We may as well be counting column inches and trying to convince clients that public relations can somehow be equated to paid advertising space of roughly the same size; count total mentions in tier one publications (whatever those are); or assign erroneous values to stories that are positive, neutral, or negative despite knowing that negative stories carry eight times the weight.
While these measures might be valid in some cases, they are not valid in every case. Neither is the abundance of technology-based measures being pushed in social media. They are the measurements of activity and/or popularity, which is often contrary to the proven concept that the true purpose of any communication is to change opinion or behavior. So the question remains...
How do you measure the return on investment of social media?
Simply put, social media measurement depends on the ability of the communication to meet defined objectives. In other words, much like public relations, the intent vs. the outcome is the ROI.
Even the evolution of this blog works well as an example because its purpose has shifted three times since its launch in 2005 (we had run several experimental “ghost” blogs prior to launch). Each time, regardless of rank, authority, etc., it met its objectives.
I’ve broken the transition into three shifts for simplicity, even though these transitions were not hard changes. A parsed overview follows...
Copywrite, Ink. Blog 2005 – Augment Instruction
The initial purpose was simple — augment my classroom instruction with observations, including comment on communication examples in real time; develop handouts for classroom discussion; and evaluate the potential business applications of blogs for select clientele.
While the objectives were not earth shattering, they were met. In addition, as I was the only communication person in market experimenting with blogs, it led to a speaking engagement for the local chapter of IABC. (Today, that first PowerPoint presentation is a snapshot of social media history, back when 90 percent of bloggers were ages 13-29.)
Copywrite, Ink. Blog 2006 – Education And Promotional
While the original purpose did not change, this blog began to evolve from its early academic function to a dual-purpose communication vehicle. On several occasions, prospective clients had visited this blog from a Web site link and selected us based in part on what they read. We knew because they mentioned specific posts.
• Augment educational instruction for public relations certificate students at UNLV.
• Evaluate and experiment with new technologies so we weren’t asking our clients to test them.
• Promote select experience, especially because it changes too frequently for other communication vehicles.
• Reinforce our mission to produce the most effective communication possible by composing powerful messages across all media.
Meeting these objectives expanded our knowledge base about blogs and others trends in social media, including spotting convergence earlier than most after of a chance discussion with AT&T. In addition to the above, it provided a communication vehicle for non-news direct to the public. (Unlike some in public relations, we don’t spam the media with non-news).
We also secured several accounts that we may not have secured without the benefit of the blog because our strategic communication skill sets became more visible. It also helped expand our out-of-market clientele base.
Copywrite, Ink. Blog 2007 – Education, Experimentation, Engagement
As a sub consultant for advertising agencies, public relations firms, etc., we really cannot afford to share as much as I would like because, frankly, many accounts we work on are not our clients, but accounts served by our clients. Sharing insider information is unethical.
However, by the end of 2006, we noticed that there were ample case studies materializing on the Web where CEOs and communication professionals seemed baffled by the outcomes, despite the fact they seemed obvious to our team. So we shifted our objectives once again by taking strategic communication principles well beyond the classroom and into the real world with a bigger audience.
• Augment educational instruction to prepare students for a communication landscape that has changed.
• Experiment with new technologies, gaining insight and understanding in how they may impact communication.
• Engage in the conversations presented by colleagues to assist in deepening the fundamentals of social media without losing the proven principles of strategic communication.
• Demonstrate experience and a value proposition by presenting insight into living case studies that represent best and worst practices rather than talking about “us” all the time.
In evaluating the parsed objectives above, you might notice that they cannot be measured by Google PageRank, Technorati authority, Alexa traffic, Feedburner subscriptions, Facebook friends, Twitter followers, return visitors, comment counts, and any combination of the aforementioned.
On the contrary, the measures are based on how well students are prepared for social media; how much we understand new media trends as they relate to communication; whether we deepen conversations on select topics; and if, as a byproduct, we are able to develop and nurture long-term relationships with clients and colleagues by sharing knowledge.
It’s about that simple, or perhaps, that complex.
One blog. Three different communication purposes. All successful based upon the stated objectives. And not even one purpose is tied to “activity” measurements. In fact, if we begin to measure success based on activity and not intent vs. outcome, we risk allowing the message to manage us rather than us managing the message.
More tomorrow, despite breaking the short post rule once again. Ho hum. Now I have to go wait in line at the DMV. Measuring "activity" there is futile too.