Communications Measurement Is About Showing Progress, Not Just Number Of Followers

Measuring the value and promise of communications and PR, in particular, has been an ongoing conversation in organizations, in board rooms and in the industry itself. Everybody wants it, not many know how to do it.

Getting crystal clear on your objectives is job number one. There are many reasons to have a communications effort:
• Visibility (positioning and awareness)
• Influence and persuasion (issues management, attitude and behavior changes)
• Volume attention (sales, attendance, web and social media traffic)
• Recognition & appreciation (kudos, awards, sales support)
• Employee recruiting and retention/employee communication
• Investor perception (stock value, investor and analyst attention)

From there, more exact goals and objectives should be identified. It’s not enough to just say you want to generate buzz. (Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries did that just fine, but was that kind of visibility a goal? Well, maybe.) You need to be more specific. This will help you focus on the impact that is made over just volume attention.

Next, identify what would directly and what would indirectly identify the impact a communications outcome will have.

For instance, if one of your goals is to develop a stronger pipeline of sales leads, you may engage in a speaking engagement program where you speak at many seminars and conferences where potential customers attend. Attendance at those events, number of after-presentation conversations, and web site statistics spiking (or not) are typical measurements. But those measurements don’t really identify the impact your speech had on the potential clients’ way of thinking, their conversations with peers after the event and what they tweeted, posted or commented upon online after your presentation was different than what they believed before, and how that unidentified reporter sitting way in the back changed his story because of what you said.

Numbers are good. But, numbers with the additional layer of attitude and behavior changes are better. How do you do that?

Furthering our measurement program for developing a more robust sales pipeline, other measurements to include would be:
• Before and after surveys (of conference attendees) (What piqued their interest?)
• Focus groups (Have beliefs and behaviors changed?)
• Feedback from the sales force before the year of conference hopping and after (Did they notice any changes?)
• Conference media coverage (Did it include you or rather instead include the competition?)
• Google analytics summaries (Did traffic come from the conferences?)
• Media, blog and social channel “audits” before and after a year of conference appearances (Did the conversation change?)

In the end, communication efforts take time to influence. Measurement takes time, too. But, the investment of resources, including your time and energy, is well worth the labor.

On Thursday, I’ll take each macro objective and provide a list of potential measurements to consider.

Measurement: The Most Ignored Section of the Communications Plan?

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.

Step 1 of the Modern Communications Plan: Vision and Desired Achievements

Yesterday I offered a template for a modern day communications plan. If you haven’t refreshed your plan in the last 18 months, you may want to consider doing so.

I will blog about each section in the coming days. First up is identifying your vision and desired accomplishments. Also developing a list of goals and objectives is important. Determining these upfront will ground your planning and execution and ensure communications programs result in what you want and need.

With communications, an end is never truly reached. It is an ongoing effort. But, when do you know you’ve arrived at a place where you can say it is working? Write up your vision for the communications effort. Once reach, influence and action is obtained from your communications, what is the big result? What is the reputation and image you want to develop?

A good result of a communications effort for a nonprofit organization might be to reach “go to” status on all things related to their cause. For a business, it may be developing a level of authority or be seen as the most customer friendly of all competition. Regardless, name the reputation and image you want to have resulting from the effort. This segment of the plan keeps everyone on the same page and working toward the same status, character and standing in your market or industry. It is grounding.

Our Greatest Accomplishment
By listing a Greatest Accomplishment you are essentially telling everyone there is a specific goal you want to reach that will illustrate when you have “arrived.” What is the “holy grail” achievement that would show your influence is working?

An example would be for an organization to have changed a particular conversation in its marketplace or to have introduced a new idea. For some businesses, getting on the front page of The Wall Street Journal (in a positive light, of course) is seen as the ultimate success. Whatever it is, give everyone something to strive for that is concrete and achievable. It is motivating.

Goals and Objectives
This section differs from the Greatest Accomplishment. What are the mile markers that show you are making things happen and are headed in the right direction?

Goals are milestones to reach, likes steps on a giant communications ladder. They include things such as number of followers, fans, likes and engagement levels from audience members. Other goals might be getting published, having so much traffic at a trade show booth, and holding a certain number of events to positive acclaim and more.

Objectives are things you create, such as sparking new conversations, new ways of thinking, and new levels of status and standing. Other examples include moving from proactively pitching the media to having the media reach out to you for commentary or being asked to be a guest blogger regularly. Regardless, list them as specifically as you can. It will keep the plan “working.”

