Measurement Must Address Vanity Metrics, Data Access

[Editor’s Note: It's a content provider's dream to gather experts and ask them questions. Next month during PRNEWS' Crisis & Measurement Summit in Miami, we'll offer three of the sharpest minds in measurement during a luncheon session: Paine Publications chief/PRNEWS columnist Katie Paine, global managing director of the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communications (AMEC) Johna Burke, and Allyson Hugley, VP, global communications/head of research and analytics, Prudential.

To whet your appetite for that discussion, we offer the same trio responding to questions from PRNEWS. Among other things, they discussed what communicators are doing well with measurement and where they can improve.]

PRN: What are some issues with measurement?

Allyson Hugley: Access to data and silos remain challenging on the agency and the client side. Advancing evaluation methods requires harnessing the power of data across disciplines, agency networks and the client-side enterprise. The vast majority of data within organizations still is largely un-utilized or underutilized.

Katie Paine: Vanity metrics and activity metrics without a point are far too popular. For example, say you’re an insurance company. Why are you measuring impressions overseas if you’re not allowed to sell outside the United States? The bad stuff is people who count things that don’t matter and who, in pursuit of big numbers, lose sight of their target audience.

Johna Burke: There’s also a problem with definitions and the amount of black box behavior within the industry. It makes it difficult for people to establish a good baseline. When people are talking about impressions and reach they aren’t looking at some of the elements that are behind that data.

For example, is engagement rated differently on a certain blog? Are a lot of bloggers responding to a peer’s blog to sort of rig the algorithm of engagement? I always prefer to challenge people to understand how data is validated. And if you work with someone who can’t tell you about their data sourcing, you could be heading down a path to multipliers and God only knows what else.

PRN: So it pays to obsess over using accurate data.

Burke: Yes, especially if you’re going to be putting data in some of your management pieces; make sure it’s good data that you’re basing your summation, your theories, your context on.

The bigger takeaway is to always have that data validated. This holds whether you’re using comprehensive data or a statistically accurate sampling of data. I’m not saying every communicator needs to be a mathematician, but they need to understand what those statistical samples can reveal or conceal.

They have to understand that so if their senior team asks any of those questions they can express how this data can help.

PRN: How should companies spend measurement budgets?

Hugley: They should invest in forward-looking analytics, not measurement. Understanding performance patterns is critical, but it’s valuable only if the analytic purpose is optimizing work going forward.

Measurement efforts that are too rooted in past work without an eye for enhancing the communications quality, efficiency and impact should be scaled down to free resources–human and financial–to support more prescriptive and predictive work.

PRN: What’s being done well in measurement?

Paine: People are looking at communications as an integrated whole. This is forcing communications professionals to define business value in what they do. They are being asked to define their value in terms of the business as a whole.

That’s the best thing that can possibly happen to measurement because it means things like AVEs, hits and impressions go down in value, unless people can show their contribution to the bottom line.

So you have to have that conversation where someone asks what the business value is of 5 billion impressions when your target audience has only about 5,000 people in it.

It’s good that those conversations are happening, and not just at the biggest companies. They’re happening all over. People are stepping back and looking at the communications function and how it contributes to the bottom line.

PRN: What would you like to see the industry do differently?

Burke: The biggest opportunity is for communicators to speak the language of their organization. That would be a big culture change. Communicators must take data and insights and translate them into meaningful business outcomes for their organization.

You can take the counts and amounts that you’re given and put them in a pie chart and deliver those to your executive team. It’s another thing to provide contextual layover, and tell people what the data means for the business. What you want to do is talk about how paid and earned work together. Or if they don’t, why not?