A Look at PR Metrics That’ll Fade in ’18, and Which Will Dominate

Katie Paine CEO, Paine Publishing Paine Publishing
Katie Paine
Paine Publishing

It’s hard to look too far ahead given the world’s enormous uncertainties. Who knows when the next climate disaster will hit? If the government will shut down or whether nuclear war looms? As Yogi Berra said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” Yet PR pros thrive on chaos and crisis. You’ll be in your element regardless. Here are ideas that might help you prepare.

1. Your next crisis is only a hashtag away: Whether driven by your CEO’s wayward tweet, a stupid deal half a world away or one of the #metoo- or #timesup-style issues surging or as yet unborn, every major brand and company is at risk of public shaming. Crisis communications plans, if not in place already, will need to be updated monthly.

2. A bigger announcement will eclipse yours:Whether it’s a “bombogenesis,” an actual bomb or a political bombshell, something will no doubt screw up your best laid announcement plans. Beyond the U.S. presidential election, the Olympics, the World Cup and the Mueller investigation, you have to contend with major climate events. Add in that the social media environment is being manipulated to be divisive, and it will be very hard to get a word in edgewise. As a result, smaller, targeted events with those who actually care about your brand or your issues will be far more effective than blockbuster publicity stunts.

3. Social as we know it is doomed:Social media has been hot for brands for years, which means there’s enough data to feed into the marketing mix models of many of these companies; they’re learning ROI is hard to find.

Added to the growing skepticism among senior leadership about the business impact of all this is the steady drumbeat of news about Russian bots and fake news manipulating social platforms. Support for more investment in social is bound to weaken.

Even social media stalwarts like my colleagues at the Society of New Communications Research are supportive of legislation to rein in fake spewing from YouTube and Twitter. There’s no doubt some on Capitol Hill will continue to focus on Russia’s social media use during the 2016 U.S. election. All this points to lower usage of the most popular platforms.

4. Customer service will dominate social media:As we said earlier,brands are realizing much of the billions spent on content marketing is failing to deliver the expected return. New research shows rather than engagement boosting sales, sales boost engagement. [https://hbr.org/2017/03/whats-the-value-of-a-like]

The majority of engagement is post-sale, and there’s far more value in establishing and growing relationships with existing customers. This is why more organizations are integrating social media into customer service to provide a consistent customer experience. They’re finding a bigger payoff in being responsive to the customers they have than in shelling out more dollars to yell louder at anyone who passes by.

5. Reach and impressions will be replaced:Impressions now are the most discredited metric since Ad Value Equivalent. No one believes the inflated numbers provided as “unique reach” since often they’re larger than the planet’s population. Most smart marketers are ignoring “reach” numbers and focusing on actual engagement. But 2018 will bring giant leaps forward in the quest for accurate reach metrics.

Serious efforts are occurring to tie actual readers to pieces of content and ultimately to actions. Whether the EUand its privacy concerns will allow Cision to succeed with its ID program remains debatable. In the meantime Google and other browser companies are working hard on attribution models that tie actual readers to specific content and then trace their journey to purchases, if that’s the goal.

So much for The Personal Touch

6. Most of your engagement won’t be with people:Russians aren’t alone in using bots. Publishers, clickbait sites and anyone with 30 seconds to spare spent much of 2017 creating bots to automate everything from generating copy to responding to customer complaints. So, when you show off surging engagement numbers, make sure to explain you have no idea with what type of entity you are actually engaging.

7. Value will be the main metric: By now you’re probably thinking that if impressions are rubbish, reach isn’t real and AVEs are anathema, what’s left? How can an accountable communicator prove her worth? Demonstrate value, which requires a thorough understanding of how your organization makes money.

In 2017 communicators at major B2Cs, B2Bs, nonprofits and even government agencies deployed metrics and dashboards tying communications activities to business value. Judging from calls I’ve received this month, that trend will continue. As organizations adopt unified PESO models for communications strategies, counting clips, hits and likes makes less and less sense. Look instead for an emphasis on custom indexes and communications-focused goal conversions. They’ll be 2018’s metrics. All will have revenue in their equations, i.e., cost per conversion or engagement.

New kids on the block?

8. You’ll hear a lot about blockchain, but it’s unlikely to change your world. Doubtless 2018 will be the year blockchain becomes a household word. Already it’s increased Kodak’s flailing stock price by some 200%. And, while Edelman’s Phil Gomes make a great argument for how blockchain will rock our world, I’m less enthusiastic. No offense, but if PR pros are unable to explain to their bosses why AVE is inaccurate and flawed, how will they make a case for implementing blockchain to improve attribution modeling or the accuracy of measurement? My guess is fast-moving consumer goods companies and a few of the large agencies may make it work for them, but it won’t go much beyond that for another year.

9. AI will help large firms predict outcomes, but...To get accurate results from AI you need reams of data. The majority of companies and products, especially B2Bs, are not that widely discussed in social media. Far more challenging is that most organizations lack “customer intelligence” departments housing the years and years of data needed to feed into an AI model. So, AI will be another oft-used term that won’t touch us much in 2018, unless you’re doing PR for an AI company, in which case you’ll be very, very busy.

10. Measurement customers will have fewer choices:Just when you thought there were no more companies left to acquire, Cision announced it acquired PRIME Research and CEDROM-SNi Inc ( PRN, January 9, 2018). The PRIME acquisition leaves customers interested in human-aided measurement and analysis with just a handful of choices. This at a time when more clients are realizing computers do a lousy job of assessing sentiment and messages and that without human review, their data is worthless. No doubt this is one of the reasons Cision made the deal. Regardless, a market with fewer choices rarely bodes well for customers.

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