Tuesday, September 25

Measuring Buzz: Strategic Meets Social Media

It is no surprise to me that most social measures are misused. Many of the misconceptions mimic erroneous measures that are currently misapplied by the majority of public relations firms (not all of them) and ad sales teams.

By bridging traditional communication example with the current misapplication of measurement in social media, the error becomes even more apparent. We know a lot about that; we see it every day.

Buzz is the easy part.

In the late 1990s, my niche sub-consulting company did something out of the ordinary. We launched a split local/international trade publication for concierges and hospitality professionals.

At the time, the concierge profession was relatively new to Las Vegas, which had previously relied exclusively on VIP guest services (for guests who gambled a certain amount, based on coin in or average table wager). Between their interesting and sometimes funny stories (secrets inside Las Vegas and from around the world), front line customer service tips, and hospitality management content with interviews from key people within the industry, we had a hit concept — enough to score the front page of the Las Vegas Sun business section and dozens of write-ups in other publications.

This was a huge success because start-up publications are a dime a dozen in Las Vegas and established publications, not surprisingly, are usually unwilling to write about another upstart that might compete for advertising revenue. We were the exception.

But then again, we had a strategic plan, the right editorial mix, and knew how to communicate our message. In fact, some publishers not only gave us a leg up, but they also became content sponsors.

Buzz is not a measure.

Where the division between publicity and public relations sometimes lies is in the execution of the message and in what is measured. Had this public relations effort been measured by some firms, the measures would have been focused on the buzz.

Some might have counted column inches and reported that those column inches were worth the equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars in advertising. They may have claimed that the number of “hits” the release received and media comments meant something.

They may have even claimed that they had “special relationships” with certain reporters to make sure the story got play. Or that if the release in its entirety, then that means something about the firm. Silly, I know.

Defining tangible measures.

All the media attention we received was appreciated, but not our measure. Sure, we tracked it, but that is only the tip of measurement ice berg. The real value was in tangibles like how many potential advertisers called to order one of the highest cost-per-impression publications anywhere? Several dozen.

And how well did these positive stories help establish our brand and reputation? Very well. And how many advertisers actually signed contracts? A few, but that was intentional. We only started the publication with 8 pages and didn’t have a whole lot of space to sell.

How did we do that? We had the daunting but doable task of killing the concept of cost per impression. What we had instead was something different. We calculated the value of concierge recommendations. In doing so, we discovered that concierge recommendations influenced approximately $1.2 billion in purchasing decisions in Las Vegas every year.

What does that mean? It meant concierges referred as many as 4,000 qualified buyers per month to a select retail stores, booked almost half of all reservations at select restaurants, and sent more than 2,500 additional participants to local events. These were not window shoppers. They were qualified buyers. Of course, being an advertiser was not enough to get this kind of traffic. The burden of meeting high concierge standards was still on the advertiser. (Of course, knowing key executives read the publication helped too.)

Drawing the comparison.

So what if this publication existed online today? What is a suitable measure? Link buzz? Cost per impression? Influence ranking? Click-throughs? The measurement comparisons are apparent.

Tangible results generated by our public relations effort would ultimately be the end result of receiving calls for advertisers (including the publications themselves). The measure of our media kit and sales team would be the number of qualified conversions (because we did not accept all advertisers). And for advertisers, the measure was in the number of qualified buyers recommended by a trusted source. Those are tangible measurements.

Key News * Las Vegas enjoyed a great run until we sold our rights (but the parties who bought it did not do anything with it). Five years later, we still receive calls from potential advertisers inquiring about purchasing an ad in a publication that grew from eight to 16 pages and from 500 to 10,000 hard copy and online readers. (We even had a function that was not dissimilar to a blog).

Eventually, we’ll duplicate these efforts again with someone. We just haven’t found the right partner or investor (which is secondary to our core business services). Of course, any new publication doesn’t have to be hospitality based nor would have to have the burden of expense that we had: printing and full-time designers are optional.



Sweet Tea on 9/25/07, 12:33 PM said...

Very interesting. Thanks Rich. I understand that Buzz is not a measurement but what would it take to find a type of measurement (if even possible) that would be uniform? For example, wouldn't the NY Times need a different kind of measure than a blog that posts news stories? And, who would have to agree that a certain measurement was acceptable? I hope that makes sense.

Rich on 9/25/07, 12:51 PM said...

Hi Jane,

That is a very good question. While some communication pros will tell you that formulas can be applied across all companies, I am not one of them.

To develop effective plans, it requires more leg work on my part. I spend a considerable amount of time learning about companies just to be able to put together preliminary proposals. (Not on their dime, but my own).

To be more specific, The New York Times would have a different model than the trade publication above. Perhaps similar in some aspects, but different.

