Posts Tagged ‘ROI’

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?


When they’re not buying what you’re selling…

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

Creative Commons

One harsh reality of social media is that you find out pretty quickly where you stand.  One fairly obvious reality is that the Twitter chat I’ve been working on for a while now — #icchat on internal communications – isn’t exactly setting the world on fire.

This is a little depressing for me, personally. But I shouldn’t be surprised. The truth is, the dearth of participation is traceable to a central problem. Me.

You have to shepherd these things – the most popular and vigorous get a ton of promotional support, and the topic of communication within the enterprise isn’t a social media hotbed.  Nonetheless, we’ve had some great discussions, peaking last fall with about 20 participants and more than 200 tweets. Even the smaller chats have been good, including Thursday’s intimate affair (five of us) where we talked about internal communication outcomes.  (Summary post coming, probably on Friday.)

I am conflicted, however, about whether to continue #icchat.  As I have mentioned, for the past (nearly) two years, I’ve considered social media an experiment, particularly Twitter and blogging. Facebook’s become merely a communication medium, but Twitter’s chat function represents my favorite part of the miniblogging tool.  I like the quick pace, the forced brevity. I like the diversity — #PR20Chat, #KaizenBlog, #MeasurePR, #SoloPR.

But I have to tell you – when one gets paying work, it’s bloody hard to market the chat.  I’ve been fortunate to have pretty steady gigs over the past eight months – both academic and professional. I’ve looked at different days and times to try and hit the best, but it’s been most difficult to get people interested.  I’m disappointed that the organizations – PRSA, IABC – and the commercial groups – Ragan, Melcrum – show not the slightest inclination to participate. I’ve also approached a couple of luminaries in the internal comms space about guesting, but after four or five straight scheduling conflicts, I’d better take the hint.

It is remarkably similar to building a business – it takes a while and takes a lot of effort to market.

To that end, I can’t help but wonder whether to pull the plug on #icchat.  I seem to be doing well at building my business (thanks to some terrific colleagues), am considered a worthy professor and still have a healthy marriage, so perhaps #icchat is odd man out. Gotta think about it some more.  So far, I’m planning to hit it one more time, at least, 19 May at 10 a.m. Eastern Time.

I’m interested in your perspectives.


Lies, Damn Lies, & Stinking Loads of …

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

Courtesy CBS Interactive & Star Trek

Remember that Star Trek episode where Captain Kirk is stuck on some barren planet with a 9-foot Godzilla-like lizard, and the two of them are supposed to fight rather than their respective armies? The big lizard hisses, “I grow weary of the chase. Wait for me — I will make it quick, and painless(sssss). That’s how I’m feeling about measuring social media right now.

It would be so easy to just give in.

I’ve been pondering how to measure influence, in particular, after a spirited discussion on both Justin Goldsborough’s and Shonali Burke’s blogs. That led to a bunch of posts on how we might use the structure of measuring relationships (Hon/Grunig).   This is heady stuff for peanut-brains like me.  The high-forehead types who make their living in the academe are used to thinking in these terms, but all of this stuff is pretty new for me. I’m just some guy, trying to puzzle out how to make sense of the concepts of influence in the social age, and apply the both new and hoary theories in the process. If I have to explain this stuff, I better have some ideas.

But there’s a lot more traction in just inventing a method and telling people it’s the standard, never revealing the contents of the magic box.  From Altimeter to Syncapse, to Vitrue to Klout, we learn that more-social companies have higher revenue than less-social (correlation is NOT causation); Facebook fans of a brand buy more stuff than non-fans (but which drives which?); Facebook fans are worth $3.60 (no, $136, no…), and that the “standard for influence” has something to do with Facebook and Twitter, but we’re not sure what because the formulas are secret.

H-E-double hockey sticks! I want to fight them all!

But, jeepers, why not just join them?  I came up with an idea last year to evaluate political material — know at a glance whether an article is left-or-right wing, moderate, or a combination of both.  I cooked up how it would work (programmed like automated sentiment), selected someone to write the code and even chose a name.

But it would have been a stinking load of … crap! I wasn’t basing it on any kind of research, just my own desire to make money, preferably by selling the company quickly to someone with deeper pockets, poor analytical skills and a short attention span.  Why go to all the trouble of vetting it, ensuring it actually does what it intends? That hasn’t stopped the flow of snake oil!

