This section in your communications plan is one of the most well-intentioned but often ignored areas. You may be saying to yourself, of course we’ll be watching what we’re doing and see how well it’s going. But, do you know how you will go about monitoring and capturing the results from your communications work? And, once you see the outcomes, will you understand what they mean and the influence they are having? How will you track the results against your goals and objectives?
First, know how you would know you’ve reached your audience and reached them well. If your communications effort is a success, what will your audience learn from you, what will they understand and believe, and how will they act from now on?
From there, you can identify what is important to measure:
- actual traffic, such as how often people visited your Web said or other online channels (social or otherwise), how many people attended your speaking engagement or stopped by the trade show booth and more,
- level of engagement, such as number of comments on blog posts, retweets on twitter, questions at events, conversations going “viral” online and more,
- extent of interest in your stories, which is often measured by media attention, attendance at speaking engagements, sign-ups to blogs, RSS feeds and more, and
- a change in attitude or behavior among your target audience members, most often measured formally via market research or sales cycle changes.
Then, set up a monitoring system to track those results. A myriad of online tools exist for tracking traffic and engagement levels. But, we believe it takes a human being to monitor both offline and online conversations and messaging to see if the work is “taking hold.” Someone should be in charge of actively participating in the channels being used to communicate.
If I were to be asked for an ideal measurement scenario, it would include formal market research. Budgetary concerns often make the ability to conduct surveys, studies and focus groups difficult. But, by measuring attitudes and behaviors of your target group via formal market research before the communications plan is executed and then again after the effort, the level of change affected in your target will be much more apparent than just counting up number of media hits and retweets (as important as doing those things are).
Regardless of the measurements you will use, benchmark the results gathered against the milestones you’ve identified for the plan (in addition to goals and objectives) and see how results track over time. In general, communications activities do not produce results over night even in our fast-paced online world. Be sure to set up realistic goals for seeing results.
If you know your target audience well, you should be able to see if the results the communications effort produced are a substantial change or shift in your audience’s understanding about you (and their actions) or not.