Doing A/B Testing on Your Tweets, and Other Measurement Tricks

An interview with Susan L. Payne, Georgetown University Medical Center

Safdar: Fascinating to see a PR professional with what seems like a Web title.

Payne: Yes, this is starting to happen more and more. When an organization becomes online-centric in its communications, the entire PR function begins to get absorbed by the Web team and suddenly the Web team is staffed by PR people. I, for example, am responsible for all public and online communications for Georgetown University's Medical Center Campus. Segregating that content and the functions would be foolhardy, if not impossible.

Safdar: It seems many medical centers, yours included, are a collection of independent Web sites run by each department (The Lombardi Cancer Center, the GU Medical School, the GU School of Nursing & Health Studies, etc). Does that make analytics and measurement difficult?

Payne: Yes, the main Web site becomes a portal whose purpose is to get people somewhere offsite because our Web properties are so silo'ed. Imagine trying to measure a Web site where the "ask"is to get someone to leave, and you understand our challenge. Furthermore, some of the asks on other GU Web sites happen offline, so even with cooperation from those departments it's very difficult to measure the results of the publicity I generate.
Our strategy is to keep the different parts of the medical center "top of mind" for people who might be considering education, finding research, or investigating patient carefrom the GU Medical Center.

Safdar: So what has surprised you lately?

Payne: Well, I had a hypothesis that our news releases that were flowing out online as content weren't titled well, so I used, a URL shortenerand click tracker to try an experiment. I took a story about a student who wrote an iPhone application for pediatric professionals that tracks recommended vaccinations by age and released it twice on twitter with different tweet text.
First, the original press release title (that I didn't write): Georgetown University Med Student Builds Popular iPhone App
And then a rewrite: Keep up with vaccines needed by children, adolescents, and adults
Obviously the rewrite did better because it was designed to relate to the needs of the readers, not the organization itself, but the approach is really useful for more subtle wording differences as well. The outcome showed we had 3.75 times the clicks from the rewrite.

I've heard people use the analogy for social media that if you wouldn't say it at a party to a friend or acquaintance, don't say it on Twitter.

Payne: Exactly. If I said "Hey, this Georgetown student built a popular iPhone app" to you in real life, it would sound boastful or boring. If instead I asked if you had a kid and then told you about an app that lets you track recommended vaccinations by age, I'd actually be talking to you about something you cared about.

Safdar: What tips do you have for other PR professionals working online looking to take advantage of free measurement tools?

Everyone in PR is in the customer service business. You can seek out and take care of unhappy users, or you can wait until those users become so disgruntled that you have to take care of a crisis.
I've been using 4Q to look for pockets of user dissatisfaction on our Web site and tweak the site's content to address their frustrations.  4Q surveys a small population of your Web visitors, asking them what they came to your Web site to do, and if they succeeded.

Safdar: And what have you found?

Payne: I found that 30% of our unsatisfied Web visitors were seeking information about patient care and couldn't find the department they were looking for. I've created a fast-find patient contact information page to allow them to get the numbers they're looking for more quickly, and I'm sprinkling it throughout the site.

Susan Payne is Deputy Director for Web Strategy at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, DC. Shabbir J. Imber Safdar is the biggest analytics enthusiast ever at digital firm Virilion, Inc. He blogs about online public relations, measurement and public affairs at