This year’s theme for the European Summit on Measurement, “Digital and Traditional Media: Collision Course or a New Co-existence,” is emblematic of what is so challenging in today’s communications environment. It demonstrates two faulty premises:
First, digital and traditional media have already collided. Most of my US clients have seen their media coverage flip recently—from 80% traditional 20% social and online, to 10% traditional and 90% social and online. That’s right: 90% of their coverage is now social and online.
And secondly, as far as coexistence goes, PR will be lucky if it gets even that. And this is because there are still too many PR managers and bosses who see social media as just a different form of the New York Times. And they attempt to use it and measure it as such. These PR dinosaurs are being pushed aside by a battalion of community managers, digital content creators, social media managers, marketers, and customer champions. To them, PR is relatively unimportant because PR is wasting its time thinking it can control this environment. (Of course, many PR people do actually understand that you gain more from listening and letting go than you ever will by attempting to control, see “Study: PR Gets Higher Marks Than Advertising for Social Media Use.”)
Global Standards, Six Different Ways
The folks in Lisbon have set an intriguing, if perhaps impossible, agenda: “Moving towards a global standard of social media measurement.” I wish them luck. I’m already working with six (yes, six) other groups to develop similar guidelines, and I know exactly how difficult setting standards can be. Each one of those groups has a different definition of standards:
- Within the IAB and WAA crowd the debate is whether we should be using “unique visitors” or “unique browsers” to quantify the “reach” of any given post. (I go with unique browsers.)
- Among a number of Linked-in groups the question of a social media equivalent of AVEs is still open for discussion. (Here’s a not-so-subtle hint about the answer: It’s not going to happen.)
- Media content analyzers are debating:
- whether an item from a content farm should be included (it shouldn’t), and
- whether a story that shows up twice in 72 hours is a duplicate (it is), and
- whether “balanced” should be a component of sentiment and if so would it be considered desirable or undesirable? (It should be and it is desirable.)
- Within the Sentiment Analysis crowd the debate is around an acceptable standard of accuracy.
- And for still other groups the question is, “What is a real definition of engagement or influence?”
I’ve been working on these sorts of things for the better part of the last two decades, and the one thing I’ve learned is that there is no “standard” metric. The best you can hope for is that everyone agrees to the measurement equivalent of “Brush Your Teeth Every Day,” “Be Nice to Your Mother,” and “Thou Shalt Not Kill.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of standards. I was part of the effort that created the Barcelona Principles. And while I may have once believed that they didn’t go far enough, I am now convinced that their adoption is a critical milestone in the history of public relations.
We have to recognize that every group jumps into the standard-setting fray with a slightly different agenda:
- Monitoring companies want a standard that is easy to implement and is acceptable to clients.
- Agencies want a standard that will make them look good in the eyes of the client and is acceptable to the COO or whoever controls the budget.
- Web analytics managers want a standard that is easily repeatable and defensible to the marketing types.
- Marketing types want a standard that is easily understood by product managers.
- Meanwhile, the client just wants most of this stuff to go away and leave them alone. They want an easy answer.
Unfortunately, like any situation where people’s views, opinions, and agendas are colliding, there is no easy answer. If you take a strong stand, believe in your principles, and call for boycotts for those who don’t comply with your standards, then you draw the ire of those with other agendas. If you just go along with whatever the client wants, then you end up never changing anything because big client organizations are notoriously resistant to change. And if you go with the flow and hope it all comes out okay in the end, chances are it won’t.
As with any big overarching goal, it probably isn’t going to get solved in a day or two with one or two people and some grandstanding headlines.
The real work gets done in living rooms, conference rooms, board rooms, and back rooms, over months of listening, accepting, rejecting, and bargaining. In the end, the best we can hope for is that we will all at least agree to brush our teeth and not kill each other.
Katie Delahaye Paine is CEO of KDPaine & Partners, a company that delivers custom research to measure brand image, public relationships, and engagement. Katie Paine is a dynamic and experienced speaker on public relations and social media measurement. Click here for the schedule of Katie’s upcoming speaking engagements.