The class I teach at Kent State meets Wednesday nights, and on 9 March, the estimable Chuck Hemann, SVP for Ogilvy, joined us by Skype to talk to the class. He’s SUCH a smart dude (and he’s humble, claiming that I taught HIM stuff…) What my takeaway was: There are no easy answers to the social media measurement questions, and the snake oil is still gushing in the space. It takes some primary research, some actual analytical work, to figure this out. No shortcuts, no one-size-fits-all formula.

Here, I thought I’d missed the boat and should be hawking the Oil of Genius.  It’d be a lot easier than fighting the good fight, for sure. But I’m glad I’m still on the ramparts, exalting the troops to victory.

Even if I do, occasionally, “weary of the chase.”


Measuring Influence: 4 Learnings

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Measurement isn't just bells and whistles

Measurement for its own sake is a waste of everyone’s time and money. It’s got to be in service of a strategy.

You might say that the foregoing statement is a canard; no one is beating down our doors asking us to just measure something, anything.  But there remain a feisty few, particularly on the social media side of the equation, who keep offering up horsepuckey in the guise of gold bullion.

Witness “4 Ways to Measure Social Media…,” a well-intentioned piece from last summer on Social Media Examiner. Author Nichole Kelly subheads the article with “exposure,” “engagement,” “influence” and “lead generation” — the “4 ways.”  Kelly’s on firm ground about exposure, pointing out the difficulty of a) getting good data and b) ensuring you’re counting only once, though equating reach to awareness is a colossal mistake.  Engagement,  too, is solid (if output-based), covering @replies, DMs, links clicked, comments and subscriptions. Good stuff.

Influence is listed third and lead generation fourth, showing exposure, engagement and influence as the top of the funnel leading to conversion.

The section on influence is underdone, and erroneously says tone (positive, negative, neutral) IS influence.  In fact, according to Yahoo!’s Duncan Watts, Winter Mason, and Jake Hofman, and the University of Michgan’s Etyan Bakshy, influence can’t be credibly determined from content analysis. Read all about it.

I heard Watts speak on this topic during the snowy last week of January at a meeting of the Institute for PR Commission on research, measurement and evaluation, of which I’m a member. Influence is a huge question, and Watts,’s work made me recall the somewhat hoary idea that understanding your specific audience (whether final audience or intermediary) is a lot more important than trying to calculate the exact number of impressions represented by friends of friends and retweet followers.

I pick on influence because it’s the biggest question in social media.  In fact, it’s been a big question in communication in general since the days of Lazarsfeld, Berelson and Gaudet and the two-step flow. Who are the “opinion leaders” and how do we calculate their effectiveness?

Here are four questions that hold promise when considering how to measure influence:

  1. Does the opinion leader “play” in the right sandbox for our intended audience/stakeholder?  Chris Brogan and Brian Solis have lots of followers, tribes that hang on their every tweet. Are their tribes our tribes?  They’ve got awesome scale by sheer numbers, but it’s anyone’s guess how involved they are or whether their followers in turn reach people we care about. We could get Brogan or Solis to talk about our service, product, leader or whatever, but to what end if their followers aren’t the right fit for us?
  2. Can we create a solid chain of links from the opinion leader’s actions to our desired actions?  If we’re working on building corporate reputation, retweets, Facebook “likes” and blog comments should have a relationship to opinions voiced by our final target audience. Simply passing along a leader’s statement (tweet, post, comment, etc.) shouldn’t be construed as adoption! Here’s where content analysis shows promise, especially in blogs and perhaps during Twitter chats. The opinion leader’s output should have some effect if he/she is truly influencing others. Note that this is a qualitative effort and suffers from lack of scale.
  3. Are we mistaking popularity for influence?  Celebrities routinely land atop the Twitter rankings, and there are brands on Facebook with upteen hundreds of thousands of “friends.” But having a lot of friends/followers just makes you popular. See #2 above.  We’ve long wondered about how to judge the effectiveness of influence in conventional relationships, but I don’t think many of us think the most popular student in high school was necessarily the most influential.
  4. Are we inappropriately drawing general conclusions from narrow findings?  Influence is personal and specific.  We make assumptions about readers of newspapers, TV viewers, etc., and have a body of research to back those assumptions up.  In social media, the appearance of influence may be mere output, or outtake at best. Outcomes outside of e-commerce are tough to come by, though clear objectives can solve this problem quickly.

