Beware of vanity metrics in public relations, here are the ones to be tracking

By Jim James,

Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of the SPEAK|pr Podcast

What gets measured gets done. When running a public relations program, it’s important to track how well you’re doing over time, and this is the essence of Knowing in the SPEAK|pr Mastermind, which stands for Storify, Personalise, Engage, Amplify, and Know. 

The key metrics you need to be tracking and why

There are a number of different metrics for measuring activity, especially for social media. The first is share of voice, which clients always like. This measures your volume of content against other companies, and can be tracked using tools like Karma. This metric is important, because it shows a company how well it’s doing in competitive terms. With digital, it’s extremely easy to do that, because you can input your own keywords, brands, topics, product names, personalities, executives, even the ones you’re tracking against, and so on in the system, and the software will search for that and produce a report. Back then, this used to be a tedious task of scanning and reading magazines and then manually inputting it into Excel. Each occurrence would have to be listed down indicating which publication it was seen in and which target articles the individual words were mentioned. Thankfully, now software can do it. 

It’s one thing to be mentioned a lot, but if you’re mentioned negatively, then that’s not good news, so this is why the next metric, sentiment, is important. It gives an indication of whether there needs to be some remedy or crisis management communications put into place. Currently, AI can be used to identify whether words, sentences, or the context is negative or positive. There have been huge advancements in technology that have made tracking easier, and so one of the big trends in public relations over the last couple of years and going forward will be the ability to track in real time what people are saying. This is the whole essence of what is called social listening. 

The next metrics are referrals and conversions. These could be from public relations, social media, articles, trade print, and more. Some platforms like Vimeo let you display end frames with a call to action, and these hooks and tags will allow you to see which pieces of media content are delivering the greatest referrals. This can also be tracked on Google Analytics, where you will see the websites that have delivered leads or which sites and which content have given the most referrals.

If there’s a call to action from a page, then there’ll be a conversion. This leads to the concept of funnels, and public relations activity can be likened as the head of a sales funnel. There used to be a detachment between the public relations that someone would read about in print and the activity of the company, but they’re not intertwined, because when people are reading an article or watching a video, they can click directly and go to the brand itself. Especially when it comes to platforms like WeChat, people are finding that content and sharing it. It could be part of an affiliate program, or it could just be a straight share. So, referrals and conversions on a website or through a commerce store are a great way to track the flow from the original article, video, infographic, or meme that’s online through to the different referral channels, through to the website, and then to the conversion itself. 

On the PR side now, for measurability, at the beginning of a program, ask for the client’s web traffic, the sources of traffic, and the amount of time and pages that they view. The goal of public relations is to drive people to a website or app or to find some way to monetize content, so when someone actually makes a conversion to the product, if there’s a referral code, a promotion code, or if someone’s come from a gated website, it’s possible to track the impact of PR. 

Photo from Social Media Week

The next element is customer care and response times. People often see public relations as being upfront, but what happens after the purchase is just as important as what happens before it, more so now because people can rate and share their customer experience. TripAdvisor and Trustpilot showcase the reviews not only with that company, but also with the wider community and the public to guide possible buyers on whether they should make a purchase as well. Response rates and response times are part of the post-purchase service that will be evaluated online. Paul Hourihane of ReMark APAC talks about the six elements of the customer promise and the need to deliver on that promise. If somebody has read and seen a glowing review but their own experience is not good, then they’re likely to have this big disconnect. If they’re pushed hard enough, they could make noise on social media. 

For traditional definitions of social media, there are likes, comments, retweets, and these are the individual engagement metrics. With reports from Twitter, Lately, Zoho, Hubspot, or any other platform, they will display the comments and retweets around a particular comment or post. Awareness, which are the impressions and reach, is slightly different. An impression is how many times a post shows up in someone’s timeline, while reach is the potential unique viewers a post could have. This is normally made up by the follower count plus any accounts the post was shared with. It’s like a multiplier effect, which is why impressions are lower among of the two. Impressions are how many times something appears to someone, while reach is how many times it could have appeared, and naturally, posts with high impressions and great reach are desirable.

Account mentions, especially organic ones, are really helpful because that symbolizes traction and engagement. Post engagement rate is the number of engagements divided by the impressions, so a high rate of engagement means that many people find it interesting. Also, look at the quality of your content. With the help of AI, Headliner and Lately are a few of the many tools available that can generate headlines and content. Lately can also repurpose the same piece of content across multiple platforms multiple times, and so that will increase its “utility.” 

Why you should use EastWest PR’s Active Communication Index

Measurements of engagement, post impressions, and reach are great, but in a way, they are only the outcomes. With EastWest PR’s Active Communications Index (ACI), you have the inputs, a comparison, and the absolute number. The objectives of the ACI is to analyze how many pieces of content have been created, how frequently they’re being issued, and over how many channels. While it’s good to measure engagement, you also want to know how productive the company is and how effective the public relations strategy is. The ACI lets people compare their activity against other companies of a similar size. With SPEAK|pr, the hope is that the customer goes from ignorance to evangelism. The conversion of people from being unaware of a brand, company, product, or service to turning them into evangelists is the goal, because they then become then of the company. This tool is currently being developed to help determine where audiences are in this five-stage process from ignorance to evangelism. 

Often, companies have no real view on where they are at with their different audience groups (which are the internal, external, and partners) and the different avatars within those audience groups in terms of awareness. Especially in international marketing, a company may be very well known in one market but completely unknown in another, yet they apply the same messaging across all markets. So in order to deliver appropriate messaging, it’s essential to understand what people currently know about you, not just external, but also your partners and your internal. With this new graphical representation driven by the data that people put into it, it will show people where their company is at based on the five stages and give recommendations on the kind of work that they can do to Storify, Personalise, Engage, Amplify, and Know their public relations program.

The biggest trend in public relations in the last decade has been around its digitalization. The next decade is going to be about measurement, because with the data available, the performance of PR can be measured. Social listening even enables you to measure how people feel about companies. With the ACI measuring productivity and helping people understand where their audiences are on the journey to becoming evangelists for your business, hopefully these metrics will cause a shift in thinking of public relations not as just a press article or an event, but a core part of the business strategy, because what can get measured can be improved. And if it’s being improved, it will help the performance of the business, because public relations that’s measured and managed will contribute to the bottom line. 

This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast SPEAK|pr, you can listen here.

Cover Photo from Doofinder

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