A photo of a person holding a coin, illustrating the situation of having no budget for measurement.

To do communications measurement, whether or not you have any budget, you have got to get hold of the right data, and then analyze it. In general, the bigger your budget, the more accurate and actionable both your data and your analysis can be. But don’t despair; if you have no budget for measurement at all, there are steps you can take with minimal resources.

The key to doing measurement without a budget is to keep it simple and be creative. Most likely you will not be able to answer all the questions you have, but if you are smart about it, and a little bit lucky, you will be able to hunt up enough data to answer some of your questions. And the best way to do more and better measurement is to start with a pilot project that demonstrates how useful good metrics can be.

The key strategy here is that you want to use measurement to evaluate some aspect of something that you do. Because once your boss and co-workers realize the power of your measurement-enabled insight and decisions, they are going to want more of it. And — whoa — here comes your budget!

Before reading on, take a look at these articles:

Adopt a creative mindset — or, “If the suit fits…”

Usually when you set out to do communications measurement, you want to evaluate or improve a particular communications program, so you collect data on the results of that particular program. That is, you start off by saying, “What data do I need to collect to inform me about the results of my program(s).” And then you go get that particular data.

But if you have no budget for measurement, then you have to adopt a different approach. You often have to look around until you find this data or that data and then say to yourself, “What might this data say about one or more of my programs?”

It’s like buying a suit at the tailor vs. buying one at the resale store. If you order a suit at the tailor’s, then your suit gets made to fit you. You order what you want, and, if your tailor is good, it always fits.

But the resale store requires a more open-minded approach, and can offer different rewards. At the resale store you may have to try on a lot of already-made suits until you find one that fits. You’ve got to be persistent in your search, but if you’re lucky you can come up with a surprisingly interesting outfit, perhaps one that you never would have anticipated.

So reach out to colleagues, the local university and/or peer organizations to see what data they have. Use a research source like ResearchGate to see if anyone else has ever asked the same questions. If you’re a member of a trade association, reach out to members to see if they have any data that might bear on your questions. Bespoke data is definitely the best, but not the only source of answers.

No budget for measurement? Use someone else’s data

You know how all those real estate get-rich gurus used to preach about the power of “using someone else’s money?” Well it’s always a good idea to hunt around for someone else’s data, whether you have a tight budget or not. Because there is more and more data out there being collected all the time. And sooner or later the data that you didn’t even know was there will have something to say about the effectiveness of your communications.

Think about the various sources of data available to you: your digital media group, advertising or marketing department, sales department, the development committee, the Communications 301 class at the local institution of higher learning, your email services provider, your the IT department, even the math nerds down the hall in finance or accounting. These and more all collect data that you might be able to use.

How will you know useful data when you see it?

Here’s the tricky and creative part. In general, you want to be able to show that your comms efforts have resulted in some sort of quantifiable business benefit to your organization. Like sales, or new members, or donations, or traffic in the door, or qualified leads. So when you come across a source of data that bears on your organization, ask yourself:

1. “Do these numbers cover the time frame I need?

If No, you might have to ask whether newer or older data exists.
If Yes, then your next question should be:

2. Do these numbers relate in any way to my comms efforts?”

If the answer is Yes, then ask yourself:

3. “Do they relate to any quantifiable business goal of my organization?”

And if the answer is again Yes, then consider:

4. “Can I arrange some sort of comparison or contrast between this new data and data I already have that will shed light on how my comms results relate to those business goals?”

If you can answer Yes to each of those questions, then you probably have found a source of useful data.

Let’s consider an example. Suppose your job is to communicate with your organization’s membership. You have no budget for measurement, but you would like to begin to show the effectiveness of your efforts. One day you discover that Judy down the hall in Development routinely collects data on each of your organization’s members and on how much they contribute or engage with your programs year by year. So you go through the questions above, and you answer Yes to all. So now…

  1. Think about the chart you could make from that data that shows monthly membership engagement over the last few years. Now list all the efforts that you’ve directed at membership over the last few years. Did the new website go live last year in January? Did you add a new email newsletter in June? Did you do a lot of outreach for a particular campaign in September? If you plotted Judy’s data alongside your outreach efforts, what might it reveal? Chances are good that it won’t relate directly; there’s almost always a time delay. But if there’s any relationship you can see, you’re on your way.
  2. Now think about that big expensive gala membership event you put on a couple months ago. How many new members were recruited as a result? Now consider if you can use Judy’s data to determine the lifetime value of a membership. So perhaps you can now demonstrate some unanticipated value in that event?

4 Specific Ways to Measure If You Have No Budget for Measurement

Beyond the general approach above, here are four specific tactics to try:

1. Become someone’s homework

Many universities that award advertising or public relations degrees require students to complete a research project before they graduate. As a result, college students are frequently looking for organizations with which to partner. The one caveat with using university research services is you must adhere to the school year schedules. So be aware that it can be difficult to conduct research when the institution is not in session. And make sure your student(s) get the job done before the end of class or they graduate.

2. Take advantage of free measurement trials

Virtually every online monitoring or survey research firm offers a free trial — generally for two weeks or a month. Sign up just before a campaign or event that you want to measure, use it like crazy for the trial period, and then present a report using the data. It’s likely your report will spark leadership’s interest in measurement; thus they’ll be more willing to fund measurement going forward.

3. Go where the audience already is

If there’s an event where your institution sets up a booth, create a questionnaire that people have to fill out in order to win a prize. The person staffing the booth should encourage people to fill out the questionnaire, but they need to be consistent about when during the visit they ask. If visitors fill it out before they’ve talked to anyone, you will get more “off the cuff” comments, whereas if visitors consistently fill it out after they’ve talked to booth staff, you’ll learn what information they’ve taken away.

4. Use interns and volunteers

The internet provides a plethora of free data, starting with Google News, Google Analytics, Facebook
Insights, and Twitter Analytics. You just need someone to analyze it. This is where a summer intern or a volunteer can be very handy. Give them a research assignment and then use the report to
generate an appetite for measurement.

Think first, measure second

It’s wonderful that you want to begin doing measurement, but be sure to do your homework first. Watch out for over-reaching. Here’s a story about a guy who meant well, but didn’t quite know what he was doing: Murray State University Communications is the Measurement Menace of the Month. The lesson there (beyond don’t ever use AVES ) is to not get so excited about the data that you forget about its plausibility.

And, about social media. If you are thinking in particular of measuring your social media, review this article “How to Budget for Social Media Measurement: 3 Decisions and 3 Rules.” Yep, OK, we know you don’t have money to spend on social media monitoring, but we’re guessing you’re so dreaming of what you would do if you did. This article might take some of the stars out of your eyes when it comes to what to plan for and what you can realistically expect.

Photo by Virgil Cayasa on Unsplash.

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