September 29, 2022

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Media Bullseye Roundtable 2014.18 with Guest Co-Host Mark Story

Media Bullseye Roundtable 2014.18 with Guest Co-Host Mark Story

In this episode of the Media Bullseye Roundtable, Mark Story, author of Starting Your Career as a Social Media Manager, co-hosts and we discuss:

— How to effectively benchmark performance using web analytics.

— How to determine the ROI of PR (and what to do when a client asks you to do the impossible).

— How to use Twitter to communicate during a crisis.

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Please review the audio before quoting to confirm accuracy of this unverified transcript.

Chip: Hi, this is Chip Griffin from CustomScoop with another episode of the Media Bullseye Roundtable. My guest co-host today is Mark Story. Welcome back, Mark.

Mark: Thank you. I am back, so thanks for having me back.

Chip: And just a fair warning, Mark, I don’t plan on bleeping anything, so let’s keep this family-friendly tonight. Okay?

Mark: Okay. I’ll do my best.

Chip: Excellent.

Mark: Well, I actually have to tell you a little inside baseball. As I’m sitting here recording this, my 14 year old son is about 4 feet away from me, so I will watch my profanity.

Chip: Fantastic. Whatever it takes. Maybe we’ll go with that route all the time.

Mark: Yes.

Chip: In any case, let’s dive into the topics if that’s okay.

Mark: Sure, but I have to give my disclaimer, –

Chip: Oh, sorry. That’s right. Go ahead.

Mark: – that you love so much, and that I’m sure your listeners love so much, that the views expressed are mine and mine alone, and do not necessarily represent those of Kelly Government Services nor the National Cancer Institute. So, boom. There you have it.

Chip: And sometimes whether they’re your views too, but anyway –

Mark: Yup.

Chip: – we’ll go in here. So, the first is a post on Occam’s Razor, and it’s titled, “benchmarking performance, your options, news, don’ts, and to-die-fors,” and what it really does is it talks about how you can establish benchmarks to evaluate your performance, your analytics, those sorts of things. And this is something that I think all too often people overlook. They dive right in and start looking at numbers, but they don’t have a baseline. They don’t have goals and all those sorts of things. So, there’s a lot to chew on in this piece, and I was wondering what grabs you, Mark.

Mark: There is a lot to chew on in the piece. It’s quite a lengthy one, and as I was reading it, I was thinking, for anyone who’s a PR pro, if you’re interested in really getting a guide for analytics, I would encourage you to look at this link, to click on this link in the show notes because I think there’s a lot of information here. There are tons of resources, suggestions of ways to measure your own traffic, to look at your own analytics, but more specifically, what the stuff means. And someone who is on the FIR Podcast Network, Gini Dietrich often writes about that PR people don’t do math very well. And I happen to be one of those people. I don’t do math very well, but in this particular piece, what I think is so wonderful about it is, it’s complicated, and I think it is pretty high level, but I think … is it Avinash? I’m not quite sure how to pronounce his first name, and I definitely can’t pronounce his last name. So I’ll just say Avinash, its author, does a really good job of breaking down how you do analytics via Google Analytics first of all, because I think a lot of the people I know professionally and personally use Google Analytics, and as I read through the article, I think that there were some fantastic tips in there and things that I never knew were possible, to actually break down using Google Analytics, very detailed explanations of how to effectively measure what your web analytics are telling you. And it even gave me little tips like benchmarking to help create meaningful targets, and how you can benchmark your own organization against those who are your quote-unquote competitors. And I think it gives some good advice about set your own data benchmarks yourself rather than allowing others to set your benchmarks for you because I don’t know about you, but there have been times when I have been asked to set web analytics benchmarks, and you kind of scratch your head a little bit and you think, “Well, what is success? What really defines success?” So, let’s say you get 1,000 visits to your website in one month. Is it success if you get 1,100 the next month? And I think what Avinash does a really good job of is helping you mine the data, understand what that is, and really be able to explain it to other people. So, I think he does so in a very simple way, and there’s lots of links to other resources of information. About the only problem that I had with this particular article was, he talks about KPIs a lot, key performance indicators, and I’ve been in the private sector before, and KPIs for those of you who have had them know that they are quite often tied to performance evaluations, bonuses, raises, things like that. And sometimes, you can’t control the KPIs. What happens if you’re getting bad content for your website all of the sudden and the visits go down and you can’t control it? Or what happens if your Facebook advertising budget gets slashed? Those things weren’t necessarily addressed in the blog post, but I think that was about my only nit pick with it. What do you think, Chip?