The best measurement starts with research up front, which informs our strategy and objective-setting, followed by more research to determine effectiveness and progress toward objectives.  It’s not just tactical measurement designed to cover our butts or justify our budgets, especially when it’s trying to measure influence.


Oy, such Tsuris!

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

I like running Communication AMMO, especially now that there’s actual REVENUE in the business. Thanks, David R.! In my Media Management course, we have to create a business, and I’ve created a Frankenstein monster. The thing is, it might be a good idea. So now I’m paranoid – should I actually make the business real, sacrifice untold thousands to try and build it, or just accept whatever grade I get and continue my march to academia? I already HAVE a business that’s (mostly) sucking cash amid hope for the future. I’m no serial entrepreneur. Feh!


Random Reflections on IABC’s 2010 Research and Measurement Conference

Saturday, November 20th, 2010
Working on the post

Sean and Shonali toiling in the service of communication

What happens when you get a roomful of communicators listening to a speaker on measurement? It’s not what you think. In this joint post, Shonali Burke and I sat atop the ivory tower after Day 1 of the Conference – and issued what Shonali’s husband would call “grand pronouncements.”

Shonali: Coming down in the elevator, I chanced upon a conversation between a gentleman attending an event hosted by The Gates Foundation, and an attendee of “our” conference. She said, “[Your conference] sounds so much more interesting. I doubt mine will be as riveting as yours.”

On being asked, she said, deprecatingly, that it was a communications conference. At this point, I couldn’t resist. I said, “You mean you’re not overwhelmed with excitement over the IABC Research and Measurement Conference?” She looked at me as if I was crazy. Just before she found out I was a speaker.

Was I mean? I don’t think so. Naughty, perhaps. Not mean. Heck, if you’re going to say whatever you like in an elevator, so can I.

Sean: Several people seemed quite taken by the morning sessions, though one person I encountered less so. She hemmed and hawed when I asked what she thought of the conference so far, never a particularly good sign. But in the end, she didn’t seem to have a clear set of objectives for attending the conference.

This is a huge theme in my teaching: Objectives are everything. If you don’t know what you’re hoping to achieve, you don’t have much of a shot at achieving it.

Shonali: A common editorial comment I keep hearing from attendees at measurement conferences (or presentations related to measurement) is: “It doesn’t seem like the basics have changed… so what do I take away from this?” It drives me a little crazy. No, the basics haven’t changed. That’s because they’re the basics.

How can you not grasp the importance of measuring numbers that matter instead of numbers that make you look good? What part of, “measure [what] has an impact as opposed to simply focusing on the tools,” isn’t easy to understand?

Sean: Angela Sinickas is a treasure trove of case studies. I have to remind myself to call her for research fodder. I saw Angela at PRSA’s 2010 International Conference, and suddenly realized I’d seen her presentation before. Some of that, no doubt, is that she boasts 23 of the Forbes worldwide list as clients. Maybe it’s rank envy! I love the fact that she represents for measurement, and I wonder what she might do with Dr. Don Stacks and Dr. Don Wright nipping at her heels on projects.

Shonali: What was really interesting about this conference was that it wasn’t the usual [measurement expert] suspects presenting.

Well, not all the usual suspects.

Well, not two-thirds of the usual suspects.


Sean: Shel Holtz said you have to measure something, and it doesn’t have to be complicated. I always say that getting your objectives right is the single best start to a measurement program. You’ve got to measure something, and starting with progress on attaining objectives is a great place to start.

I also loved that Patti Phillips went 100 percent professor on the crowd, demanding us to calculate.

Shonali: Represent. Ruminate. Calculate. Especially when it’s way after hours.

What else is a conference for?


5 Reasons Why HR & PR Don’t Get Along

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Ask any corporate communicator who they want to report to and they’ll say, “the CEO!”  Now ask who they’d NEVER want to report to. They’ll say, “HR.”  why is that?

Our corporate cousins in Human Resources have many of the same issues that we do. They want to be seen as strategic resources, not mere tactical cogs in the wheel. They struggle to be taken seriously outside of their functional silos.  They fight for budget and resources with some difficulty, because they “don’t drive sales,” or “don’t understand the business.”  By these lights, we should be strong partners — the shared pain of the back-office services would seem to be a logical impetus for a good relationship.

