Even in the corporate for-profit world, pressure to find the most cost-effective media monitoring solution is intense. For nonprofits, where every penny counts and donors keep a close eye on how much money goes to overhead, the pressure is even greater. From this springs a tendency to weave together whatever free solutions are available and hope for the best—in other words, hope that the free solutions don’t miss something important and that hard work can fill whatever gaps they leave.
Fast, Cheap, Good
Whenever keeping costs down is an issue (and when is it not?), it’s good to keep in mind what is probably one of the most famous Venn diagrams out there, paying attention to the overlap areas:
Nonprofits probably want to focus on the bottom overlap: good, and cheap—but that will take time and some elbow grease.
So what’s the best way to do media monitoring when it has to be good, it can’t be expensive, and needs to be timely?
Step 1: Prioritize
The most important thing you can do is spend time assessing what is most important for you to monitor. If you’re tying your monitoring efforts into measurement, figure out the most important contributing elements that you’ll be tracking that will map back to your measurement goals.
Step 2: Pick the right monitoring solution
For example, if you have two big fundraisers every year and want to measure how PR efforts can help generate ticket sales or donations, monitoring around these two events will need to be a priority. Using a monitoring service that will allow you to go month-to-month rather than an annual contract might help save some money if you’re looking at a narrow monitoring and measurement window, say, of two separate three-month terms (one for before, during, and just after each event).
Conversely, if you need ongoing monitoring because you have decided to measure the effectiveness of conveying the messaging through everyday media outreach, you’ll need a solution that allows you to either keep a year’s worth of data, or allows you to export information so that you can conduct ongoing measurement.
If money is really, really tight and you have to rely on free monitoring tools, like Google searches/alerts, don’t despair—but definitely read Step 4 closely.
Step 3: Review your free tools
Just how effective your online/social PR efforts are at generating engagement (email signups, website visits, etc.) are can sometimes be measured using free tools. Conduct an audit and make sure they are doing what you need them to, and explore other options if they aren’t helping you to meet your goals.
Step 4: Plan your time
When money is tight, more monitoring work has to be done manually—and it can quickly become a burden if it isn’t conducted on an ongoing basis. A lot of good work can be done and managed on an Excel spreadsheet, but trying to manage pages of grabbed links stuffed into a Word document and then corral them into a spreadsheet to track messaging the week before a board meeting isn’t wise. Spending a little extra time on the front end to set up spreadsheets and establishing a daily or weekly process of reviewing, analyzing, and adding data, will save you time (and stress) on the other end.
Monitoring for a nonprofit doesn’t have to be difficult, but it does need to be well-though out and organized. Since you’re most likely giving up some time-saving features in an effort to save money, it’s even more important to have good processes.
One final note: keep a close eye on internal scope creep. Adding more to monitor here and there eventually adds up. If and when that happens, be prepared to make the case that freeing up additional time by purchasing additional features would be a cost-saving move.