by Bill Paarlberg, Editor, The Measurement Standard
A lot has happened in public relations measurement in the last ten years. Google Analytics, Twitter, Facebook, Second Life, YouTube... Heck, at the turn of the century, blogs and and automated content analysis were hardly off the ground.
It's easy enough to make a list of this or that that has changed. It's a bit trickier to try to identify the themes behind those changes, to try to understand why the changes are happening. What we've done here, with the help of many readers, is to isolate the really important ideas that have shaped public relations measurement over the last decade.
First, here's a big "Thanks!" to the many readers who responded to our Call for Ideas. Most of you will find your thoughts worked in below. (And thanks to the NY Times, for the idea in the first place.) And for the rest of you readers, now that you have this in front of you, no doubt you have your own ideas about the big ideas. Write them right into the comments, or let me know directly.
Take a good long look out over the public relations measurement landscape. It may be hard to see the forest for the trees -- what with all the controversies, upheaval, new media and technology -- but the fact is we are getting better at measurement.
Most of the rest of the Big Ideas below have to do with improvements in what we do: faster, more accurate, more closely related to business outcomes. Despite the rough spots, the big picture is that measurement has become far more common and far more in demand than it was ten years ago.
Give yourself a pat on the back.
- As Carol Taska Smith, General Dynamics C4 Systems, writes: "What a difference a decade makes! In 2000, I was collecting hand-cut news clips, filing and forgetting them... Between 2004 and 2006, clips became 98% electronic and I pushed the limits of Microsoft Excel to crunch my data... My eureka moment came in 2006 [when I began using a] dashboard. Tracking was quick, data entry was efficient and the ways that data could be analyzed kicked our organization’s credibility up a notch."
And it's not all ground-breaking ideas:
- William J. Comcowich, President & CEO,
CyberAlert, Inc., focuses on the steady improvement of existing measurement techniques:
1. Selective measurement. Measuring only from a custom list of publications, not all clips.
2. Monitoring/measuring in relation to competitors
3. Low-cost tools for measurement, resulting in more extensive use of measurement in mid-size corporations
Still, there is a long way to go:
- "Many of us know we should be [measuring] but we never get any time or budget for it. We need cheap, easy, and foolproof. Complicated and costly won't do. (And I would rather not be quoted by name on this...for obvious reasons.)"
The big, big, big, industry-changing social media revolution affects just about everything and everyone. If it hasn't become your job over the last decade, it's become part of how you do your job. In his book Twitterville, Shel Israel claims that Twitter enables a new and more productive kind of business communication. Its digital nature means it ought to be easier to measure. Right?
- Jim Macnamara, Professor of Public Communication at the University of Technology Sydney (and a regular contributor to The Measurement Standard) says, "Social media measurement [is one of the big ideas] because it provides first-hand feedback from people and data is available in real time and often for free."
- Says Mike Robert of Booz Allen Boston, "We’ve seen an enormous move of brand measurement into the realm of social media – almost as a real-time or quick pulse on brands. My favorite go-to example of illustrating this trend is a tweetfeel search of Virgin America in comparison to United Airlines."
- Richard Krueger, Chief Conversational Officer, Samepoint, LLC: "The next generation Web 2.0 enterprise services are going to leverage social media data in new ways. Social media monitoring will transform from keyword search to real conversation mining."
But not everyone has drunk the Kool-Aid...
- Marina Vujnovic, Monmouth University, and Dean Kruckeberg, University of North Carolina at Charlotte: "...the question remains whether... [corporate] communities created by using the new social media make a truly virtual public space,... or whether these media are just another means to obtain feedback on the organization’s behavior...”
As far as my teenaged daughter is concerned, everybody now uses their phones to do just about everything: text, surf the Internet, access entertainment and do a good part of their work. But back at the turn of the century, online public relations measurement systems offering 24 / 7 data and do-it-yourself analysis were mostly just a twinkle in the eye of forward-thinking measurement vendors. Today, it's the rare measurement service that is not delivered online.
- Online means it's easier to measure ads, as Isabel Walcott Draves, Strategic Consulting, points out: "...you simply cannot do this article without talking about the shift in ad buying from (unmeasurable) print ads to (measurable) keyword ads on the search terms. It affects PR deeply for several reasons - not the least of which is that it could become a replacement for some forms of PR.
But there's a dark side to the online revolution, too. It's meant harsh times for the Times, and most any other print medium chained to the printing press. According to Editor & Publisher, almost half of the newspaper jobs in the US have been lost in the last ten years. (This just in: After 125 years of publishing, Editor & Publisher is suspending operations.)
But it's not just old school mass media that's been shaped by new technology.
- Shel Israel has a great post on the death of live blogging, done in apparently by the "faster, easier, shorter" Twitter: "...it has occurred to me that this faster, easier, shorter way of reporting through "live tweets" has replaced the longer, deeper, more thoughtful social media form, that of live blogging. It has done so in a very short period of time and my sense is something is being lost."
Does "faster, easire, shorter" also mean emptier? Is there some kind of speed / insight tradeoff that plays out as newer, faster social media are developed?
- Says Steve Maimes, Salam Research: "People are focusing on quantity only rather than quality. The quantity of [media] and resulting outcomes has increased - but, quality of media / ideas is the same. If we have one hour of time to spend: we can read hundreds of emails, tweets, comments, opinions or we could read only one that truly moved us because of excellent quality."
