The debates being held by relative newcomer ‘communicators’ around ROI on social media are the same ones that have been had for years around the wider communications ‘industry’. PR was most usually compared to advertising, where you paid for something, owned the message, and didn’t pay unless the ad appeared. PR was harder to justify.
For any social media purists with only an outside perception of what PR does (and boy, does our reputation need cleaning up!) , PR has, at its best, been about that all powerful third party endorsement – from happy staff to happy customers – with an emphasis on ‘relations’. For PR people who have tried to embrace best practise, communication in social spaces is easily learned and adapted to.
A good PR practitioner differentiates the needs of the Sun and the FT, of different bloggers and of each social space. (As information due out later today will show, however, the ‘good’ may be a small one in ten.)
PR programmes have always been about more than print media, although many clients demanded a pure ‘media relations’ brief. Part of this is that media relations activity is relatively easy to evaluate at a crude level: column inches or AVEs (ad value equivalents) for example. But this is unsophisticated, and tone of voice can also be measured – at a time and financial cost.
Other traditional PR activity has deliverables to measure. For example, internal communications can be measured through questionnaires, kick offs, intranet usage, along with a barrage of increasingly sophisticated tools.
Similarly, placing spokespeople at conferences is measurable by number of opportunities created, presentations prepared etc. (As an aside, this activity has been hugely devalued by the trend for some conference providers to charge the speakers, setting the expectation with speakers that these are about lead generation rather than about demonstrating expertise on industry issues.)
These examples, however, show measurement of tactical delivery, not of objective. The same applies to social media. It’s only by defining what you want something to achieve that a meaningful measure can be developed.
The social media field offers far easier measurement in terms of mention/influence (reach). Computers searching key terms are far less fallible than scores of bored students sat reading trade papers for mentions of clients (as in clippings services). The tools that reach out and find this information are sophisticated beasts, and I look forward to taking a deeper look at the Social Media Measurement event of Feb 5.
But they are, of course, not the whole story, any more than column inches was before we faced mass media evolution – or should that be revolution.
Measurement tools can offer invaluable information to guide and analyse activity, to adjust the sensitivity of programmes and spot where action is most needed/likely to have effect, improving the value of outreach programmes. But their use needs balancing with budget and common sense.
PR, including that in the social media space, needs to start with its objective and find ways of evaluating progress. Whether this is ‘lead generation’, ‘changing perceptions’, or ‘limiting damage’, measurements along the way can and should be used to adjust, evaluate and improve. But the measurements should never be viewed as an end in themselves.
Ultimately, how you measure up to the strategic objective of any given programme is where the real ROI (return on investment) lies. And no, that doesn’t always have to be financial.
ROI v. Measurement is one of the ‘table discussion’ topics being hosted at Social Media Measurement, February 5, 2010 (part of London Social Media week)