4 measurement mistakes to fix now

Having trouble tracking metrics and monitoring ROI? Here are four helpful tips to show the worth of your work.

Over half of communicators say measurement is the leading PR skill gap, according to a PR Academy trends survey. That’s the bad news.

The good news is you can close the gap by avoiding these common measurement miscues:

1. Measuring outputs, not impact. “The biggest measurement mistake PR pros make is focusing on what’s easy to track,” says Julie O’Neil, director of the graduate program of strategic communication at Texas Christian University.

These typically include such metrics as the number of stories published, impressions, “likes” on social media, impressions and click-throughs.

“Those are nice to know,” she says, “but more meaningful is focusing on how communication activity changes or impacts stakeholder understanding, attitudes, opinions or behaviors.”

For example, a communicator might show her board that she secured a 10 percent increase in the quantity of media coverage over two months.

“That in and of itself isn’t very meaningful,” says O’Neil. “Instead, take the extra step and correlate the increase with an accompanying metric like increased sales, more positive reputation or even donations. That’s the kind of analysis executives really want.”

2. Seeking to prove, not improve. “Another huge PR measurement mistake is seeking perfection and proof where it doesn’t exist,” says Sean Williams, adjunct professor of PR measurement at Kent State University.

His advice is to stop using measurement to prove your value.

“Accept that there are so many inputs to business impact that it’s very difficult to isolate cause and effect at a tactical level,” he says. “Unless you control for all other inputs to a buying decision, you probably won’t be able to isolate impact on sales by PR.”

Instead, use measurement to upgrade your work. “Data and research improves strategy,” says Williams. “Use it that way, instead of expecting a magic bullet.”

3. Leaving search to others. Search is usually marketing’s domain. “However, PR pros can learn a lot from knowing what’s being searched for in their industry and the frequency of search for their brand names,” Williams says.

Even basic search and keyword intel can help communicators plan their content.

The easiest way to start is to download the SEMRush widget to your browser. This will enable you to see keyword rankings and compare your site against others in terms of domain authority and more.

“Try the free version first,” Williams says, “but the idea is to get a snapshot now and to use that data to inform your content strategy moving forward.”

4. Ignoring data privacy and May 25. “The furor over Facebook data pales compared to the General Data Protection (GDPR) changes about to happen in Europe,” Williams says.

Many communicators think GDPR is just an EU thing. “It’s not,” says Williams. “What happens in Europe will make the type of targeting that marketers conduct everywhere obsolete.”

Translation: Stay tuned for a return of one-to-many and less relevant advertising, marketing and even PR.

“This will create opportunities for PR,” he says, “but it will be a rough ride with lots of trial and error. We’re already seeing big brands change their social strategy due to lack of performance. GDPR, Facebook’s data crisis and all the other data integrity stuff are undiscovered country for our work.”

What does this all have to do with measurement?

“Measurement is data collection,” says Williams. “If you’re gathering KPIs about how people are engaging with your content or campaigns, then you can’t ignore what’s happening in the EU right now. Europe has always been at the vanguard of data privacy, and what happens there is a precursor to what’s coming here.”

Brian Pittman is a Ragan Communications consultant and webinar manager. Sean Williams (Kent State University), Julie O’Neill (Texas Christian University) and Andrew Bates (AARP) will reveal more measurement insights in PR University’s April 27 virtual summit, PR Measurement: New Ways to Track Success and Crack the ‘ROI Code.'”

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