Tips for PR to Start Wearing Green Eyeshades

David Patton
David Patton

Is social media turning PR pros into quasi accountants? The growth of social media has upended the communications industry, creating dozens of new channels at our disposal, as well as questions about its value to organizations. For decades, the value of landing a great story, or launching a product with an event has been understood and accepted, even though there are rarely hard numbers to back up that value. The same is true for non-digital advertising, where we may know the reach of an ad, but we can’t directly track the action that it drives.

At a time when CEOs and CMOs question spending across all marketing channels and look for ways to prove the value related to business goals, social media offers the communications team a chance to become more numbers-based to satisfy that demand. That’s because social media is extremely measureable.

For PR folks, there are steps to take to address these questions and create a “green eyeshade” mindset around social media’s costs and benefits.

Here are some initial steps to take:

Look at the social data. All social platforms generate awareness and engagement data such as likes, retweets and followers. Many organizations create monthly or quarterly reports with the data to show activity. Media companies—the most sophisticated users of social-media platforms—now look at data hourly because they have the resources to generate new content or shift focus on the fly.

Brands and organizations should at least be looking at social data daily to establish an understanding of the flow, and how audiences are engaging. Also, examine the numbers from your competitors and partners to see how your brand compares.

Look at your costs. As with all marketing and communications, there are hard and soft costs associated with social media. First, understand how much time your organization is spending on all of its communications and what percentage is related to social media. This may be easy if you have one or two people spending concentrated periods of time listening to, creating content for, managing and posting to your social-media properties.

In many cases, social media efforts are spread across a team or added on to existing work. You might spend two days drafting a press release and then five minutes crafting the tweet that will be used on Twitter.

On the hard costs, look at how much you are spending with listening platforms such as Visible Intelligence or with social-media management tools like Hootsuite or Buffer.

It may be that spending more on these tools and platforms will reduce the time the team spends managing social-media platforms. That is a place where PR groups can demonstrate smart spending to business leaders.

Additionally, consider doing research via social media to understand your audience and brand positioning. Cleverly using these platforms can be dramatically less expensive than traditional audience- or brand-research efforts.

Get comparative business data. We are now more often asking our clients to provide sales data or other business information, so that we can draw correlations between communications activities across digital and social media. It’s an easy way to illustrate a focus on driving the outcomes that matter to business leaders of the organization.

As with all data (or statistics), it’s possible to compare communications activities and business results and tell a story that connects the two. Also, PR teams should be asking for the data from advertising efforts to find correlations or disparities. Effective social-media engagement often amplifies traditional advertising efforts.

Once you have done the work to gather and analyze the data around social-media efforts, the next step is to start injecting opportunities to measure the impact of those efforts. This can be as simple as adding a call to action at the end of a YouTube video that invites the audience to follow a blog orTwitter handle.

By inviting the audience to take another step with every social-media engagement, you can effectively prove the value of those efforts to the CMO, CEO or business leaders who are focused on the bottom line.

As you get more sophisticated in organic social-media efforts, it’s a short jump into paid social media to drive wider engagement and grow the audience and the business. And getting more funding to dedicate to social media will be easier if you have already shown measureable results to the organization’s top and bottom lines. PRN


David Patton is VP and editor in chief at Waggener Edstrom. He can be reached at

This article appeared in the July 22 issue of PR News. Subscribe to PR News today to receive weekly comprehensive coverage of the most fundamental PR topics from visual storytelling to crisis management to media training.