Despite plenty of communications catastrophes of late, in a lot of ways it’s been a very good year for measurement. Here are the 7 best things to happen to communications measurement over the past year.

1. AI-assisted media content analysis

It’s hard to believe that just a year ago I was asking Santa for an automatic trust sensor with which to probe a group of stakeholders and automatically sense its mood and whether it was about to lash out and scratch you—literally or figuratively.

While we’re a long way away from developing an AI algorithm to detect expressions of real trust and credibility in earned media, a few of the newly-released media analysis platforms are at least attempting it.

The first challenge in implementing this is to correctly define what trust means in your organization, and how the media expresses it relative to your brand or industry. The solution is to train professional coders to read and code articles that convey trust in your brand. Next, to train a machine learning program you need at least several hundred accurately coded articles. You also need to develop the appropriate Boolean terms to identify instances where trust is expressed. Finally, you need humans to audit the results, since your system won’t get it right the first time or two. We’re not completely there yet, but thanks to good professional analysts teaming up with robust AI systems, the results are definitely getting better.

2. Exposure of the troll farms

The Guardian’s exposé of life inside a Polish troll farm was probably not on the reading list of most PR folks, but it should be. It revealed how PR firms subcontract with Cat@Net, a company that specializes in online rabble-rousing, using fake accounts and personalities to advance the interests of their clients. In one example, the goal was to undermine public support for the Polish government’s decision to place a major order with the American contractor Lockheed Martin for the F-35 fighter jet, and to promote instead the Eurofighter Typhoon produced by a consortium that includes Airbus, BAE Systems, and Leonardo, which has a Polish subsidiary, PZL Świdnik. Cat@Net employees, each of which ran about a dozen fake accounts, were reminded by their managers that, “The F-35 is our enemy number one,” and “Don’t be too pushy with the Eurofighter, otherwise they will know they are being trolled.” For another client, Cat@Net accounts created up to 10,000 posts, with a potential reach of 15 million views.

If it can happen to Lockheed, one of whose specialties is cyber warfare and cyber defense, it can happen to anyone’s brand. While we may not have a great answer to the problem, at least we know about it. And, while it may increase overall mistrust in the media, awareness is half the battle.

3. The return of the human analysts

After years of trying to automate everything, more and more measurement vendors are realizing that there is no such thing as a fully automated system. Increasingly, vendors are hiring full-time human analysts to curate and continuously improve the accuracy of their measurement results. Cision and FullIntel are the best examples of this, and others like AgilityPR and never lost their pre-automation humans. With client complains about accuracy at an all-time high, we expect to see more of this welcome trend in 2020.

4. More integrated measurement systems

For some of you this is old hat, but a refreshing number of organizations—from non-profits to major international corporations—are embracing the notion that all communications should be measured in an integrated way. Imagine that. They are realizing the benefits of understanding the interplay between earned and paid, and how and when one amplifies the other. It’s a lot more interesting when you have two or three intersecting data points and can see how one plays off the other.

5. The rejection of reach

One of my proudest moments of 2019 was when, at the PR News Measurement Conference last spring, I got the most retweets ever from a line I’ve been using for years: “Impressions are like sperm: there are millions of them, but very few do what they are intended to do.” Not only did people laugh, they agreed with me. More and more companies are realizing just how silly it is to report back to their boss or their client that, “We ‘reached’ 10 billion people!” —especially when your target audience numbers in the hundreds.

6. Rising interest in risk and crisis measurement

OK, it’s possible that I’m living in a crisis bubble (or perhaps we all are) but for whatever reason, 2019 saw a growing interest in measurement of crises as well as risk preparedness. Rather than focusing on what to do after a crisis happens, more and more people are setting up measurement systems as early warning devices, so that issues are caught before they become a crisis.

7. Recognition for the role of provocateurs

I’ve long been known as a provocateur on measurement issues. While others may be more polite or discreet about calling out bad measurement behavior, we here at Paine Publishing have never been afraid to name and shame folks that are doing, producing, or selling bad metrics. Heck, we’ve named some poor slob a Measurement Menace every month for about 20 years now. In days of yore I’d get a fair amount of grief from some of the Measurati, as it never helps to piss off sponsors.

So it came as a total shock that I was named recipient of this year’s Jack Felton Gold Medal for Lifetime Achievement from the IPR. As I said in my remarks at the award ceremony:

“Some lessons I’ve learned during this lifetime to pass on to future generations:

  • First: Be brave, be provocative, and challenge assumptions. More importantly, challenge the people who have established those assumptions.
  • Secondly: Call out the moral and ethical failures of your organization when your research reveals them. If you can’t change them, get out while you can. Sooner or later, if the culture is corrupt it will come out, and you don’t want to be caught in the fallout.
  • And finally, I hope I’ve contributed in some small way to shift the perception that measurement is just about justifying your budget. Measurement is about learning from failure, and making sure that things are working. And if they aren’t, then they need to be changed or dropped.”

Photo by Fab Lentz on Unsplash
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