained campaign? (Spread vs spike). 

I hope a deeper understanding of our metrics will help us start testing assumptions in the sector that are taken as gospel. That we might start doing digital campaigns because they work, rather than the fact that it is simply what we’ve always done. As you refine your measures, consider how you create measures that indicate whether a fixed or extended campaign returns greater results.

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