The 6 trickiest measurement terms (and what they really mean)

Your guide to understanding the lingo to get what you want. Hint: ROI is not synonymous with results.

One key to getting good data is to accurately communicate what you want. The lingo of measurement includes a few terms that have, well, somewhat variable definitions, depending on who is trying to sell you what. Here’s your guide to a few of those tricky definitions.

When you hear any of the following terms or words, make sure you ask the person using them what he or she means by them. If their definition does not match the one below, be very careful who you are dealing with and what you are buying.

1. ROI

ROI is an acronym that stands for Return On Investment, an accounting term for a specific calculation of financial results. The formula for calculating ROI is:

ROI = (Gain from Investment – Cost of Investment) / Cost of Investment

That’s it. There is no other definition, despite the many uninformed people who use ROI as if it means “results.” So unless you can calculate net gain, you can’t measure ROI. Many people seem to think that ROI and measurement are the same thing. They’re not.

2. Measurement

Measurement is collecting data that will help you make informed decisions about your performance. Good measurement should tell you what is and isn’t working in your programs. Measurement is mistakenly used to justify someone’s job or program or budget; it should not be used to justify anything.

3. Impressions

Impressions are a measure of the number of eyeballs who’ve had the opportunity to see your ad, message, story or whatever. For magazines and newspapers, they were based on the published circulation figures. With the advent of online media, a proxy for impressions was accepted which was monthly unique visitors. “Impressions,” “reach,” and “opportunities to see” are often used interchangeably. But they shouldn’t be.

Reach refers to a demographic you are trying to reach and tells you how many people in that audience will likely see your message. In broadcast, it is referred to as GRP or Gross Rating Point. In social media, the standard practice is to use the number of Twitter followers, Facebook fans or blog subscribers as a measure of reach, but in reality it’s the number of “opportunities to reach.” There is no evidence from these numbers that anyone really saw anything.

And remember, all these terms are just numbers, not measures of success.

Frequently, when people say that we need a standard measure for PR, they refer to a Nielsen number. That “number” was in fact a rating that measured the potential reach of a television broadcast. It was invented to provide a broadcast version of impressions.

Today, people want a Nielsen number for social media, which is very difficult to come up with, because about 85 percent of all social conversations take place in private places such as email or private Facebook pages, or offline.

4. Social media: earned vs. owned

Most people want to measure social media, but they blur the lines between earned and owned. Conversations that you start on your Facebook page or YouTube channel are owned social media, and it is relatively easy to measure that success via Facebook Insights or Google Analytics.

Earned social media is made up of all those things you can’t control. Like all tweets, blog posts, and other activity that is swirling about in the cyberspace that may mention you, but in ways you may or may not find desirable. Remember, there is a reason they call it earned.

5. Share of voice

To media measurement people, share of voice means comparing the number of items that mention your brand to the number that mention the competition. It is expressed as a percentage, as in: “Your share of voice this month was 66 percent.” Anytime you see the word “share of” (as in share of voice or share of mind) you should see a percent sign (%).

6. Share of mind (mindshare)

Share of mind or mindshare is the percentage of survey respondents who remember your brand compared to your competition. You determine share of mind by asking a question like, “What companies come to mind when I say ‘laptop computers’?”

Katie Delahaye Paine is CEO of KDPaine & Partners, and publisher of The Measurement Standard newsletter, in which this article first appeared.

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