Winning the Internet

Best Practices in Digital Analytics: Using Website and Social Media Testing to Optimize for Virality

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Jim Pugh

Jim Pugh

As we get ready for Netroots Nation 2015, we’re taking a closer look at some of the convention’s most exciting training sessions. We’re interviewing the trainers and taking you inside some of online activism’s most popular and elusive topics.

Today we’re interviewing Jim Pugh of ShareProgress, who’ll be leading Best Practices in Digital Analytics: Using Website and Social Media Testing to Optimize for Virality, with Angelica Morales.

NN15 Training Session

Best Practices in Digital Analytics: Using Website and Social Media Testing to Optimize for Virality
In recent years, using A/B testing to drive more actions from email campaigns has become a common best practice amongst digital campaigners. But most people haven’t yet cracked the nut on how to use A/B testing to increase a campaign’s virality and reach a wider audience beyond their existing email list.

In this training, we’ll explain what virality actually is, show you how you can use website and social media A/B testing to increase it, and go over some real examples of how organizations have done this. We’ll conclude with a workshop where you’ll have a chance to optimize your own simulated campaign and make it go viral.


Q: Tell us about yourself and your experience with digital analytics.

A: I got started with digital analytics in 2008, where I took a break from doing my PhD in distributed robotics and volunteered on the Obama campaign in Chicago. I helped out the team there with A/B testing and data analysis leading up to Election Day. After the campaign ended, I was inspired to do more, and decided to move out to Washington DC, where I ended up running the Digital Analytics team for Organizing for America.

Analytics has remained a big part of my work since then. My company ShareProgress offers tools that let organizations run A/B testing on the social media sharing by their supporters, and we provide consulting services to help progressive organizations use analytics more effectively in their programs.


Q: What kind of things can digital activists A/B test besides email campaigns?

A: You can A/B test just about anything, provided you’re able to measure how people are engaging with your program. But the two big ones besides email are webpages and social sharing. Making fairly minor changes to your webpage appearance can sometimes lead to 15%+ increases in action rates. And in an analysis of Facebook A/B testing done by different organizations, we found that the average difference in performance when testing Facebook headlines was 33%.


Q: What are the two most important things to keep in mind when using A/B testing to increase virality?

A: First, you want to keep a close eye on your “virality ratio.” The virality ratio is the average number of new people recruited by every person who takes action on your campaign, and it measures how much growth you can expect to see. If you can reach a virality ratio that’s more than 1.0, it means you have a truly viral campaign, and you’ll get explosive growth online.

Second, the best moments to use A/B testing are on campaigns that are already doing really well. A lot of people think that if a lot of people are engaging with their campaign, they’ve already achieve success, and there’s no point spending time doing further testing. But that’s actually the most important moment to be A/B testing, because increasing your engagement even a little bit more can mean reaching a far larger audience online when your campaign performance is already really strong.


Q: Why should folks attend your session at Netroots Nation, and how can they connect with you?

A: If you’re ready to go beyond the basics of A/B testing, this training will help get you started on more advanced forms of testing and optimization. Folks are welcome to reach out to me on Twitter if they have questions — I’m @dr_pugh.


To attend this training, or one of the 39 others at Netroots Nation 2015 in Phoenix, register now.

About Melissa Foley

Melissa is the Director of Training and Mentoring for Netroots Foundation and New Media Mentors. She aims to use her MBA + nonprofit background to teach organizations to use new media tools strategically.

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