Archive for the ‘Measurement’ Category

Be the Gordon Ramsay of communications assessment (without the profanity)

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

Watch any Gordon Ramsay show and you’ll hear a lot of screaming and profanity. Chef Ramsay screams because successful restaurateurs know there is no fool-proof recipe for success in that business. The same can be said about communications measurement.

A restaurant’s success is the combination of the ingredients used, the positive reviews secured and the way winning was defined. By combining data from activities, awareness and behavior, communicators can produce evaluations that that are accurate, actionable and vulgarity-free.

Select the ingredients: farm fresh and locally sourced
For communicators, we examine qualitative and qualitative activities — number of emails sent, press releases issued, or the introduction of new branding. Many measurement programs begin and end by counting effort, but fast food proves that ingredients are only one component of overall success.

Analyze the reviews: professional critics and
Opinions voiced in surveys and straw polls, as well as superficial engagement figures such as event attendance or number of blog comments, help communicators measure changes in awareness, attitude and understanding. Lacking context, this information is as helpful as a restaurant review written by the owner’s mother.

Define the win: Michelin stars and long waits for tables
Outcomes are the deliberate result of every other decision and action that was made. Communicators measure outcomes that are defined for each communications project and aligned to the business strategy.

Taste the victory: magic for diners, profits for restaurateurs
A comprehensive picture of your communications programs will help you claim victory for the larger organizational goals or identify and correct problems.

If your program falls short, it’s understandable that some choice words will be used. Gordon Ramsay could have been speaking about public relations when he said “Swearing is industry language…You’ve got to be boisterous to get results.”

Perhaps a little profanity is OK.

Amanda Marko, president of Connected Strategy Group, connects companies with stakeholders to make the business strategy reality and goals achievable during times of change. Connect with her online at and on Twitter @connectedstrat.


On the balance sheet, it’s ‘goodwill’

Friday, September 28th, 2012

A fever dream of most communicators I know is that we could quantify in monetary terms the public relations/communications value to organizations. It inspires yearning, craving, shivering, salivating and panting — at least in a few communicators I’ve known.

The marketing folks love to lord it over their PR colleagues — X impressions equals Y prospects equals Z sales. We don’t apply that formula often, and I worry that if we concentrate too much on quantifying impact on sales, we wind up reducing our role by at least half if not more.  In the broadest sense, all communication functions are about impact on the business of the business, true, as we won’t sell as much with a bad reputation as we might with a good one.

The trouble is that looking for that direct formula can lead to discounting issues management, employee communications, social responsibility, community relations, and all other stuff that isn’t directly related to product/service PR.  This is why I embrace the term “integrated communications,” but reject the inclusion of the word “marketing” in between the two words.

What we need is a monetary proxy for reputation, and I wonder whether “goodwill” might be a worthy solution. Goodwill is, in a merger, the difference between book value and the price paid in the acquisition. It’s the value in real terms of the brand, the reputation the acquired company brings to the table, the potential sales represented by the customer base.  You might say that the intrinsic knowledge of the employees (as opposed to the explicit knowledge) has value in that construct too. Think of an industrial firm, such as Goodyear, with all the patents it owns, all the innovations it’s bringing to the table. Surely those are worth something in financial terms.

Improving reputation, even if it doesn’t draw an explicit path to revenue, should lead to an improvement in the overall value of the enterprise. The activity that brings about that improvement can be quantified in terms of impact through research, both objectively (in terms of behavioral factors such as recommendations), and subjectively (in terms of qualitative measures such as willingness to recommend.) We then could look for statistical linkages among those data.

OK, my academic friends can sharpen their red pencils, no doubt, as I’m grossly oversimplifying. But I’m fairly certain that there is something to this. What if we could document the reputational impact of influence?

Think with me…


The role of scale in social media is oversold

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

The next time I see an article saying that social media measurement is about followers, likes and comments/retweets, I’m going to scream loud enough to raise the dead. These are not business results.

Social media measurement takes place across a three-part continuum — outputs, outtakes (or communication outcomes) and business results. Measurement should cover all three parts, including followers, likes, comments and retweets, but we must not mistake those outputs for real business impact. When we focus on the outputs, we’re extrapolating impact and the potential for impact — not measuring impact itself. When we look at the middle part — outtakes — we get wrapped up in web traffic without closing the loop.

Ask yourself WHY you want followers/fans. What is it we want them to think, feel or do? Measure that! Performance against objectives!  It doesn’t have to be sales/revenue/retention, but it’s mighty helpful if it does. Don’t stop at measuring only the things you have direct control over. Connect the dots. Carry your outputs to business results. Don’t rely on mere correlation — track the different inputs that lead to the objectives you’ve set.

