90 percent of PR pros measure Facebook, Twitter

A Ragan/NASDAQ survey reveals: Measuring social media is a priority, PR pros favor gauging outcomes over outputs, and 45 percent of companies spend less than $5,000 on measurement.

It seems nearly every PR pro—or at least 84 percent of them—is measuring social media engagement and interaction.

Dig deeper, and the consensus is even greater about which platforms rule the social media landscape, a Ragan/NASDAQ OMX Corporate Solutions online survey of 1,467 PR pros reveals.

Both Facebook and Twitter draw anxious eyeballs from 90+ percent of industry professionals who measure, with Facebook, at 94 percent, beating out the 140-character chatterbox by two points.

The video and search-engine giant YouTube is still relevant, at 60 percent, and Google+ at 27 percent.

“We track all social media and do a combined assessment while also specifically tracking Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube for their key metrics as they have additional influence over search and buzz,” wrote one survey respondent.

The survey also showed:

  • Most pros regard outcomes as more important than outputs.
  • Information flows uphill, with 85 percent reporting the results to supervisors or executives.
  • Big Data aren’t part of most measurement strategies; half say they don’t know what it is.
  • A plurality of pros—45 percent—spend less than $5,000 on measurement budgets. Just 10 percent report budgets over $100,000.

David B. Rockland, CEO of Ketchum Change, says measurement matters, but not as a way to give yourself a pat on the back.

“Too often we will say that measurement matters because it proves the success of our programs,” Rockland says. “To me that is super shortsighted. First of all, success is not always guaranteed. Second, measurement is not about justifying what you did, but how to get better and smarter about communications as you move and look ahead.”

Kicking the conclusions upstairs

Measurement is meaningful only if the information goes to someone who can act on it. Most—85 percent—report the results to supervisors or executives.

Fewer—62 percent—make midcourse adjustments to their communication efforts. Some also assess measurement results against a baseline or the competition (41 percent), or “share it with [their] agency to discuss ways to improve” (40 percent).

In the comments, several respondents said they report the data to clients. One respondent shares the results “with my staff to discuss ways to improve and to build illustrations of success/failure internally.”

Are you trying to rack up the output figures—the impressions and mainstream and social media mentions—or are you striving for outcomes, or behavioral change?

Precisely half of respondents see outcomes as more important. Only 10 percent placed outputs first. Forty percent say the categories are of equal importance.

Among the last group was Chet Wade, managing director of corporate communications at Dominion, an energy company. Though he agrees that outcomes would be most important in a perfect world, few organizations have the budgets.

“It’s a mistake to completely dismiss outputs, especially if you don’t have the bucks to truly measure behavior change directly tied to your efforts,” Wade says. “Just because I don’t know the number of lumens a light bulb puts out doesn’t mean I don’t know the room got brighter when I flicked the switch.”

Of course, output without meaningful outcomes is useless, but accurate measurement of outcomes becomes challenging when dealing with diverse beneficiaries, adds Mary Huff, senior media relations manager with Pineapple Public Relations, a hospitality and destination agency.

“Can you realistically get 40 different hotels, hundreds of rental homes, and multiple B&Bs to consistently measure the increase in guests because of a specific article?” Huff says. “Big-budget measurement tools that work for big corporations and brands don’t always work for small clients. But you can measure visitation across the board as diligently as possible, and extrapolate.”

Big Data? Big whoop.

Though some might dream about big-time number-crunching as a part of PR measurement, Big Data aren’t part of most strategies. More than half of respondents—54 percent—said they don’t know what the term Big Data means, while only 14 percent make use of such information. A total of 32 percent said they do not use Big Data.

Our question on the topic (suggested by a leading communications strategist we consulted) drew a few raised eyebrows in the comments. “The term is so broad it is meaningless,” wrote one respondent; another added, “Bizarre question.”

“We in public affairs, public relations, and marketing don’t spend much time with big data measurement, but our agency does,” says Dave Thompson, public information section manager with the Oregon Department of Transportation.

The agency generates huge amounts of traffic data that external websites and companies use to provide analysis to consumers, preparing speed and congestion maps for drivers in various cities, he adds.

Monitoring the buzz

Some 92 percent monitor what’s being said about their organization; the rest don’t.

Of those who do, the largest contingent—96 percent—monitor what’s being said online and in print about their organization. “What is being said in response to content we post” draws 80 percent.

Industry news, trends, and events are the subject of monitoring for most, with 79 percent. Fifty-six percent monitor their competitors.

The Greater Memphis Chamber takes an expansive view of monitoring, also using consultants who meet “with the top-tier leaders around our city to get outside feedback about our message and results,” says Christina Meek, a communications specialist.

“The feedback we received helped determine what our focus would be in the short term and long term in terms of topics for events, what portions of our time and investment are spent on, and our public policy priorities,” she adds.

Budgets affect what companies can monitor. Of those who don’t monitor what’s being said about their organization, the biggest hindrances were lack of time (49 percent) and lack of manpower (47 percent). Both of these factors emerged in answers to other questions as well.

Some cited lack of money, said it wasn’t a priority, or stated, “We don’t know what to monitor.”

“Frankly, while we gain profile for clients every day, we are only a little agency that is hardly if ever in the news itself,” wrote one respondent. “Maybe something to change for 2013!”

Budgets are scant

Budgets, excluding staff salaries, are slim for most organizations. A plurality—45 percent—spend under $5,000. Just one-tenth report budgets greater than $100,000.

Between these extremes, there was a bump in the $10,000 to $49,999 range. Twenty percent reported they were spending this much, while 18 percent are spending from $5,000 to $9,999. Only a tiny fraction—0.3 percent—are spending more than $2 million.

Hoping for a windfall this year? Most PR shops report they won’t see that. Nearly 50 percent said their PR measurement budget won’t increase in 2013. Only 15 percent are looking at a funding boost, and the rest aren’t yet sure.

Sixty-seven percent worked on staffs where one to two people were charged with measurement. Some 26 percent worked on measurement staffs of three to five. Eight percent worked on staffs with six people involved in measurement.

Budgets of less than $5,000 largely correlated with smaller staffs. Among those with the smallest level of budgets, 78 percent reported staffs on which only one or two people are charged with PR measurement, while only 2 percent worked on staffs with 11 or more on the task.

Among those with budgets of $10,000 to $49,999, 64 percent had a measurement staff of one or two people; 4 percent reported a staff of more than 11.

For those without big bucks or ample staffing, there’s still a good reason to measure: It helps prove the case for funding, says Mary Henige, director of social media and digital communications at General Motors.

“We can tell we’re making a difference, or we wouldn’t keep doing it,” Henige says. “Especially if you’re looking at higher budget amounts, you really want to be able to demonstrate that what you did had a positive result.”

Download all the measurement results here.

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