You know how important it is to measure the results your nonprofit’s online communications produces. However, which metrics really merit your attention?

According to Chris Brogan, author  of Social Media 101: Tactics and Tips to Develop Your Business Online, only two online yardsticks matter:

  • how much revenue you generate
  • and the number of e-newsletter subscribers you sign up (or lose)

Along with my colleague Cecilia Bianco, I had the chance to hear Brogan speak in May at Authority 2015, a conference that teaches people how to create more compelling content.

Brogan’s message about the importance of revenue is hardly news. Most nonprofits have long used websites and other online channels to receive donations, recruit members, and sell event tickets, publications and services. No organization could operate for long without the dollars those activities bring in.

But Brogan’s point about the importance of e-newsletter subscriptions may surprise you. Is he implying that you should you abandon your Facebook, Twitter and social media accounts?

No–don’t give up on social media, Brogan told the crowd. Just don’t pay so much attention to number of likes and followers–instead, use it to drive people to your website and then find ways to engage your visitors in order build a relationship that endures.

The best way to create those lasting relationships? Your e-newsletter.

According to Brogan, you need to persuade people sign up for your e-newsletter and provide them with a steady stream of useful, relevant content that address their interests and needs.

Here three reasons Brogan shared in his talk about why an e-newsletter trumps social media every time and why newsletter subscriptions are your most important online audience metric:

Social Networks Come and Go

Facebook has 1.4 billion members, LinkedIn 347 million, and Instagram 300 million. Will they be as popular in 10 years? Perhaps. It’s also possible one or more of these and the other top sites  will go the way of Friendster, MySpace, other dead social networks.

Once someone gives you their email address, however, you have permission to talk to them directly. And no worries if newsletter provider goes out of business or you change vendors. You can easily download and transfer your readers’ data.

The Rules Can Change Overnight

How much interaction do you see these days on your nonprofit’s Facebook page? Unless you buy ads from Facebook, probably very little at all. In fact, one survey earlier this year found that the typical company Facebook page engages less than three percent of its followers.

If a reader gives you an email address,  however, you can build your own one-on-one relationship. And as long as your content remains relevant and provides value your subscribers will stick with you.

There’s No Better Way to Measure Engagement

Constant Contact, MailChimp and other e-newsletter vendors allow you to see who among your subscribers opens your content, what they click on, and where they forward your messages. No social media or web analytics tools offers these kind of individual insights. This information also lets you better understand your audience’s interests because you can see the material people read or ignore.

Need ideas for how to boost subscriptions to your nonprofit’s e-newsletter? Problogger has a terrific list of practical steps you can build an email list.

How has your nonprofit grown its online audience? Share your experiences and ideas in the comment section below.