Times are changing fast, and so is communications measurement. The purpose of this issue of The Measurement Advisor is to help our readers deal with these changes by providing practical solutions, in terms of the tools and skills they need. Most of the items in the communications measurement tool kit we recommend below have been around for a while. What is new is their usefulness in facing the challenges of today. (See the sister article to this one, “Reimagining the Skill Set of a Professional Communicator: 7 Vital Skills for Your Future.”
One of the biggest of those challenges is distrust and skepticism of the job we do. During the 2020 AMEC Summit, Dr. Jim McNamara gave an incredibly insightful presentation on what he calls “Post Communications.” It was about disinformation, unarguably the bane of professional communicators’ existence. His new book, “Beyond Post-Communication: Challenging Disinformation, Deception, and Manipulation” will be available soon.
McNamara suggests that we brought the current tsunami of skepticism and distrust on ourselves. Consider all the PR professionals and their agencies that worked so hard to convey the message that smoking isn’t bad, that climate change isn’t real, and that Jeffrey Epstein wasn’t a sexual predator. McNamara’s is a persuasive argument.
Alan Kelly wrote of a similar problem here in The Measurement Advisor a couple years ago:
What I hear from PR pros… is something more akin to a press agent’s promise: Trust me, babe. And beyond the distrust it engenders… what I suspect is that the sellers of these services may be the actual cause for the crisis, as measured by barometers and other boasts, not the solution. (See “Trust Me, I’ve Got a Barometer.”)
We expect that, if we could get the two of them together for a chat (we are working on it), Jim would say the problem is due to various bad apples, whereas Alan would say it’s built into the nature of PR.
Measuring the wrong thing
The reality is that professional communicators are far more than just flacks for bad people or practices. PR can and does educate, persuade, and provide context and perspective, whether in a crisis, or advocating for a cause. But, as we’ve pointed out before, PR often gets a bad rap because it measures the wrong thing.
The distrust that McNamara and Kelly investigate is contributed to by all of us who measure using flawed metrics like AVE, inflated impressions, and likes. I can’t tell you how many clients have told me recently that when their agency presents results, they know they are “BS” because the numbers are ridiculous.
What PR should be measuring these days are the things it is best at: building relationships, framing and positioning on issues, building brand value, protecting and defending reputations. None of those are measured with impressions, AVE, or clicks.
The right communications measurement tool kit for the job
The good news is that there are a number of tools out there today that can measure what needs measuring today. The bad news is that they probably aren’t in your communications measurement tool kit, or if they are, you’re not using them to help make better decisions. Here are five types of tools you need now:
1. Tools to demonstrate value
The ultimate Holy Grail of Measurement has always been a magic formula, metric, or tool that shows exactly how much revenue you’ve either contributed or saved for your organization. The answer is Proof. It’s been around for awhile now, and has evolved into the ultimate communications measurement tool. One that shows not only the monetary value of your efforts on your business but also quantifies the time it takes to generate that pay off.
In reality, savvy PR folks like Sam Ruchlewicz and the guys at SEO-PR have been using Google Analytics and other free tools from Google to do the same for their clients for years. Read the SEO-PR case study here.
While most people in PR are still counting clips, Google has been evolving its analytics to provide ever more free tools to help us track real impact on behavior. Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, and Campaign Manager make it easy to tag your content with a PR or Comms code so you know what impact you are having on your stakeholders’ online behavior. Even without a sophisticated tool like Proof, or access to Google Analytics, there is no shortage today of ways to evaluate and demonstrate your contributions to your mission or bottom line. Start with Excel, pivot tables, and correlations. (Check out our video on how to how to use pivot tables.)
2. Tools to measure the squishy stuff
And speaking of Google, Google Surveys means that you can’t claim it’s too complicated or expensive to measure trust, empathy, authenticity, transparency or relationships any more. Just pick five or six statements from the Grunig Trust Survey Instrument, (or any of the other sample surveys we’ve outlined in those articles), set them up on a 1-7 Likert Scale (strongly agree to strongly disagree) in Google Surveys, and send them out to your email list — all for free. Yes, there are other free survey tools out there, but generally with far more limitations.
3. AI multiplies your efficiency
In 2020, AI went from something everyone speculated about to the actual driver of improved measurement tools. Tools like FullIntel, whose media monitoring tool helped us not only identify a crisis but also recommends the best way to respond. Converseon is using AI to help brands measure the extent their corporate advocacy and purpose-driven programs are paying off.
Monitoring social and traditional media for issues used to be a laborious manual process, and so expensive you could rarely include competitors. Today, services like Signal AI have fine tuned their listening systems around the need to monitor issues across industries and geographies. Just type in whatever issue it is that you’re concerned about and — voila! — you have your report.
I predict that by this time next year, you’ll be thinking about replacing the traditional social listening and media monitoring tools (that flood your inbox with irrelevant alerts) with tools like Converseon, FullIntel, and Signal.AI’s AI-driven crisis identification and response system.
4. SEO is the new awareness
Increasingly, for PR folks, search rankings are becoming the go-to metric to replace that vague and too-frequent goal of “awareness.” As I’ve reminded you too many times, chances are pretty good the world doesn’t need more awareness of breast cancer, or Boeing, or Chipotle. Instead of “awareness,” what you typically want to achieve is something much more specific and measurable, like public understanding of your need for funds, or signatures, or of the things you’ve done to make your product safer.
The best way to gauge whether you are making progress on any of those fronts is to check Google. If Google turns up mentions of your progress in the first page, congratulations, you’ve succeeded. If all Google shows is pictures of dead passengers or closed storefronts, then you need a new strategy. Check out Answer the Public to figure out what terms you should use to be more relevant. If you want to measure your progress on your SEO rankings, you’ll need tools like MOZ and Spy Fu to measure your progress.
5. Dashboards make us all team players
Perhaps the biggest trend today is integration of multiple disciplines and data streams into a single dashboard. Again, that process used to take a tremendous amount of technical expertise, money, and time to get everything together. Now, tools like Google Data Studio make the process fast and easy so you can spend your time gleaning insight from your data, not copying data between Excel sheets. (And, if you join our next Measurement Base Camp, we’ll teach you how in just 90 minutes.)
These are all tools that are available today for your reimagined communications measurement tool kit. New ones are being introduced every month, so expect a flurry of new developments around the PRSA International Conference at the end of October, and for AMEC Measurement Month this November. ∞