Earlier this year, a human rights organization put out a call looking for peers who they could partner with in a digital publishing project. We responded to this call by giving them a brief landscape analysis of organizations in their peer set, including our rough estimate of their digital marketing strengths to help them identify the best partners.

We’ll discuss why it’s so important to ask questions like this and look for assistance and guidance among your peers, but first let’s have fun with the data.

We started with a list of 32 human rights organizations curated from public datasets, then researched each of their websites to come up with (admittedly rough) estimates for how much web traffic they receive on a monthly basis. We later extracted basic information about their Twitter accounts, started playing with the data, and came away with some interesting findings…

This chart has three tabs across the top that will let you explore the following:

  • Traffic / Followers: For each organization, how many followers do they have, and how much traffic do we estimate hits their website each month.
  • Log-Log plot, Traffic / Followers: A much easier to interpret manipulation of the first tab that reveals a clear correlation between Twitter followers and web traffic (this is where the real lessons of the data are hidden)
  • A zoomed in version of the original Traffic / Followers tab that makes it easier to explore data for the smaller organizations.

The most compelling result came by comparing an organization’s number of Twitter followers to the amount of traffic we estimate hits their website on a monthly basis. This is a simple model, but even still we found that there is a correlation between Twitter followers and monthly web traffic, perhaps unsurprising but clear. Moreover, there appears to be a threshold in the tens of thousands of Twitter followers, after which the gains in web traffic come faster.

The more we looked, the more we learned, including forming hypotheses about which organizations may have undertaken special efforts to grow their Twitter lists quickly as a way to spur growth in their marketing efforts.

But this is just the start of what you can learn by looking around among your peers. The real fun begins when you start to ask “why?”

Why should you study your peers, and what might you learn?

We were eager to help out on this project, not just to support and encourage the good work they are doing, but because we firmly believe that the nonprofit sector’s best hope for success is through collaborative efforts and learning from one another’s successes.

Nonprofits have been forced to get smart in recent years and result in a veritable arms race of communications and engagement technology. Each nonprofit has developed its own mix of tools and techniques with varying degrees of success. With so many experiments going on around us, it has become increasingly foolish to try something new without first asking a friend.

When you are trying to figure out what your organization should do, your first step should be to look at landscape of organizations similar to yours, understand what they have tried, and whether it worked for them.

What can we know about our peers:

  • How large an audience do they command?
  • How often to they post to social media?
  • What kind of engagement rates do they get?
  • What marketing tools are they using?
  • How do they promote their social accounts?
  • How do they use images and hashtags?

You might already know the answers to some of these about some of your peers, but much more can be learned by conducting a full landscape analysis, which is what we do at the start of many types of projects with our clients. In the case we describe below, we were able to conduct this landscape analysis by scanning data made public by a broad cross-section of the human rights community, however, this can be extended further by conducting actual surveys among your peers. Landscape analyses are not inherently competitive, and systematically reaching out to organizations like yours can spark conversations that may grow into powerful partnerships. At the very least, however, a landscape analysis can help you with good situational awareness.

Situational awareness is an exemplary goal in and of itself, but it’s all the more powerful if you have some specific questions to ask of the resulting data and a plan for what you might do about what you learn.

For example, you might wonder:

  • Should your social team change what they post, or how often?
  • Are there tools you could be using to keep up with the competition?
  • Are there organizations you should consider partnering with to reach their audiences?
  • What experiments might you set up to test the impact of new types of content?

Asking the right question only counts if you can do something with the answer.