No Such Thing as a Stupid Question: Making the Case for Analytics and Optimization

by Sean Arayasirikul, Guest Blogger for the Network for LGBT Health Equity at Netroots Nation 2011

E-mail and websites are powerful tools to organizing action online. They make information available quickly and massively to an endless universe of users. But, what does it take to make your e-mails more effective? Does layout matter? Do pictures matter? Do specific words and phrases matter? Is the registration process on your organization’s website streamlined to keep the momentum going? Or does the registration process ask for too much information, dampening the fervor? How can you nudge more of your stakeholders into taking action? What are the best practices in communicating online?

Many sessions at Netroots Nation 2011 seek to not only provide perspectives on answering some of these technical questions, but also connect you to resources. This post will help make the case – and hopefully, begin a series of discussions at your organization – for integrating analytics and optimization as a part of your organizational culture; hopefully, it will help you create YOUR OWN best practices.

What does analytics and optimization mean?

Analytics and optimization are types of formative research, conducted like experiments and tests. It uses your stakeholders – the people who are on your e-mail lists, those who visit your websites, your supporters – as a living, social laboratory to ask questions about the inner workings of your communication and online strategies.

How can it help you?

By designing experiments and tests to answer pointed questions, data is collected to help inform specific tactics and strategies. For example, you may want to know which of two subject lines in your next email blast is more effective in getting people to sign on to an online petition. You might design a test that sends these two emails with different subject lines to randomly selected users in your e-mail list and see which subject line leads to signing the petition. If you find that one subject line is associated with a 50% gain in petition signatures, using that subject line with your entire e-mail list will yield your desired outcome – CHANGE AND ACTION!

I want to do this! Where can I get more information?

Check out these organizations that provide training and technical assistance on these topics and can help you analyze and optimize your online tactics and strategies:

Peruse this white paper by the New Organizing Institute on experiments in online advocacy research (

Explore and get started with Optimizely ( on conducting experiments with your websites.

What’s the bottom line?

  • Testing is a culture, not a bunch of arbitrary rules.  You will need to foster a cultural belief in the benefits of formative research, valuing curiosity and experimentation.
  • The online environment is BUILT for testing. Because this type of data collection is cheap, plentiful, and easy to act on – make use of your social laboratory!


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