We talk a lot about reach. When it comes to marketing our non-profit organizations and associations, we want to know about impressions, clicks, and reach. These social media metrics can help us feel good — especially if a piece of content is shared widely.

Many people take the information you provide, and may even share it with their networks. But what are they doing with the information? Are they using it to take action? Is the knowledge being translated into something useful and truly impactful?

In my research, I found that there’s plenty of great information out there. In fact, I did a study for my Ph.D. dissertation looking at how information is shared in non-profit organizations — and whether it made an appreciable difference. What I found is that there’s an action gap when it comes to social media engagement and actually putting knowledge to work.

What is the Action Gap?

The action gap is that space between “What a great idea!” and actually implementing programs and systems that will actually result in a change in behavior or shift the way an organization gets things done. Just because you shared a piece of knowledge, it doesn’t mean anyone actually did anything.

This action gap is one of the fundamental issues we need to overcome in our non-profits. We focus a lot on big social media reach numbers. We want something to go viral. In fact, we love it when something goes viral. Even seeing a slight bump in reach in Facebook’s reporting gives us a thrill. We call it social media engagement and pat ourselves on the back.

But in the long run, mere reach isn’t sufficient if we’re talking about changing the world — or even just getting one more donor or encouraging a program director to adopt an effective new approach to managing volunteers.

One of the issues we see is related to the fact that there tends to be a segment of the population that feels that sharing information on social media is taking action. They send information on, and it continues to spread, but nobody’s actually doing anything about it.

Overcoming the Action Gap

Rather than just looking at reach and impressions, it makes more sense to actually look at other social media engagement metrics. And not just time spent on a page, either. How far did someone scroll down? Are there conversions? What made people actually do something like click the “donate” button or fill out the volunteer form?

On top of sharing information, it’s important to follow up. If you share an interesting article with your organization, your job’s not done. Yes, you can see who opened the email. But does it matter if no one did anything? When you share information you think is potentially important, it’s vital that you follow up. Ask key people for their thoughts. Encourage them to brainstorm ways to implement the ideas you shared. Then, ask for an action plan that allows your organization to move forward in making a change.

When you share a piece of information on social media, check back. There are analytics programs that can help you figure out who spent time looking at the information, and who engaged with it. You can then use that information to create new audiences and refocusing your message.

Next, when people actually do take action, such as filling out a form, make sure you follow up quickly. Capture them and their energy as early as possible. Put them to work.

There’s always going to be an action gap. However, if you want to make a bigger impact, bridging that gap is essential. Don’t assume that sharing something that gets a wide reach is the end game. Impressions don’t count for anything if no one takes action.

Going viral is only the first step.