How to measure your corporate comms without expensive tools

Whether you’re a startup or simply a small, growing company, measuring your corporate communications doesn’t need to break the bank.

Over the past decade, marketing has become a data-driven discipline, thanks to the wealth of tools available to track and analyze everything customers and prospects do online.  This is straightforward when we’re talking about measuring lead generation, PPC clicks, SEO, website traffic/conversions, email and social media engagement.

Yet corporate communications is also under the radar for measurement – even though it can be harder to quantify your efforts in a way that will impress your executive team. Corporate communications can be an extremely cost-effective awareness and branding tool, delivering long-term value far beyond its potential to bring the right kind of traffic to your website.

With a balanced approach to measuring and monitoring corporate communications programs, your startup can over time generate more astute, targeted content and coverage that will influence sales and branding without the need to purchase specialized analytics tools. In this article, I will focus primarily on PR and social media, which in my view have the most influence on external branding and marketplace awareness for a startup.

Why measure corporate communications?

This may seem obvious, but the more we can measure a business activity the more likely we can improve it and align it to broader organizational goals.  If you’re spending money on an outside PR firm or consultant, measurement is even more critical to make sure you’re getting solid ROI from that investment.  You can, of course, ask your outside PR firm to generate reports for you – but that will be billed appropriately.  Don’t despair; setting up your own internal metrics practice is not a big lift in time using the basic tools that most startups already have.

A sensible first step is to establish KPIs for the year. Here’s what we measure at my company:

  • Number of press releases published annually
  • Media mentions per month/year
  • Bylined (contributed) articles–which are part of the media mentions metric
  • Customer mentions in the press (ditto)
  • Blog page views and engagement
  • Social metrics: followers and engagement (likes, shares, mentions, comments)

How to do it?

Certainly, you can purchase a media monitoring solution from well-known companies like CisionPoint and Meltwater. However, in my experience, these tools are overkill for startups. They can monitor all your coverage, deliver automated reports and use beautiful dashboards to measure things like Reach, which is potential viewership as calculated by the monthly unique visitors to the publisher and Share of Voice, or how much of the conversation around a certain topic your brand commands. Most media analytics tools also include social media monitoring, such as engagement, most valuable followers/influencers, conversions/CTR, the best time to post, brand mentions, and comparison of results across social platforms.

The metric that’s perhaps most useful is referral traffic; this measures visits to your site from other websites, so you can see if any media properties were among them. Most publications will link to your site from the article and if they don’t, it’s perfectly acceptable to request it.  Some tools claim to show detailed customer journey traffic— which article they clicked from and where the visitor traveled on your website after clicking over. But you may also be happy enough with the high-level referral traffic metrics you can see in Google Analytics.  Until you are getting significant referral traffic from articles, that level of detail is probably not worth the extra cost of purchasing a tool.

Here are some tips on how to measure the things that matter most for a small, growing company:

Media mentions: With saved Google searches, you can receive alerts when your company is covered in the media and then update the Press Coverage section of your website so that you have one place to easily track all coverage. This is also helpful for any reporter, analyst or prospect visiting your site. It’s not difficult to segment coverage into bylines, customer mentions or even key topics–and no commercial tool will do this for you, regardless. If you want to get granular, you can set goals for and track “top-tier” media outlets versus all the rest.

How you define top tier is subjective, but consider the leading influencer outlets in your sector—not the iconic journalistic bastions of Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Fortune, Forbes, Bloomberg and so on who rarely cover startups unless they reach unicorn status.

Referral traffic:  Use Google Analytics to check Referral Traffic under the Acquisitions tab. This will show which media sites bring people to your website—the number of users, session duration, pages per session–although you cannot see which specific article did the trick.  As mentioned earlier, if it’s important for you to track individual article performance, you’ll want to invest in a commercial media analytics subscription.

Blog performance:  Similarly, you can likely get most of what you need to monitor your blog through Google Analytics.  The only exception is, if you offer an email subscription to your blog, you’ll need to use your marketing automation system to track things like open rate and clicks. Don’t be dismayed at low page views for your blog unless you’re using it as an active sales vehicle.  Startups will struggle to get blogs widely read without a massive promotion effort behind it – advertising and marketing campaigns as well as sticky features to get people to come back, such as highly unique content which most startups cannot afford to produce consistently.

Instead, focus on session duration and bounce rate.  You want people to be on a blog post for two to three minutes and if you can track that they traveled somewhere else afterward versus dropping off the website, even better. If you aren’t achieving great session duration metrics, hire an expert to review your content for readability and value. Don’t overlook the importance of SEO with your blog in terms of finding opportunities to link to target keywords without overdoing it. People will see quickly through a keyword-stuffed or overly-promotional post.

Social media metrics:  Tools like Cision and Meltwater include social media monitoring – but you can also gather ample metrics from the individual tools themselves.  For instance, both Twitter and LinkedIn analytics give data on clicks, CTR, engagement and followers, competitive analysis and top-performing posts (paid and organic) over the selected period of time. This is likely all you need. If you use a social media management tool like Hootsuite to schedule posts, you can also view analytics there and download various reports in PDF or PowerPoint format.

Using the metrics to improve

Share your metrics monthly with your team and at least quarterly with executives.  You will be amazed at the questions they will ask about your results – questions that can inform future strategies and improve your plans and metrics while also helping justify the PR/content budget.  You may need to educate executives about the PR process to manage their expectations.  Some founders will wonder why you can’t get covered on ZDNet, WSJ or Forbes—extremely rare–and may question the value of getting published on smaller tech sites or blogs. The fact is: these days, readers care much less about where they get their information and a lot more about the information and its authenticity.

Content is king—but well-written content with compelling, relevant POVs for your target reader is expensive to produce.  Make sure that what you post and pitch is helping your business. If metrics indicate otherwise, take a step back and reevaluate your plans by talking to customers and experimenting with new topics or media outlets. This is the same for news coverage.  If your press releases aren’t generating any or much coverage you have a few possible issues: the press release wasn’t written well with interesting and clear marketplace context, it wasn’t newsworthy in the first place and/or you need better media relations support.

While you can’t easily connect a blog or press article with sales outcomes, it is useful to connect periodically with your sales team to determine what content is useful, and what else they need. Further, with proper attribution and backlinks, you can re-publish content from press articles, podcasts or videos that align well with your brand and messaging on your blog or in gated assets like e-books, reports and white papers —where the opportunity for measurement continues.

Polly Traylor is the senior director of marketing communications & content at Komprise.


2 Responses to “How to measure your corporate comms without expensive tools”

    Dr James Mahoney says:

    Sorry, but those all measure outputs, which really only proves you did stuff. What do you use to measure outcomes that tell you how publics reacted to the messages in your output tools (tactics)?

    Polly says:

    Thanks for the comment. There’s always more to do, if you’re able and willing to buy more tools. Social media tools can track and analyze comments and interactions with your content but small brands wont get much. Google Analytics can show, to a certain extent, a buyer’s journey throughout your site. You can see referral metrics for a look at top media outlets to your website. But PR is more about thought leadership and brand awareness and focusing too much on measurement misses the point. Blogs are great jumping off points to get folks to visit other areas of your website. Again, buyer journey measurement is complex and enterprise sales can take months. We focus on building a strong web and SEO strategy, use strategic consultants to help our small team, and use gated assets and events to generate marketing leads more so than thought leadership (PR, blog, etc). Daily Headlines

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