On Monday, I’ll delve deeper into the Target Audience section.

A Template for the Modern Communications Plan

Beyond the usual strategy and tactics (reaching out to reporters, attending trade shows, etc.), what are some of the things that need to be considered as part of today’s communications planning? Below is a template that we use for planning our clients’ overall communications and special projects. Each day I will blog about the main parts, including providing questions  that need your answers, tips and techniques, and identifying the big changes taking place in the world of mass communications.

  1. Vision. This section is a one paragraph answer to how the organization wants to be known. Or, if it is a project, what do we want to leave behind when the project is complete?
  2. Our Greatest, Desired Accomplishment.  This section highlights the single most important communication accomplishment that the organization or project can achieve in one year.
  3. Goals and Objectives. This section differs from the greatest accomplishment in that goals are things you reach (milestones such as audience numbers) and objectives are things you create (new creations, such as new conversations and ways of thinking or a new status).
  4. Target Audience. This section can include demographic data, market research, and other information that describes who you are communicating to.
  5. Main Communications Channels. This section should describe the main channels (social channels, traditional, media outlets, events and shows and more) that you are going to use to push out your information, thought leadership and ideas.
  6. Strategies. This section discusses the main strategies employed and why.
  7. Main Tactics. This section is the action plan. It answers what you are going to do on a daily, weekly and monthly basis to move the communications effort forward.
  8. “We Won’t” List. This section does precisely what the title says. Knowing what you will not focus your attention on (but could) is vital to having a focused effort.
  9. Content Strategy. The section addresses how you are  going to assess, develop and manage the ideas, thoughts and content you will use to direct conversations, viewpoints and reputation and image.
  10. Positioning, Messaging & Storytelling. This section should include your story and message guide, from a positioning statement, value proposition and spotlight pitch on the organization or project to a few signature stories that illustrate what you are accomplishing or how you think.
  11. Monitoring & Measurement. This section, one of the most well-intentioned but often ignored  areas, will go into measuring how well you are doing and how to share that with managers, executive teams and other stakeholders.
  12. Team Players. This section will identify – by name – who is going to design and implement the plan.

We are open to your ideas, as well. If you believe a modern day communications plan should include sections we neglected to include, let us know. In the meantime, check back daily for the plan’s breakdown.

Replacing the Age Old Media Impression Calculation?

For many years, public relations professionals relied on circulation figures and media  impressions to justify the success (or failure) of a print media relations campaign. Providing clients with a long list of media “hits” with attached impression numbers was what we called “reporting our success.” But, today, with easy access to online and mobile media and the rise of social media, what people are reading and how they are being influenced is changing emerging being revolutionized. It’s only natural our way of reporting whether or not a media relations campaign is successful would change, as well.

Of course, I’m still waiting for that magical new formula. If you believe the six media monitoring vendors we’ve talked with in the last two months about this, the new Magic Success Reporting Formula is still being developed and might not be far away. In the meantime we still report media impressions (along with tone: positive, negative, neutral).

We tried sending reports from other monitoring services, which rate influence and resonance and other fun buzz words. But, our client’s eyes glazed over at the multi-color charts and long lists of hits with live hyperlinks to “see more.” They told us they didn’t know much more than when we just sent them an old-fashioned excel spreadsheet listing stories earned with a final media impression number at the bottom.

I feel their confusion.

And, then today I learned that daily newspapers are beginning to rewrite their own circulation rules. They appear to be engaged in a “do-over.” Determining their “circulation” and readership will now take into account online editions and mobile apps, according to this well-written blog. Good for them. 

Of course this means when we compare our media impression numbers from last year to this year, we’re in a conundrum. But, nevertheless, a new calculation should be developed. 

In addition to reports from the media monitoring companies,  we’ve toyed with the ideas of assigning a separate numerical value to our client’s “wish list” and including a separate report on what news stories in which they are involved are retweeted, shared and posted by others. But, still we wonder.

Where is the line between enough information to calculate success and just too much data, numbers and (albeit fun) charts?

I’d be curious to know what other methods public relations agencies engage when calculating media campaign successes. What say you?

Note: For those of you who are already beginning to pine for the days of smudged fingers and crackles made during page turning, check out this blog: Reflections of a Newsosaur. It made me want to go buy (and read) a real newspaper.