My own experience demonstrates that possibility. Goodyear’s (now retired) Kathy Geier was a trusted member of then-CEO Bob Keegan’s cabinet.  She reached out to me often on all kinds of matters, and recruited me onto a task force on business process optimization. Many of her team sought me out (and I, them), and we forged a strong, positive relationship. KeyCorp’s Diane Coble and Jeff Darner (since moved on) and I enjoyed similar mutual respect and partnering. Even my brief tenure at National City Corporation included positive experiences working with HR.

But in other organizations, jealousy, turf wars, even outright stiff-necked opposition are the order of the day. Why?

Here are 5 reasons why HR and PR don’t get along.  Next week, 5 ways YOU can build a good relationship with them.

1. HR thinks they’re smarter than PR. There’s a stronger academic body of knowledge in HR, a business school connection missing from most all PR programs, which reside in Journalism.  They think their college experience was more demanding and quantitative than ours.

2. HR is hungry for budget and control.  They want more than just the functional duties of compensation, personnel, etc.This is key to their strategic aspirations; the “support services” model often puts an HR person in charge of all the support functions, elevating them to higher pay and bonus as a result of larger budgets and spans of control.

3. HR often believes that only information critical to the employee should be communicated to them — and that means comp/benefits, business conduct and training opportunities should be top of the fold in the employee newsletter and front-and-center on the intranet. They believe that they know more about communication than we do (and sometimes they’re right, but that’s another post).

4.  HR provides training in many fields, so it believes it knows better how to train managers to be communicators than we do.

5. HR likes checklists. Communicating something is an output to be checked off, not a process with a closed loop. They prefer push to pull, wanting to declare that a communication has been sent and therefore is complete. This is especially fraught when discussing how to measure the effectiveness of communication activity.

Just a reminder — these aren’t hard and fast rules, they’re examples. Your results may vary.  In fact, share your thinking here!  Do these resonate with you? Am I full of it?


Talking About PRSA, IABC, IPR on PRConversations Blog

Monday, July 12th, 2010

I’m honored (or honoured) to have written a guest post on one of the best blogs in all of PR/Communications — PRConversations — thanks to Judy Gombita, who recruited me.  The topic is my tripartite professional association affiliation — IABC, PRSA and the Institute for PR. Namely, are they valuable, necessary and a good value?  The comment stream alone is worth reading, with several luminaries weighing in (and no cursing or objects thrown so far, thankfully.) Give it a read and tell me what you think!


Another IABC International Conference…

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

I recognize that if I’m not a speaker at the big IABC soiree, I’m probably not the target audience for it. I’m not surprised, therefore, that my first blush reaction to the Toronto gathering wasn’t particularly positive.  My goal for attending this year was to meet some new people and make contact with some who I haven’t seen in a while. I hope to eventually get some business from it, but really just need to expand the network.

The programming and format are nearly identical to my first International, in 1995, also in Toronto. That one was a revelation — I was just 4 years or so into the profession, and everything was new.  Every session offered fascinating insights or enhanced skills.  I met scores of people and hung out with many, enjoying my first trip to Toronto and my first extended business trip in several years.

In 1997, L.A. was a different experience. Many of the speakers were the same as two years earlier, and in 2002 at Chicago, there were just a few sessions that really caught my eye. So I took a vacation from the big show until this year.

Things that impressed me:

Erin Dick from Pratt & Whitney — a social media case study that wasn’t from a Silicon Valley firm… Her use of blogs, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr to help support P&W’s client (the U.S.Government) on the selection of an engine for the Joint Strike Force fighter was off the charts — brilliant. And it had a fairly strong measurement component. I decided to Tweet the session instead of trying to take notes. The benefit was that I had a great summary, though my thumbs threatened to lock up from BlackBerry-itis…

William Amurgis from American Electric Power — Looking for use of social media in internal communications? Amurgis delivered. AEP’s blogs, discussion boards, employee-uploaded photos, etc., set a high standard of participation. The company’s intranet philosophy? Enhance employee productivity, reinforce corporate messages and provide a place to meet for all employees. Everything has to pass through that frame, or it doesn’t happen. And, rather than buy software solutions, AEP makes their own. Amurgis has a designer and a developer on his staff.

