“To be Irish is to know that your heart will eventually break” -- Saying on an embroidered pillow that graced my mother’s living room for all of my childhood.
Ireland itself has broken my measurement heart. As always, it hurts more when its personal, and the personal connection to all this is that my great grandmother, Anne Mayne White, arrived in the US from Ireland 120 years ago to promote Ireland at the Chicago World’s Fair. She ran the Irish Industries Association Village at the Chicago World’s fair. Now, the Irish Tourism Board has set the measurement world back, if not into Anne White's era, at least into the previous century. Irish writers have been known for their fiction, but they have invented a fictional metric called “Social Equivalent Advertising Value” and it is truly more blarney than fiction.
Blarney #1: There are standards, and AVE isn’t it.
Author Mark Henry writes “In the absence of an accepted industry standard to assess the value of this beyond simply counting fan numbers, we developed the concept of Social Equivalent Advertising Value (SEAV).” Actually Mr. Henry, a group of us had planned to be in Dublin next summer at the AMEC Measurement Summit presenting the latest, agreed-upon standards. If this is the state of measurement in Ireland, we might want to think about moving the conference. I wonder how Tourism Ireland Board will measure that?
Two years ago, when the same conference took place in Barcelona, we announced The Barcelona Principles, a set of industry standards that was agreed upon by most professional PR organizations. Principle #5 specificallty stated "AVEs are not the Value of Public Relations" -- in other words, in 2010, the profession rejected AVE as a valid metric. Principle #6 was that "Social media can and should be measured." We have been working diligently on standards around measuring it ever since. As it happens, we will probably introduce those standards in Dublin this summer.
Blarney #2: You can’t measure value with a ruler
Henry writes that
“The more a brand message is shared, the more “column inches” are gained and the value of this can be compared to the cost of equivalent online advertising.”
If your goal is to get more column inches, I’d suggest perhaps another bank crisis. That sure generated a lot of column inches. Actually, according to their web site, the purpose of Tourism Ireland is to:
"to "grow overseas tourism revenue and visitor numbers to the island of Ireland."
Nowhere does it describe "generate column inches" as a goal. And nowhere in the description of this fictional metric does it explain how column inches can be translated into revenue. Just because I saw a dozen more column inches I am suddenly going to pull out my credit card and book a trip to Ireland?
Blarney #3: Since when is the goal of social media “column inches?”
Social media is not the "equivalent" of advertising. Advertising is a paid, controlled medium one-way medium. Clearly Mr. Henry doesn’t understand what constitutes value in social media. What he is suggesting is that the recommendation from my cousin on Facebook to join me in Dublin for an extra week around the Measurement Summit is the equivalent of a pop-ad. Or perhaps he believes that when I search for a place to spend a month to write my novel, I’ll pick the tacky place that pops up in a paid ad, over the recommendations of my Irish relatives on Facebook or friends on Twitter? Recommendations, shares and posts among friends are hardly the equivalent of paid anything. And by the way just exactly how are you calculating column inches, because they look a lot longer on my iPhone than they do on my desktop? And how much are you paying for those column inches on Pinterest?
Blarney #4: Column inches and reach are not engagement
“We all know that it’s no longer the size of your social media audience that matters but rather how those people engage with you.”
Okay, that’s not blarney, that is in fact the truest thing in this entire article. But the value of engagement comes not from exposure to a brand, but rather the connections and shared interest that influence behavior. The value of relationships can not be equated to the cost of advertising.
Blarney #5: Ad equivalency is a proxy for revenue
What is so sad is that tourism is one of the most measurable industries. There are a ton of actions that people take on line that are measurable demonstrations of engagement. Many of them lead to reservations, tickets sold and other revenue related value. If the state of New Hampshire can track the value of PR in terms of potential visits and revenue, I would hope that the country of Ireland could. NH's Department of Tourism calculates how many engagements it takes to bring in a visitor and it also knows that each visitor, on average, spends $81.76 every day they are in the state. THAT is value.
What Mr. Henry is attempting to demonstrate isn’t ROI at all. What he is showing is that earned, organic social media may be a more efficient way to generate real interest in Irish tourism than paid advertising. I doubt many would argue with that. But then the value to Irish taxpayers would only be $1.9 million if that money didn’t get spent on less effective advertising.