The Four Stalwarts of Communication Analytics

While the measurement movement among communicators continues to evolve and accelerate with greater rates of adoption and the introduction of dozens of do-it-yourself media analysis platforms, almost all of this activity focuses on what happened. Everything analyzed represents the past.

Despite an emphasis on real-time solutions, there are cases when even the near-past is too old. Knowing what happened always is valuable, of course. It helps inform current thinking. Yet it's not a complete picture for effective diagnostics and decision-making. Here, we discuss the four stalwarts of communication research and analysis: Descriptive, Diagnostic, Predictive and Prescriptive.

In modern communication, predictive analytics is most commonly overlooked because it’s still an emerging science. Until now, predicting the future has been beyond communicators’ reach. But mixing optimized AI, human expertise and accurate data now let the communicator foresee the emergence of a crisis, the battle plans of a competitor and more.

With this additional insight, communicators can simultaneously answer questions related to what’s happening, how long it will last, what will happen next and how to prepare for it.

The communicator can craft a message and identify the journalist/influencer most likely to cover the developing theme. What's more, predictive insights enable communicators to counsel leadership better, identifying emerging market trends, competitive activity and more.

Four Types of Analytics

Descriptive: Answers What happened? and How'd we do? By nature, this is historical and backward-facing. Descriptive analysis, while elementary, does not require much expertise or experience.

Diagnostic: Answers Why did it happen? While automation helps with descriptive analysis, diagnostic analysis requires human perspective and expertise and an understanding of PR and communication, the media and the market environment

Predictive: Answers What will happen next? This is a form of advanced analytics that determines what is likely to happen using machine learning, historical data and human expertise. It provides insights about the direction and trajectory of an event or social trend with enough reliability to act upon it.

Prescriptive: Answers What do we do about it now?  Prescriptive analytics relate to the stage where PR data guides the communicator to a specific action. While dependent on descriptive, diagnostic and predictive research and analysis, prescriptive analytics guides decision-making (even the option of doing nothing). Prescriptive analysis requires a keen understanding of communication and marketing.

Many PR agencies offer advice, tactical execution and evaluation, but they cannot offer predictive analytics and they lack objectivity  in that they often have a vested interest in a positive outcome, which can influence their evaluation. With the benefit of predictive analysis, the communicator can anticipate a developing crisis, a competitor’s next step and, on a more micro level, what messages will gain traction among which journalists in specific markets.

These applications inform communication decision-making, and since the media are unique in that they simultaneously reflect and shape public opinion, applying the four forms of analysis to media is a valuable asset for business decision-making.

Analyzing Trends in a Food Fight

An example. Recently, a major restaurant chain was in hot water due to a rumor about its food quality.  The rumor caught fire and went viral.

In response, the global chain maintained an always-on media analysis program. It tracked the rumor's first appearance and analyzed its velocity and trajectory. In addition, it compared velocity and trajectory to the normal churn rate of news.

Monitoring news and social patterns against the organization’s traditional thresholds revealed an unusual amount of negative content. At the same time it uncovered a most likely scenario: a breakout event that was not flattering to the restaurant.

With the advantage of advanced alerts, the restaurant's communication and business leads gained valuable time. They were able to assess the true risk of the situation and determine the agenda of those who were spreading the rumor.  Moreover, after deciding to act, they designed a communication strategy to preempt the predicted negative path.

Beyond identifying the rumor's path and anticipating the news and social arc, the analytics offered restaurant leaders insight about themes media outlets and social influencers were most likely to adopt that represented the company’s perspective and generate high volumes of social sharing.

The advance notice allowed communicators to optimize resources and deliver high-potential messaging to the most receptive, influential media. Within 48 hours, the volume and trajectory of the rumor on social had quieted.

While this example represents a crisis situation, predictive analysis also helps to accelerate a brand’s advantage by reinforcing strengths, mitigating risk and deterring any competitor's advantage.

The measurement movement in PR enables communicators to more closely align with the businesses they represent. Data is the language of business. PR now is armed with every advantage of data-informed analysis employing the four elements of modern business analytics.

Mark Weiner is a board member of the Institute of PR, author of "PR Technology, Data and Insights" and chief insights officer at PublicRelay