The UnConference — OK, it was a bit different than other UnConferences (usually low-or-no-cost, open to anyone; you had to buy the day (at least) for the IABC Conference to get in, and it wasn’t cheap) — but the method of operation was different and fun. There was no pre-set program, just a list of ideas posted on the TorontoTalks website (that a few people did discuss first), and three 5-minute “keynotes” — very informally delivered.  The three-hour session on Sunday afternoon was comprised of four 25-minute blocks of time with six possible topics (being held at six tables). We wrote on sticky notes our question or suggested topic, then stuck it on a flip chart in an empty time slot. The writer could lead the discussion, or someone else could.  I talked measurement (what a shock!) with seven other folks and it was fascinating. We didn’t solve the ROI question in full, nor did we get into other facets of communication, but it still was valuable and fun.

The thing is, the (nice) venue, formal structure and overwhelming size of the show made it hard to connect with people. Even the formal networking session (the big one held on the floor of the exhibit show) was just an hour long — not near enough time to connect. (I also didn’t attend Monday’s sessions — none particularly grabbed me. That might have inhibited my networking activities, so shame on me!)

The cost was pretty high for a new entrepreneur, not only in travel but in the conference fee. I’ll be considering very carefully before jumping on again soon. But, if I wind up as a speaker…

{FYI, I’m speaking in November at IABC’s Research and Measurement Conference in Seattle, as well as at the PRSA National conference in DC in October.  I’m also willing to come to chapter lunches, etc., and can make a deal for my PRSA/IABC fellow members!}


Measurement Crucial to PR’s Business Value

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

My learned Australian colleague Geoff Barbaro waxes rant in a post from 17 May (US time), where he inveighs against measurement.  Perhaps not the concept, as much as the practice. He asks:

Do you measure how you look after your family? Do you count the meals, the trips to school, the time spent with children to evaluate effectiveness? When you buy that great new dress or suit that you love, did you then sit down and work through complex metrics to measure what you did?

So why do you think it’s different in business? I’ll tell you why, it’s because you don’t trust people to do the job you employed them to do. You don’t believe they are motivated and care about their work, so you can only make sure they are working by measuring what they do, and then argue that this is the motivational tool. Measuring because “we do what we measure” is a failure of leadership, a failure of motivation, a failure of selection, a failure to define values, a failure of engagement and a failure of communication.

Sorry, Geoff, but this is fuzzy-headed thinking about a vital enhancement to the profession of Public Relations.

I started a comment on Geoff’s blog (a fine and interesting read, btw), but found that it was all too likely that I’d hijack it. And that’s not right. So, here is my reply to Geoff’s shot across the bow. Man the torpedos!


Oh, my. Nothing like an existential rant to get one’s blood up, eh Geoff?

Let’s start by differentiating terms. Measurement isn’t gotcha. It’s not “check-up-on-the-poor-employees.” Neither is it merely about outputs or activities, at least not when it’s strategic.

We in PR have long been the only department in a firm that can say to the C-suite, “trust me” and get away with it. The question on the CEO (and CFO, especially) mind these days, however, is, “What business value do I get for my investment in PR?”

We can take a SWAG (stupid, wild-assed guess) at the answer, but then we sound like witless weasels (um, we build reputation and protect…uh, no, uh, we get media coverage…no, uh, we help the organization communicate effectively, wait, ummmm.)

The fact is that most of us don’t have a clue what the quantifiable business value of PR is, and that’s why PRSA has commissioned a task force to work on that very question. It’s also one of the driving forces in modern PR. It’s created an industry specialty that people are finding value in, even though there is much sophistry and bad measurement out there.

In modern business, every department must contribute to the bottom line. So, direct sales and the support for sales is a winner, as is direct effort to improve efficiency, save money, etc. There’s also credible research about the effect on brand awareness, attitude and disposition of various PR activity. On the internal side, engagement metrics, and employee knowledge and behavioral metrics lend credence to a communicator’s value.

The trick is to a) Measure what matters; and b) Link communication outputs to business outcomes. This is, indeed, a hairy process, filled with risks — bad math the most prevalent, if you ask me.  Correlation is not causation, but frequently it’s a pretty good stand-in for it, if your math is good.  We mustn’t give up on the goal of establishing impact metrics and ROI just because it’s so much easier if we don’t!

I don’t know, Geoff, if I agree that “what gets measured gets done,” but I’m sure that if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it.