Climbing the Message Analytics Ladder: A Step-by-Step Guide to Measurement

[Editor’s Note: This article was excerpted from PR News’ PR Measurement Guidebook, Vol. 5. This and other guidebooks can be ordered at ]

A publishing revolution is under way. Barriers to producing and publishing content have been lowered, and anyone with a Twitter account or blog—heck, anyone with Internet access—can impact your brand’s reputation. As a result, an unprecedented amount of content is being created, posted and shared by the masses.

On an average day, more than 55 million updates are shared on Facebook, more than 27 million tweets are sent and more than three years of video content is uploaded to YouTube. These trends reflect a publishing revolution involving the mass creation and dissemination of information. New modes of content creation have in turn spawned new ways to distribute and consume that information—methods that are disrupting traditional models of information publishing and media monitoring. As a PR professional, your focus on monitoring press coverage and engaging journalists needs to expand to the social Web and its millions of contributors.

The rise of social media has significant implications for PR measurement. Technology has introduced new instruments of communication and measurement but has also forced us to reevaluate the importance and necessity of traditional processes. But before you feel like you’re lost in a sea of tweets without a paddle, know that starting with a few measurement fundamentals will help you lay the groundwork for diving deeper in the future. So how do you measure a revolution? One step at a time.

Message Analytics Ladder

The workflow of the PR professional at a high level can be divided into two major activities—getting your message out and measuring results. Information is disseminated today in a number of formats (e.g., press releases, blog posts, tweets, phone calls and e-mails). As distribution evolves, so, too, do the tools required to monitor these various channels. Media monitoring and measurement—what I call “message analytics”—continue to evolve as more sophisticated solutions become available to help PR pros demonstrate tangible results on their activities.

So, how do you create a dashboard that addresses the needs of your internal stakeholders and provides actionable insight for your business? Here are three steps to help you get started:

1. Monitor what is being said about your company across all media. Not too long ago, media monitoring was nothing more than having your PR agency deliver a clip book to you on a monthly basis—literally, paper copies of articles in which your company, product, CEO or competitors were mentioned. The firms that provided this service typically charged companies based on the number of clips found due to the labor-intensive nature of this process.

Today, you have access to real-time monitoring tools to help track mentions across all content sets, including traditional and social media, print, television and online news sources. These tools are keyword-based and are as easy to use as a search engine. Which quantitative results are PR professionals measuring today?

• 84% - Print stories mentioning their organization

• 72% - TV or radio stories mentioning their organization

• 71% - Media impressions resulting from press releases

• 70% - Blog stories mentioning their organization

• 66% - Social media mentions about their organization

Choose a tool that gives you visibility into each of these content sources in real time and allows you to automate data collection. With a handle on the volume of mentions about your brand, you can measure how loud your voice is resonating across each media type. This will give you a basic idea of where your messages are resonating in the marketplace.

2. Go beyond counting and start listening to the tone of the conversation. Many PR professionals begin tracking quantitative metrics such as Facebook followers, Web site traffic and impressions but then stop. The second step is to move beyond counting mentions and start listening to what is being said about their company. In Thomson Reuters ’ 2010 survey of PR professionals, 34% don’t measure qualitative outcomes at all.

Natural language processing algorithms exist that can analyze mentions from online sources such as Web sites, blogs and Twitter to categorize the tone of the content and track that sentiment over time. These machine-based algorithms are about 80% accurate and provide a directional indication of whether the conversation is positive or negative. By plotting the trends over time, you can identify outliers, drill into the detail for that day and spend your time analyzing the big picture rather than reading every Twitter post. These trending charts can also be used to efficiently compare your company’s “buzz” with that of your competition or evaluate if your message is resonating with the online audience. With insight into sentiment, you add valuable color and clarity to the conversation.

3. Use listening tools to uncover actionable insight. Although monitoring the buzz of commentary around your brand or products is informative, sentiment alone is not fully actionable from a PR perspective. It’s analogous to knowing there were angry calls to your customer service center but not knowing the nature of their concerns. For a more complete picture, you need to analyze the themes into which the conversations fall.

Sophisticated tools that perform textual analysis in response to specific questions can provide you with insight into the nature of the conversations about your brand, products, industry and competitors. The algorithms used in this analysis sort the commentary into categories that can be tracked over time. This technology goes beyond coding sentiment as positive or negative to uncover the actual opinions in the market about a particular topic, allowing you to assess feedback on a campaign, understand product performance or gain competitive insights.

By following this message analytics ladder, you’ll be able to move from measuring how loud your voice is to listening to the buzz being generated to understanding the nature of the opinions. Choosing tools that automate the data collection will free up your time to focus on analysis and action plans. Armed with these measures, you’ll be better equipped to demonstrate the success of your communications programs to internal stakeholders. PRN

[Editor’s Note: This article was excerpted from PR News’ PR Measurement Guidebook, Vol. 5. This and other guidebooks can be ordered at ]


This article was written by Greg Radner, global head of PR services at Thomson Reuters. He can be found on Twitter at @radshiz.