What does the headline of this post have to do with these past 179 words?

Followers have to be influenced by you to feel, think or do something that advances your business objectives. There’s some credible research that suggests there’s a plateau of influence, a point at which influence wanes as the network grows larger.  More on this later, but I implore you — there are no shortcuts to establishing the impact proposition of public relations/communications. I don’t think you’ll find it by counting the number of retweets and likes, however easy that might be.

More info for those of you who might read it:

Katona, Z., Zubcsek, P., & Sarvary, M. (2011). Network effects and personal influences: The diffusion of an online social network. Journal of Marketing Research, 48(3), 425-443. doi:10.1509/jmkr.48.3.425

Kitsak, M., Gallos, L., Havlin, S., Litjeros, F., Muchnik, L., Stanley, H., & Makse, H. (2010, November ). Identifying spreaders in complex networks. Nature Physics, 6. DOI: 10.1038/NPHYS1746 . Retrieved April 8, 2012, from

Satell, G. (2011, November 6). Exploding the influentials myth [Web log post]. Retrieved April 6, 2012 from


Considering the state of online influence

Friday, April 27th, 2012

How do we measure influence?

If you read these humble musings semi-regularly, you know that I’m rather suspicious of most so-called measures of online influence. Too often, it’s black-box, secret sauce, cloak-and-dagger, and one really can’t judge the veracity of the claims.

I don’t want to single any company out, so suffice to say that whatever science is behind those claims, I have been looking for independent, scholarly research that might back it up. Conceptually, I ask myself: “Is online influence different from offline influence? How might we measure it if so? If not?”

This pondering, and the requirement to write a literature review for Dr. Danielle Coombs’s qualitative research class, pushed me into examining research from several different disciplines, including marketing and communication, psychology, sociology, information technology and even the hard sciences. In so doing, I believe I’m building a foundation for my eventual master’s thesis.

I am interested in the influence process as qualitative in nature, rather than strictly quantitative. Predictability isn’t necessarily what I’m striving for (thus guaranteeing I won’t get it published…), but rather trying to understand the process as it is.  You’ve heard the claims — retweets and @replies as evidence of influence (Kaushik’s RTs per 1000 followers), shares and likes on Facebook, etc.  We know that it’s quite variable according to who you are and what industry you’re in, who your audience is, and so forth.

In short, where’s the beef in this influence sandwich?

I’m unsatisfied by publications from research firms and others with a vested interest, which is a huge challenge. I have found so far that there’s not all that much in current scholarship that is directly related to the online space, and much of what there is dates from three to five years ago, an eternity in internet time.

So, stay tuned – I have no intention of abandoning this effort, and to the extent there is interest in what I’ve found so far, I plan to share.


Getting attention with internal communication

Monday, January 16th, 2012

It’s become a cliche, you know. Overworked employees who can’t keep up with all the information they need to consume to be effective, despite (or because of) e-mail, voicemail, Facebook, Twitter, Yammer, Sharepoint…  But why blame the tools? It’s the strategy that needs work.

I recall 17 years ago when “we want employees to manage their own information” became a watchcry.

The idea was to create a repository of news and information and get people to seek it out.  This change from “push” to “pull” was supposed to take the heat off of communicators and bring about a knowledge revolution. Instead, employees voted with their feet, ignoring most all the news we pushed out, especially the stuff that supposedly was “important” — the company strategy, leadership messages and  human resources materials.  We were repurposing news releases in those days, not really originating stories from the employee perspective. We were passive, and we waited for our internal clients to come up with stuff.

Well, that’s not altogether true. We called them and asked, “Got any news?” What we should have done is treated employees as our clients and looked for reasons to do a piece, not expect our leaders and managers to come up with stuff on their own.

All through the years, our best-read materials at Key, Goodyear, National City and other places were stories, not news. They had people and drama and conflict and tension, or at least a compelling new angle on our business, told through example and demonstration, not mere recitation of fact.

At Goodyear, we had our interns do a ton of writing for our intranet, GO.  During their yearlong assignment, they’d cover plenty of news, such as events, quarterly earnings, significant announcements and industry doings, of course. But they also had to originate stories, particularly in the last couple of months of the assignment.

They wrote country profiles, talking with leaders and others about the business situation. They did stories on different parts of the business and people. And they did a multipart series focusing on one regional business, or on the fastest-growing geographies in the company.

