In a survey this year from the American Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) and Institute for Public Relations (IPR), 520 PR professionals worldwide weighed in on the topic of measurement. While 88% believed measurement was an integral part of the the PR process, 77% said they were currently tracking their programs. This leaves about a quarter of them who were not tracking.
There is still hesitation among PR pros on how to set up measurement programs, what should be measured and what tools to use. In addition, setting measurement goals can be downright nerve-racking to some. “I had a client who was scared of having to commit numbers to senior management,” says Ashley Welde, director of the evidence-based team at Burson-Marsteller. “They generated great numbers, so it was worth taking the chance on measurement.”
While it’s good to be bold, keeping key strategic and tactical measurement steps in mind is even better. Here then are some tips—from top to bottom—from PR measurement experts:
The growing trend of metrics-based results, accelerated by the economic crisis, has resulted in increased ROI scrutiny by the C-suite. “Data shows that CEOs don’t have very high satisfaction with PR ROI,” says Welde. “Nor do they invest as much money in market research for their PR programs as they do in advertising or sales.”
So it’s important to demonstrate PR’s worth to not just top executives, but throughout all parts of the organization. And for many PR pros, it has to be done on a shoestring budget.
Positioning important PR objectives and programs to senior management is key. Research and measurement go hand in hand, but primary research can be costly in dollars and time.
When taking your case upstairs, Welde suggests asking questions that make management realize they know less about the topic than they thought. “Do teaser research beforehand that begs for the answers to more questions,” she says. You can also hunt up secondary research online to combine with your original findings.
While it’s true that quality research is expensive and out of reach of many smaller companies, one of the most cost effective and true barometers lies internally. “Employees see things from the outside and on the inside,” says Johna Burke, senior vice president of marketing at BurrellesLuce. Burke recommends several ways to tap employees’ thoughts, including:
• Create a solid intranet. Make it interesting so employees will have reasons for coming back.
• Follow them via social media. Find out where they hang out in cyberspace and note their conversations and interests.
• Field employee surveys. But be careful not to skew the questions to get answers you’re really looking for.
• Note other types of communications in the workplace. Written, verbal and body language can be revealing. “If you note negativity around the office, it’s time to look at your messaging,” says Burke.
You don’t have to be a statistics whiz to lead measurement efforts, but good foundational knowledge helps make it easier, says Kellie Parker, community manager of video game maker Sega of America. “Good knowledge of statistics and Excel formulas are helpful,” she says. “One data set can give you basic information, but combining two sets together often leads to interesting correlations.” Parker recommends improving skills by taking a class or enlisting a mentor.
EVALUATE YOUR MEASUREMENT TOOLS
It sounds simple, but one important question around tools is sometimes overlooked: What do you specifically want to measure? Parker cites other key questions to ask yourself about measuring tools:
• Do you know how to use the tools that you have? Ask vendors about webinars or classes that they might have. Know the ins and outs of your tools.
• Do you have more functions than you need? If you’re using one-quarter of the functions, there may be a cheaper tool that better fits your needs.
• Have you outgrown your tools? Figure out what features you need that your current tools don’t have.
INCORPORATE SOCIAL MEDIA METRICS
In measuring interest in Sega’s video games, Parker puts all the popular social media channels in play, using their built-in measurement capabilities. Here’s her rundown of what a few can do:
• Facebook: The leader in terms of metrics. You can track fans in interesting, deep ways. It also lets you download stats into a spreadsheet.
• YouTube: The “real-time attention meter” is helpful for rating your content creation skills.
• Twitter: It’s popular, but Twitter doesn’t provide metrics. “There are tools for measuring Twitter, but I’m not at a stage where I trust their accuracy.”
USE SOCIAL MEDIA MONITORING TOOLS
The built-in tools above just give you the numbers. External monitoring tools measure mentions and audience sentiment. “They’re great for quickly checking what is going on,” notes Parker.
Some leaders of the space: Radian6, Nielsen, Scout Labs, Brandwatch, Trackur and Ripple6.
MISTAKES TO AVOID
PR pros often align goals with specific programs. “Instead, align with corporate objectives first,” says Burke. Find the challenges your business currently faces, and develop measurement programs around those.
Another common pitfall is measuring at the end of a program and not throughout. “Measuring in the middle of a program allows you to change its course if necessary,” says.
To avoid measurement mishaps, Welde recommends “evidence-based communications.” Programs are measured against organizational objects (sales, votes, transactions) and not just tactics (media hits and reach).