Disaster Guaranteed: Leaving Social Media Out of Your PR Measurement Program Is a Really Bad Idea


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Twenty years ago my company was asked to start measuring “this new Internet thing” by two prescient clients at Epson, Kathleen Buczko and Denise Offutt. They wanted to know what their customers and prospects were saying about Epson printers. So in the late 90s we started scraping Internet user forums. It was an eye-opening adventure.

Contrary to popular opinion at the time, news wasn’t traveling from consumer generated media to the the front page of The New York Times or Computerworld. In fact it was the reverse. About two weeks after a product announcement, customers, and prospects would begin to debate the merits of products. When we added in some sales and marketing data, we found that those online reviews actually had greater influence on product sales than traditional media reviews. Right about then social media became a critical ingredient in every media analysis.

Which is why it stuns me when some PR people insist that social media be excluded from their media analysis reports.

Often, this dictate stems from a completely mistaken belief that if the PR person didn’t “place” or otherwise influence a story, then it doesn’t count. It’s also a pretty good indication that measurement is being used for justification rather than learning what works and what doesn’t work. Don’t get me going: Using measurement to justify your existence is a red flag to management and a surefire way to get your budget cut.

If you happen to be one of those don’t-measure-the-social-media types, then just stop for a moment and consider:

  1. Can you really afford to ignore 40% of your audience? 30% of Americans get their news from Facebook, and 10% get it from YouTube. Half of all social network users have shared a news story or video.
  2. Are your stories likely to be considered breaking news? 33% of Americans follow news stories throughout the day, frequently via their social networks?
  3. Do you sell a product? 81% of consumers go online before heading out to a store.
  4. Are referrals and recommendations important to you? Consumers are 71% more likely to make a purchase based on social media referrals. 74% of consumers rely on social networks to guide purchase decisions.
  5. Are you in the health care, medical, or pharmaceutical industry? 72% of internet users say they looked online for health information within the past year. 31% of cell phone owners and 52% of smartphone owners have used their phone to look up health or medical information.

My point is that by leaving out social media you are ignoring the people who have the greatest influence over the success or demise of your organization.

Here are a few consequences:

  1. You won’t know whether your messages and actions are resonating with your customers and other stakeholders.
  2. You have no idea which ideas or news items are getting traction with the general public and which aren’t.
  3. If you’re not integrating what social is saying about your brand, your product, or your services, then you could become the next Starbucks, McDonald’s, JP Morgan, or SeaWorld—and be the last to know about your very own crisis.

The right way to approach a decision about what to include or exclude from your measurement report is to approach your media analysis from a business perspective:

  • Who are the key stakeholders for the organization?
  • Where do they get information?
  • What influences their decisions?
  • Where do they get their news?

Yes, we know social measurement is messy; it dramatically increases the volume of data you are dealing with. But there are easy way to manage the process:

  • Establish your priorities. If you are in the business of influencing behavior in some way—trying to get people to buy your product, change a vote, or donate to your cause—there are people who are influential to that process and there are people who are not. Some of those people might be traditional journalists, some may be bloggers, and some may be journalists with a Twitter handle or a Periscope account. Pay attention to them, and track what they have to say everywhere—in The Wall Street Journal, on Tumblr, and on their YouTube channel. You can count the others, but you don’t have to do an in-depth analysis, because chances are they’ll be repeating what the influentials are saying.
  • Build a system that brings the information together in one place. Set up alerts in Google News, or talk to any one of the numerous vendors who would be delighted to help, from CyberAlert at the low end to NetBase at the higher end. Talk to the ones who have the most experience integration traditional and social. They’ll be able to create a program that fits within your budget. ∞

About Author

Katie Paine

I've been called The Queen Of Measurement, but I prefer Seshat, the Goddess.