These stories got read because they helped employees make sense of the information instead of merely leaving everything up to them.

We began to attract news from all the major business units, increasing our annual story count into the range of 1,200 – 1,500 stories per year.  Over a two-year period, we tripled our monthly GO traffic (visits and pages viewed) and saw a 10% increase in understanding of our company strategy.

How do you get attention, cut through the clutter? Write (produce) stories that matter to your employees, balancing the need for leadership to transmit information with the need for employees to have relevant content available to them.  Do research among employees and leaders to discover what those stories should be, and do it often.

All you’ve got to lose is your irrelevancy.


WSJ: Buzz May Not Matter

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

Many of us in the measurement community strive to get people to connect communication activity to business results — outcomes, not outputs.  The reason for this fanaticism got ink in the Wall Street Journal today with a story about how TV shows that got great social media buzz wound up flopping once people actually saw the shows.

This should be no surprise.  Mainstream hype often produces a big opening weekend, but if the film is crappy, the grosses deflate pretty fast.  It makes sense to be the same in SocMed.  Still, I know there are some SocMed consultants in Hollywood right now trying to convince the studios that all that Twitter and Facebook traffic built on the back of a hot trailer will lead to bigger receipts at the box office.

For the right films, that’s probably got some truth. But for everyone?

That’s why we cannot ascribe attaining squishy communication targets as ROI. They aren’t.  If success is Twitter mentions, Facebook fans and other hype, all that stuff had better lead to business results of some description. Outcomes, baby, not outputs.

By the way, how’d you like Green Lantern? Charlie’s Angels (the reboot?) The Playboy Club (on NBC?) They all got terrific buzz…


PR as sales support: EZ 2 Measure, but…

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

Our ongoing conundrum in public relations measurement is how best to move our practice from simple output measures to more substantive matters. Mostly, we struggle to connect our outputs to business outcomes – results. This puzzle has led to thinking of ourselves as extensions of marketing, looking to conduct activities that have a more direct impact on sales. Certainly a fair number of people are having a fair amount of success in that respect.

There are a few things that worry me about this type of focus. Among them, Whither internal communications?  Subject matter that targets employee engagement often has little direct effect on revenue. Even attempts to get employees to “think like owners” and “spend each dollar like it was your own” have to have only the most tangential effect on savings. Does that mean we shouldn’t attempt to help employees identify with the company? Avoid communicating the benefits of working there? Forget about generating employee ambassadors?  I hope not.

What about corporate social responsibility? Helping to create the environment where the organization can thrive is critical, but doesn’t turn up consistently on a balance sheet. There’s research that says people want to do business with companies that match their own ethical priorities, but that’s not the same direct connection as conducting a product PR campaign focused on sales.

Investor relations and government relations have different impact than direct sales – it’s part of the public affairs world that, like CSR, has a roundabout relationship to sales. Do we stop doing that? (BTW, I’m aware that these are usually separate departments, but stick with me, please.)

As apocryphal as these cases might sound, there’s a real danger in thinking of PR only in the direct-sales case. Our profession is wider than that.  When we seek to measure only in ROI terms (a financial term with a financial result), we unnecessarily limit ourselves and start to think that if one sees everything as a nail, every tool looks like a hammer.

Reputation and issues management should be critical to strategy development. Third-party endorsement and the two-step flow to influencers are still relevant.  Sales-related PR isn’t wrong or bad — it’s just not the only relevant game in town.  We have other tools in the toolbox that serve different purposes…All marketing is communication, but not all communication is marketing.



Engagement as an ‘Objective’

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

Gotta hit the bullseye (creative commons)

True or False: The point of social media for business is to engage with people.

That statement is being used as a club to pummel the reluctant into the social media world. Remember the glory days of the dawn of the World Wide Web?  Businesses needed Web sites because customers who weren’t on the Web now would be soon… Because people would look up your business on Yahoo! or Alta Vista or AOL to try and learn about you…Because it was so cool to be on the Web!

It took a while to get there, but now the idea that a business could be viable without a website is ludicrous. It may well turn out that way for social media too.  But back to the first sentence — there’s a defensible body of wisdom that says social media for businesses isn’t about direct selling (Southwest Airlines excluded, as well as other online businesses), it’s about engagement.

So how do we know if our audience/stakeholders is/are engaged?

It could be blog comments, Twitter @ replies and RTs, Facebook “likes” or any number of seemingly independent activities. But do those activities really constitute engagement in a meaningful way?

