When Danielle Brigida joined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as national social media manager one of the first things she noticed was that the agency’s multiple regional offices and programs had varying goals and social strategies (some offices were not measuring their efforts at all). This made it challenging for her to incorporate qualitative data and set up a comprehensive measurement system that would assess the agency’s overall effectiveness in getting out its messages. “We needed to use measurement to help us inform future decisions and act,” Brigida said.
These days Brigida relies heavily on Google Analytics to analyze how content is performing on the agency’s social sites. By turning to options like Google Trackbacks, Brigida now can identify who’s linking to the agency’s site, traffic on the site that’s generated via social media channels and how people are wending their way to the site.
Brigida uses Sprout Social to track Twitter and Facebook presences, but also employs it to identify trends and learn about audiences.
“The hope is that within the next couple of months the social media team can work on a social report that we crowdsource, so we can establish both qualitative and quantitative measures for our campaigns, depending on the goals,” she said.
Brigida also is gradually starting to use metrics to inform the agency’s content marketing strategy.
For example, during this year’s Super Bowl one of the agency’s regional offices posted an expressive shot of burrowing owls that went viral.
Brigida and others worked to make the most of the image and even crafted an educational blog —describing the backstory of the picture—that also was disseminated widely.
“It’s an opportunity to make the Wildlife Service more accessible...but also add purpose and context to our work,” she said.
THE 800-POUND GORILLA
Brigida’s experience illustrates how PR managers can enhance (if not overhaul) their measurement strategy. Long the 800-pound gorilla in the room, PR measurement arguably remains the most nettlesome aspect of business communications, influencing how PR will be treated during budget season as well as PR executives’ job security and performance.
Communicators have any number of online metrics to choose from when tracking campaigns, but that may be part of the problem.
PR execs are drowning in a sea of metrics and have to be more discriminating with numbers if they want any chance of swimming to shore and proving the value of PR and communications to the C-suite. In short, they need to do a better job consolidating disparate metrics.
A deeper issue is the vicious cycle that PR pros encounter when they fail to bake measurement into the process from the get-go. Sans initial goals—and how analytics can help achieve them—PR measurement is a wasted exercise, according to PR managers.
“To build a successful strategy, measurement has to be infused [into the campaign] and not be an afterthought,” said Meredith Stevens, director of digital strategy at National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a contractor to The Beef Checkoff. “It can be a challenge to incorporate at the forefront [of a campaign], but it’s the reason for showing how you align PR with larger goals. The piece that’s missing is what does success look like?”
THE VALUE OF METRICS
Incorporating measurement at the forefront can be a challenge due to the tremendous number of metrics and tools available, Stevens said.
She added: “However, if we don’t identify reach and engagement metrics in the beginning (while developing the strategy and campaign), it prevents us from truly evaluating a campaign’s value, impact and success.”
Measurement has been the foundation for the beef association’s shift to digital advertising, from traditional venues such as TV and radio, which also has helped the trade group enhance its integrated marketing.
“Measurement helps us to evaluate the shift in real-time and evolve our programs so we work with the right objectives and KPIs,” Stevens said.
She added that online-ad metrics also help to boost messaging and storytelling “so we amplify our effectiveness.”
At Time Warner Cable, measurement has played a key role in the company’s diversity efforts, said Heidi Mock, senior director of analytics and insights.
In 2014, “we started to collect all the metrics in one place—volunteer effort, content, paid media, social media and our intranet—and put together a messaging dashboard for the executive committee,” Mock said. “It’s provided better intelligence for management and has sparked more volunteerism.”
Sidebar: 3 Things You’re Doing Wrong With PR Measurement
Every PR pro needs to prove that his/her campaign or communications program is working. Data about press coverage and social media is easier and cheaper to obtain than ever. The democratization of data and measurement, though, often makes it more difficult than it needs to be. With that in mind, here are three things you’re probably doing wrong with PR measurement.
▶ You’re not setting goals. Having clear goals in place is key to understanding what you want to achieve and measure. Without goals, your entire plan is rudderless. Goals should be as specific and defined as possible. The best goals are created in collaboration with an agency and client, or among various divisions within an organization, to ensure a shared vision and desire to achieve similar outcomes and positive business results.
▶ You’re focused on vanity metrics. Are you reporting how many Likes or Followers your organization or client has without providing further analysis? Then you’re focused solely on vanity metrics and not providing real value. Beyond simply tracking Visits and Followers, successful social media measurement includes audience engagement and sentiment ratio, among other metrics. Challenge yourself to look beyond the basics and understand what is happening in the social realm.
▶ You’re not providing context. You’re in the habit of providing regular measurement and plugging numbers into a dashboard or report. But are you looking at the data and providing context to improve future campaigns and learning from past performance? When metrics are provided without context the first response you’ll likely get is some variation of ‘So What?’ What is driving coverage? What is driving overall sentiment and can it be improved? Why does a competitor have a larger share of voice? If you can’t answer these questions, then you’re not providing context or value. When you report results, place them in the context of business objectives of the organization as well as against the goals of the communications program you are measuring.
KayAnn Schoeneman, VP, Global Research at Ketchum, wrote this sidebar. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter, @KSchoeneman
Danielle Brigida, firstname.lastname@example.org; Heidi Mock, email@example.com; Meredith Stevens, firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared in the April 20, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.