June 28, 2022

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Social Media Measurement, Part One: What I Want, What I Really, Really Want

Social Media Measurement, Part One: What I Want, What I Really, Really Want

The Spice Girls are, in my book, perhaps the worst band of the last century (sorry, fans), but I invoke the name of one of their more tortuous songs to talk about measurement.

This article has been bouncing around in my head since the “For Immediate Release” call-in show on April 25, 2009. The guests were Chip Griffin, CEO of CustomScoop (disclosure: a sponsor of The Hobson and Holtz report); and Aaron Weber, Insight Manager at Spiral16. (further disclosure: I am paid to write this article by Media Bullseye, a sister company of Custom Scoop.)

The guests described a variety of topics, including what constitutes good social media measurement and when it gets “creepy,” meaning you might make a Tweet complaining about a product and then hear from either the products’ representatives or perhaps a competitor. At that point, I had not encountered any “creepiness,” aside from a comment on my blog from Comcast after I took on DirecTV.

The lively podcast (and call-in) discussion got me thinking about “what I really, really want” out of a monitoring service. I have blogged and written articles about measurement and the ensuing steps your can take for online reputation management ad nauseam, but I have a new wrinkle to add to the discussion:

  1. Capturing the right information from the right sources is just the first step, but adding context to content is the next, critical step that many monitoring services lack; and
  2. Those who do offer some sort of analysis of blogs posts, media mentions and not even tweets are often “hired guns” who lack the ability to ascertain the nuances that make a mention, positive, negative or neutral, let alone a favorability ranking. You can’t tell me that someone sitting in another office who has 10 other clients can know more about your issues than you.

The Conundrum

  • Are those who do monitoring, either inside or outside of organizations, looking at the right thing to measure? and
  • Are the right people actually doing the measurement?

My answer is: a) sometimes, and b) not really.

My public relations measurement uber-hero is Katie Paine, whose book “Measuring Public Relationships” is still the best read out there on the topic, and I am going to borrow liberally from her book in order to help make sense of this.

What to look at

There are two types of horrendous monitoring, one worse than the other. The first is a “clips report” simply regurgitating a bunch of stories without providing any frame of reference to what it all means. Lame.

What is still bad, but marginally better, is measuring “impressions.” Impressions are a made-up number that is still imprecise. Some organizations say it is 2.7 times the circulation number (counting pass-alongs) and some say it is simply the circulation number itself. This concept is fundamentally flawed as well because just because your article appears, it is a not a lock that the number of people who see a publication = the number of people that you reached. This is at best flawed, and at worst, downright lazy. Still lame.


Here’s the Katie Payne part that, when I first read it (and then taught it) was one of those serene moments in which the universe makes sense. She offers up a simple way to measure the messages that actually get through to your audiences. Does it matter how many people buy the publication that your earned media piece runs in? Hell, no. But does matter how many people actually saw the message(s) that you were attempting to convey? Hell, yes.

Katie elegantly calls this revelatory statistic “Cost Per Message Communicated,” meaning that when you cut through all of the (lazy) monitoring mumbo-jumbo, the simplest and most precise way to determine the value of the public relations effort you have undertaken is to a) capture the right information an b) measure the messages that were available to your audiences.

I’ll talk more about this in the second article, but what I “really, really want” is a monitoring system (technology AND subject-matter experts) who will:

  1. Capture all of the print, radio, television, blog, online news, Twitter and message board stuff that is said about my organization or issue;
  2. Separate the “wheat from the chaff” and let me know – concisely – what I need to pay attention to; and
  3. Help me understand the value of my public relations, public affairs or even crisis communications outbound messaging – not the “thump test” of number of publications or impressions, but how many of my key messages reached their intended audiences.

Coming up? Part Two: “I’ll Tell You What I Want, What I Really, Really Want.”

Mark Story is a part-time, adjunct professor at Georgetown University, Director of New Media at the SEC in Washington, D.C and writes the “Intersection of Online and Offline” blog. Coincidentally, he howls at the moon at poor measurement. Prior to the government, Mark worked for 15 years in some of the largest online public relations shops in the world. Follow him on Twitter at mstory123.

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