Proctor & Gamble's announcement that they will begin paying for engagement is just the most obvious development in the trend toward measuring truly useful and concrete business results of public relations. (See Big Idea #7 for more on engagement.) And now with PRSA on the outcome bandwagon, change is really coming.
- As Rob Schweers, APR, Senior Communications Consultant, Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, points out: "...the biggest idea concerns what not to do in PR measurement… [Especially] using ad equivalency to measure PR results. Moving away from ad equivalency represents a cultural shift in media relations... It has helped usher in a new, and more appropriate era of a) using PR to build relationships with your stakeholder groups where they live; and b) creating more focus on how PR can help drive business goals."
- Michael C. Sheward, APR, President, Management Communications Strategies, also chimed in on the topic: "This last decade hopefully was the one in which we've sworn off measuring results by a stack of clips... let's really analyze content and reach. Who published our news and how well or thorough did they do? What were our failings in defining the real news elements of our releases?"
- David Geddes, Geddes Research & Strategy, wrote to exhort us all to remember some basic measurement wisdom:
- Measure at multiple levels. PR measurement is not a synonym for media measurement. Despite what people say, (and Katie Paine is often guilty of this in my opinion :-) ), they revert to measuring PR activities and outputs. We need to continually stretch the scope of PR measurement to include, and here I adopt the conventional IPR Measurement Commission terminology, measurement on at least three levels -- outputs, outtakes, and outcomes.
- Set measurable objectives and derive metrics from objectives. ...start with setting measurable PR objectives, and then move to setting up a measurement program. There is a great new paper... on the IPR web site on this subject."
Who would have thought that a discipline that depends on numbers for its very existence could suffer from too many of them? We started the millennium yearning for more data to work with. Today, thanks to Web traffic stats, social media Tools-of-the-Week, and automated data collection of several kinds, we are up to our eyeballs in raw -- or at least seriously undercooked --information. Not only are we baffled by the smorgasbord of online-enabled metrics, but over the last decade just about every measurement vendor has come up with their own secret sauce.
- As Ed Moed says: "if we can't really understand what's behind the score, metric or analysis, then how do we know what's being fed to us is even correct? There are too many technologies that can't be verified to provide accurate outputs or outcomes..."
- Says David Hallmark, SEO Coordinator, CrystalVision, Inc.: "Buried under mountains of data we search for a question, when in fact we should ask the question first, then seek the data that answers it. Many clients... become overwhelmed with the mountain of data presented and often leave frustrated. Or worse, leave angry seeing a dip in page views without regard to for example seeing a 2x increase in time on page. Measuring for the sake of measuring is a waste of time and energy unless there is a purpose or question behind tracking the data you track or at least view."
Dashboards are as old as steam-powered automobiles, but, as the antidote to data overload, they've taken on a vital role in sorting out the clutter and reducing the overload.
- As Katie Delahaye Paine says: "I’d have to say the single greatest contribution to measurement is Google Analytics."
Once on the egg-headed fringe of the industry, the idea that measuring public relations is actually measuring public relationships is gaining more and more traction. With new data availability, new emphasis on outcomes, and a growing interest in PR as strategy (rather than churning outputs), measuring relationships has become more appealing and more possible than ever. (Full disclosure: Yes, I edited Katie Delahaye Paine's book "Measuring Public Relationships." Could that have affected my thinking here? Sure.)
And now that people are understanding that measuring engagement is actually a simple, and easily quantifiable, case of measuring relationships, we can expect much more new interest.
- As Linda VandeVrede points out, "...we’re now assessing eyeballs individually, instead of en masse... With social media, we engage with individuals, and we measure our results by individuals, one by one."
- But David Geddes warns: "Beware of the 'engagement' hype. Engagement is a hot term, but I share the view of Avinash Kaushik that engagement alone is not necessarily an outcome worthy of real PR measurement.
The current economic woes mean that measurement feels more pressure than ever to deliver results that make business sense. This is a good thing, because the PR person who demonstrates business outcomes has set themselves a seat at the proverbial table.
- Jenny Schade, President, JRS Consulting, Inc. (and regular Measurement Standard contributor, see her most recent article here) points out that, "We can't afford to just do good research -- that's a given. Our work has to support selling products and services. I see clients focused more than ever on conducting research that moves the business. Consumer studies aren't about 'exploring perceptions,' they're about identifying how to increase market share. A communications audit doesn't measure readership of internal communications vehicles, it determines how to mobilize employees to drive the company vision."
- Jay Murphy, Trionia, writes: "...the current big idea is converting measurement into business results. The tools... all continue to evolve – but the last mile in analytics is provided by intelligent analysis that can tease out the critical next steps to optimize online marketing... Business school grads have analytical and communication skills. Learning real world business and how to make the most impact takes time – but with aptitude and the proper mentoring can be learned quite rapidly."
- Bob Batchelor, Assistant Professor, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Kent State University: "The most important facet of measurement this decade is that the industry still struggles mightily with measurement -- not only within communications, but also in "selling" value up the executive ladder. There is a fundamental misunderstanding between most business leaders and communicators regarding PR return on investment. At its heart, neither side is confident of the measurement methods currently in place, despite Web-based innovations. This barrier between business and communications leaders is debilitating and will continue to plague the industry until more steps are taken to educate executives about the importance of communications.
Thanks again to everyone who sent in their thoughts and ideas for this article.
Bill Paarlberg is a freelance editor and illustrator who has edited Katie Delahaye Paine's newsletters, including The Measurement Standard, for almost 20 years. See his website www.paarlberg.com and his blog Illustrating Portsmouth.