As we’ve discussed before, understanding the value of public relations is rarely a straightforward process. Concepts like measuring column inches (literally) and calculating ad equivalency were once the standard in providing concrete figures to justify the cost of PR campaigns. Over time, however, these legacy metrics have been increasingly cast aside in favor of more high-tech solutions. In the private sector, businesses largely gauge success on whether an initiative can be linked to a sale, or at least a promising lead. If the right tools are in place, you can track inbound traffic from an online piece of thought leadership and eventually identify it as the genesis of a sale, but solutions that allow businesses to do this clearly and easily are still being developed. In the meantime, there are several metrics being used today that show the different values of your PR work. Here are the top five that Milldam likes to track:
Engagement is simply a measurement of the number of actions taken by viewers on your content. Most commonly seen with social media posts, engagement can take a variety of forms….which is also why it can also be hard to measure. For example, engagement could be a positive or negative mention on any number of social media platforms, likes/shares/retweets, an opening of an email or newsletter, or a link click. Measuring engagement can be time consuming but ultimately valuable, as it gives your marketing and/or PR efforts direction as to whether the content they’re creating is positively resonating with the target audience. Its largest drawback is that interactivity on the Internet continues to grow across platforms, and there is no one tool that can measure the activity on every social channel, byline article comment section, email and newsletter interactions, etc. Thus, trying to get an encompassing snapshot of your engagement efforts on a PR campaign can be difficult.
Often considered a legacy metric, calculating media impressions is an activity that marketing and PR firms have been undertaking in one form or another for generations. At its most basic, impressions are a measurement of the number of times the public has seen your content. Created at a time when marketing and PR data wasn’t as granular or scrutinized as it is today, examining impressions still holds some value as a barometer of how visible your content is in a campaign and how frequently it is being seen. Impressions are no longer used as a key indicator of whether a campaign was successful, but when viewed alongside these other metrics, impressions are still a valuable piece of the puzzle in determining how to shape your strategy.
Whether utilizing a subscription based solution or creating Google Alerts for free, tracking your company, product, or brand mentions is important in establishing how the public is shaping your reputation. To help accomplish this, you need to determine the impact of the outlet that has crafted the mention. While all are important, targeting your efforts to nurture or refute a mention from a national news site or valued trade publication is a better use of your time than tracking down individual twitter or blog posts. Following your corporate mentions also allows for some demographic targeting in marketing and PR campaigns. As time goes on and new social media platforms are created, evolve, or eliminated, they tend to attract different audiences. For example, targeting mentions to the platforms being used by teens or young adults (like Snapchat and Instagram) may be more valuable to your sales efforts than placing content on sites with users that are much older (like LinkedIn) or vice versa.
In terms of public relations, I always find it easiest to explain reach as a similar concept to “going viral.” Reach consists of the range that your content has through its audience, which also gives an indication of how far it can be circulated. Marketing and PR professionals always hope that a campaign will have excellent reach, as the messaging will be spread organically. This usually happens via social channels but “word of mouth” is certainly still applicable and on occasion you can get an excellent result like a news outlet running a story that originated with a Facebook post or a trade publication seeing an interesting LinkedIn post and wanting to learn more. If increasing reach and exposure are some of your primary marketing goals, campaigns can be targeted to maximize these results. For example, you may try sending social messages to influential accounts within your industry (or tagging those accounts) with the hope that they rebroadcast them. When this happens, your social post is seen by the people following your account, the influencer’s account, and more if people following the influencer share the post yet again (with the cycle continuing many times). Thus, a single post to social media from your account with 500 viewers is seen by the 10,000 followers of the influencer you targeted, and even more if his or her followers also shared the content. Visibility increases rapidly and provides exposure to a diverse audience, although generating this kind of attention (especially for free) isn’t quite as easy as it sounds.
Share of Voice
Share of Voice (SOV) is one of the most popular new metrics being used to measure the success of marketing and PR efforts. Worthy of a blog post unto itself, SOV is calculated by viewing the success of your exposure against your direct competitors. This definition can be further refined and segmented into different categories, but for simplicity’s sake we’ll stick with the broader formula. Assuming you don’t work in a niche industry, figuring out your SOV is too complex to do alone. There are a variety of solutions that can be tailored to your line of work that will monitor and record the media mentions of your company and your competitors. After enough data has been collected, rankings can be created. For example, if (over a specific time period), it’s determined that there were 100 instances in which you and your competitors appeared online and your business was in 35 of them, then your SOV would be 35%. This is a good bit of information to know, but it doesn’t paint a complete picture. For example, what if only 30 of the 35 mentions are positive and the other 5 had to do with a widely publicized scandal that was broadcast on 5 major news networks? Suddenly, those 30 positive mentions aren’t nearly as important as the 5 negative ones. Additionally, a basic SOV score doesn’t lend any weight to the value of the publications that you and your competitors are being featured in. Let’s say that you have 50 mentions over a six month period and your closest competitor only has 10. Sounds good, right? But what if the collective readership of your 50 outlets is 100,000 people but the 10 your competitor was in total 500,000? Even with a smaller SOV, the competitor gets much better exposure because they were in higher quality, more widely-read publications. Ultimately, the Share of Voice tool you choose to help your marketing and PR efforts needs to take these types of nuances into account to provide lasting value.
These are only a handful of the metrics available to measure the success of your public relations efforts. As with any campaign, you need to define what will make it a success first and then identify the data you’ll need to collect to make the determination once it’s completed. At the very least, these five metrics form the foundation that will allow you to evaluate almost any PR activity and ultimately make the changes that will create future success.
Brendon Stellman authors the column “Pure BS” and is Vice President, Director of Client Relations for Milldam Public Relations.