I surmise that there needs to be more independent research to answer that question. As well, I wonder whether engagement really matters to the business, which is the pregnant elephant in the living room in measurement circles. I’m most concerned with what happens as a result of engagement than of engagement itself.

But I am comfortable with the notion of engagement as a goal, a weigh station on the way to a business objective. To use the academic vernacular, it’s likely an outtake — a measurable step on the way to business results — rather than a business result of its own.  Though some folks have averred that those who engage with a brand are more likely to spend and spend more than those who do not, the research is self-serving — it’s coming from firms who have a vested interest.  Open up the methodology in that black box and let’s have the math types run it through a wringer!

In the meantime, go ahead with your plans to engage publics — just be sure that engagement is in service to something that matters to business results.


When You Don’t Need to #MeasurePR

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

No Measurement!

Being a measurement evangelist feels like really hard work sometimes. On the one hand, I haven’t been at it long enough to complain — witness the indefatigable Katie Paine and Angela Jeffrey, who’ve been toiling in the trenches for, well, a long time.

But there surely are situations where measurement is unnecessary, right?

For example, you’re, I don’t know, Walmart. Your stock is suffering, there are employee lawsuits, and one of your stores has been destroyed by a tornado. How much measurement do you need to do to know you’re media coverage is, well, tortuous?  It’s likely that no amount of proactive management is going to turn your story around — at least not meaningfully.

Or, you’re a big money center bank — yep, the titans of capitalism currently getting the lion’s share of blame for the financial crisis (some of which is just wrong.) Can’t you make an educated guess about your coverage?

Aside from my personal financial stake in getting Walmart or a big bank to hire me to help them with measurement, I’ll give you three reasons why you should not measure – and three reasons why you should.

Forget Measurement When:

  1. You cannot make a difference. Sometimes business will hand you a dirt sandwich, and you have no choice but to eat it. There’s no need to weigh the sandwich, examine the types of dirt , evaluate the sandwich-maker, etc. Just eat it and move on.
  2. You’re unwilling to do what it takes to make things better.  Often, the worst media situations are when you’re “making tough choices.”  Layoffs, facility closures, moves from one city to another, hiring more executives. The path to turning the story around leads through the organization revisiting its management decisions — deciding not to outsource, keeping the plant open and operating, renovating existing headquarters rather than pitting your incumbent city against somewhere else.  See #1, above.
  3. It’s more expensive to measure than the program your measuring.  Advanced statistics are miraculous. We absolutely can measure the specific impact of public relations/communication activity on the bottom line. We just need a lot of data to isolate our impact from everything else that influences the bottom line.  That costs money (not as much as you might think, but still,) so let’s spend wisely.

Do Measurement When:

  1. You care about whether what you’re doing is working or not. You have objectives, and hopefully, they’re specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound (S.M.A.R.T.) They have a benchmark, target and timeframe. So, if you don’t measure, how do you know whether you’re making progress?
  2. You know you need to change.  Make data-driven decisions! Your intuition is flawless, of course, but as I’ve said many times, the days of PR/Communications being able to wave a hand and say, “trust me” to the c-suite are over.  A former boss told me, “facts and data win the day,” and that’s good advice.
  3. You need numbers to share with the numbers people.  Qualitative, quantitative, no matter. There are times when the people you need demand numbers. Measure to give them what they need.  Share of voice/discussion, peer comparison of tone of mention, trends in coverage overall, message presence/absence, correlation of coverage to Web traffic. Do measurement when you need to do it!

There is one other reason to do measurement — though more accurately, it’s research we want to do, not only measurement.  It’s the right thing to do. It puts us on a firmer foundation. It informs our opinions and enhances our credibility.

What’s your view?


Two Twitter Chats: #MeasurePR Tues., #ICChat 21 April

Monday, April 11th, 2011

This Tuesday, 12 April, I pinch hit moderating the #MeasurePR Twitter discussion at 12 Noon Eastern, batting for the estimable @Shonali Burke. We’re going to talk B.A.D. measurement — BS, AllWet and Dumb.  It’s a continuation of  a theme for me — there’s so much crap measurement and stupid metrics that we need to squash, it’s worth chatting about. Who knows, maybe we’ll get some folks who disagree!  #MeasurePR is at 12 Noon, Tuesday, 12 April.  Secondly, a week from Thursday, 21 April, is the return of #ICChat on internal communications.  Frankly, the participation’s been a little light — maybe not enough internal commsters are on Twitter, or maybe it’s not a creative enough topic from me. Or, I haven’t marketed it enough. Whatever. If you want to talk Internal Comms, join us at 10 a.m. Eastern Time on 21 April.