And the difference lies in the strategic objective of the publication. For example, The New York Times' purpose overall, whether hard copy or print, is to report the news (we hope!). In doing it well, they secure certain readership, much broader than we created for Key News.

On a side note, one of my criticisms about some publication today is that they have lost sight of their strategic goals and followed broadcast media into the abyss of sensationalism for subscribers. Yikes!

Anyway, ideally, the measurements come out of the strategic goals of the company. We help shape them for some companies ... but the agreement is ultimately made by the key decision makers of the company (I like to include more than key decision makers, but different practices and companies have different needs). They decide what kind of company they want to be ... whether innovative like Apple or market dominant like Microsoft.

The process (not formula) we offer is called core message (or core values depending on how it is applied) and it does an amazing job at building consensus within companies. Anyway, once that is done, the communication and measurement of success because plainly apparent. we'll be making that more apparent when I rework our Web site, um, again.

I hope that answers your question!

All my best,

Sweet Tea on 9/25/07, 3:33 PM said...

You did answer my question. Thanks. Makes me wonder, though, about CBS.

Rich on 9/25/07, 3:43 PM said...

How so?

Just because a company is large or well-established does not mean that they have their ducks in a row.


Sweet Tea on 9/25/07, 4:36 PM said...

I'm not sure CBS would know a duck if they saw one. I just see so many opportunities I'd grab if I were them but I'm not so I don't know their mindset.

terocious on 9/26/07, 3:54 AM said...

I do no think CBS even has people in place to evaluate and determine whether or not an oppurtunity is good for them. I think the company's success with new media must be coming from a small minority within the company who sees the possibilities and is pushing for them. Maybe I am projecting.

Rich on 9/26/07, 8:02 AM said...


That is such a good observation, it deserves a response post on its own. I'll have to work on that.

What I can say now though is that is exactly why CBS and many companies struggle at the same time. If your internal parts are working in different directions, the machine will not move forward.


Anonymous said...

Social media measurement is still alchemy. Every practitioner has his own secret formula - and the pitch is still mostly about convincing the client you have a Philosopher's Stone while the competition produces Fool's Gold.

Rich on 9/26/07, 8:53 AM said...

Hey Ike!

I agree. I also think it is time to infuse some science into the art before these measures create a life of its own and the biggest discussion point of the field becomes ... how do I get a seat at the table?

Bright and shiny formula only goes so far.

All my best,

Your PR Guy on 9/30/07, 8:09 AM said...

In my graduate class, we are working with a government office on an audience analysis. While this is the first stage of a larger project the next class will inherit, I've been preaching, once a communication plan is complete, its success should be measured by evaluating poll worker turnout value in relation to an attitudinal check.

Last election, many poll workers went AWOL because Indiana moved to computerized election machines. The old generation -- typically the demographic that manned the polls -- were intimidated by the new technology. In a "protest" they stayed home, handicapping many voting precincts.

The government offices wants to target a younger public, and we are helping them do that.

An aside, however, which a few in my group have noticed. The government office started a campaign ad hoc, which hasn’t gone well for me. My suspicion is that many start something (a communication campaign in this case) without having the expertise to do it well – partly because many think communication is such a “duh, big-red-truck” nation – when it is, in fact, complex.

So I told my group that this is the way of the world. While we sit in purified classrooms, learning ideals, the real world is messy. As a grad student turning back to the academy from a professional’s POV, I think that’s something worth learning.

By the way, thanks for reading my bog.

Rich on 9/30/07, 9:28 AM said...


Thank you for sharing such a great experience. I left a larger comment on your blog and, to some degree, it is part of my upcoming response to your take on hype (that came out of our analysis about the MoveOn advertisement).

You are absolutely right. Classrooms are purified. But what you might not know is that the greater percentage of public relations practitioners never change once they leave the classroom. All they really do is replace the classroom with professional organizations, which they utilize to hold the same discussions they held in college.

Here is one secret I tell my students when I teach at the University of Nevada Las Vegas: if you invest all your professional organization inside public relations (or respective subset of communication) instead of organizations within the industry you are working (eg. manufacturing, technology, etc.), you will loss yourself in a bubble that is as purified as the classroom you left behind.

While I learned a good deal from fellow communicators over the years, I learned much more from others across a great many industries — builders, engineers, businesspeople, government officials, etc.

So nowadays, when I work with clients, sometimes they ask me "how could you possibly know that?"

Despite having a blog, which seems to contradict this idea, I spend more time listening than talking.

In order to solve your ad hoc challenge, the first step is to figure out why they feel a need to do it that way. You might be surprised by the reasons, which will change the way you see the problem, if it is a problem. I can think of several reasons they will give you. Some of them are right; some are not so right.


P.S. I not only read your blog from time to time, I'm likely to add it our very small blog roll in the near future. For the bigger picture of who we read, all of that is on Technorati.


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