Set Clearly Defined Goals to Make Your Metrics Matter

    by Alexandra Kanik
    February 22, 2016
    Photo by Alexandra Kanik
    Click on the image for the full series.

    Click on the image for the full series.

    This post is part of a special series about metrics that really matter in measuring impact and making data-driven decisions. See the full series here.

    "Without clearly defined goals, none of your metrics matter."

    Have you ever been searching for something around the house? You look under things, behind furniture, between cushions and pillows. And then you realize… you have no idea what you’re looking for.


    This is the unfortunate, common plight of the overworked. Your brain is so busy concentrating on a variety of different things that it loses track of a few.

    I’m willing to bet that not a small number of people are having this very issue with their site metrics and analytics. You’re looking through dashboards full of data — Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, Parse.ly, Chartbeat — and you’re wondering “What am I even looking for?”

    If that’s you, don’t worry, there’s a solution. You need to better understand your goals. Without clearly defined goals, none of your metrics matter. And without clearly defined goals, nothing — not the best analytics platform in the world; the most granular level of data delivered right to your doorstep; the most eloquent, well-written articles on harnessing the power of your metrics — is going to help you make data-driven decisions with those metrics.


    What should my goals be?

    Unfortunately, no one can answer the question of what your goals should be except you and your organization. However, here are some starting points, though:

    • Read your organization’s mission statement: Your organization has a mission statement (or it should). Start there. Likely contained in that mission statement are keywords or phrases that should help you define some goals.
    • Comb through your grant agreements: If you have funders, look through your grant agreements. Many funders have specific requirements that need to be reported on each quarter. These grant agreements are very likely in a less than human-readable state, however, so go through them and compile a more friendly list or readout for yourself and your staff.
    • Poll the staff: Ask your higher-ups and peers what they think your organization’s goals are. If you work at a larger company, you will likely get a variety of different answers. Make sure you record all of these answers and the people who said them. An intra-office survey might be a great way to go about this. Then, go through your replies and list out the important and common responses. Take this list to your next staff meeting or to your boss and try to get some feedback and/or confirmation. It’s important to ask your company as a whole because though your higher-ups are likely up there for a reason, they may not be able to see all the needs of the organization.

    It’s important to point out that there are generally two different types of goals: the public-facing kind and the internal kind. Public-facing goals are the ones you’ll find on your organization’s About page or listed in their mission statement. Internal goals are generally not shared with the public as overtly. They usually (though not always) revolve around making money.

    Once you have a list of your organization’s goals, print it out or make it the wallpaper for your computer. Whether you’re an analyst, a developer, a manager or a reporter, you’re reading this article because you care about your company’s impact. In order to care effectively, you need to be reminded daily of what your goals are.

    Defining goals is the first step to measuring impact.

    What are other people’s goals?

    Internal goals are usually internal for a reason, so it’s hard to know what those might be for another company. But the public-facing ones are available for anyone to take a look at.


    I combed the About pages of more than 50 news and media sites for mission statements. The organizations I choose include but are not limited to*:

    I compiled a list of the mission statements from each site and whether or not they were a non-profit organization. I then divided the list into two lists, one for for-profit organizations, one for non profits.

    By feeding each list through a frequency counter, I was able to get a list of words that each type of media organization commonly uses to define their public-facing goals.

    Here’s what I found:

    • For-profit news and media organizations tend to focus on news (or what’s new) and information. Non-profit organizations are more interested in journalism, reporting and investigations.
    • For-profits are concerned with larger audiences, and speak mostly about their audiences in terms of the world and their own coverage. Non-profits on the other hand talk frequently about their audience as people and communities.
    • For-profits talk about delivering the latest, breaking coverage more often than non-profits, whose interests seem to lie more in addressing issues, specifically in government and policy.

    *I intend to continue to grow and refine this list.

    I need more help

    If you’re still having trouble defining your organization’s goals, there are some informative resources you should probably check out.

    Jessica Clark talks about identifying missions and defining goals in her 2-in-1 Impact Assessment & Metrics Guide produced for the Media Impact Project. In addition to discussions on mission statements and goals, the full guide covers issues around audience identification and metrics recording.

    Screenshot from the Media Impact Project 2-in-1 Guide.

    Screenshot from the Media Impact Project 2-in-1 Guide.

    Steps 1 and 2 of this 5-step guide to understanding impact analytics offer more detail on defining goals through staff participation. In steps 3-5, CIR’s Lindsay Green-Barber also covers using existing methodologies and resources to talk about impact.

    And as always, we want to hear about what you’re doing; what you’re struggling with; how you’re succeeding. Here are some ways to keep in touch with us:

    Alexandra Kanik (@act_rational) is the Metrics Editor/Curator for MediaShift.

    Tagged: analysis analytics for-profit goals impact metrics that matter mission non-profit

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    MetricShift examines the ways we can use meaningful metrics in the digital age. We provide thoughtful, actionable content on metrics, analytics and measuring impact through original reporting, aggregation, and audience engagement and community.

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