Chip: Yeah, so I mean, one of the things that I really appreciated in the piece was where he talked about looking at, for example, goal completions and that sort of thing, because I think, going to your point, is 1,100 visits better than 1,000 and you really achieved your goal? I think that too often people look at the analytics and they look at the very top line numbers, the things that when you log into Google Analytics show up on that first screen. And those tend to be things like number of unique visitors, number of page views. But those ultimately don’t mean anything if you’re not achieving whatever it is you’re trying to do. If you’re in public affairs, maybe it’s getting someone to sign a petition. If you’re selling things, it’s obviously how much you sold. If you’re a lead business like me, maybe it’s how many leads you generated. These are all things that I think are really important to be measuring in your analytics and monitoring because I can go out and get a ton of traffic on my site. I just go to Stumble Upon and buy visits, but it’s crap traffic.

Mark: Yep.

Chip: And crap traffic may help if that’s what my bonus agreement says I get paid based on, and I remember when I first took over a company back in the late 90s that was a web-based company, one of the things that my predecessor had in his contract was bonuses based on the number of hits. Now, keep in mind, this is number of hits.

Mark: Yes.

Chip: So, one of the things that it was recorded that some in the industry did who had those sorts of bonus agreements would be that they would put extra images on a page just to spike those numbers. So you can really manipulate some of the top line stuff, and it’s that bottom line stuff, the outcomes that are so important, and I think that here, and I’m terrible with pronunciation of names too, so I’ll go with Avinash, he explains how to do in this really lengthy piece, but it’s almost a mini analytics course in a blog post.

Mark: It is. And I just think it’s full of information. And I went through it and I read a lot of the comments, too. And I think that there are some very thoughtful, informative comments. There’s 21 comments on the post, which is pretty good for a blog post. But I think that it is just full of information. And one thing I’ll mention about hits, you mentioned that, is being KPI. I don’t know if you ever heard this as an acronym, but we used to call hits an acronym for “how idiots track success.”

Chip: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that’s not the reason why people don’t use that statistic anymore, but it’s certainly emblematic of why it’s not used.

Mark: Absolutely.

Chip: All right, well talking about measurement and analytics in my continuing effort to make this the Gini Dietrich hour, or half hour I guess, we’re going to take a look at another piece from Spin Socks this week, and it’s titled, “how do I determine the ROI of PR?” And this is obviously something that you and I think about, talk about a lot. And one of the things that Gini does in this piece, and it sort of comes from someone who said to here, and I’m going to read this quote because it’s just priceless, “We would like to add some goals and targets against which we can measure. These can be number of placements, traffic from placements, Tweets and re-Tweets, et cetera. Could you outline some reasonable metrics for a three-month engagement?” I mean, heck, it would be nice if we could all just … to be honest with you, I’ve had people come to me and ask for turn-around in much less than three months, so I’m not sure what Gini’s complaining about here. That seems like plenty of time, right?

Mark: Oh, sure.

Chip: So, again, she has lots of material to chew on here. I don’t think anybody who’s listening here is going to think that three months is a reasonable turn-around, but how do you figure out what kind of return on investment you should be getting if you’re hiring a PR agency?

Mark: I will tell you that my first reaction to just reading this was, I remember being approached once when I was in the agency side, and the client said, “I want you to create a viral video for me.”

Chip: Yeah.

Mark: And that’s the first thing that kind of popped into my head when I read this. But I think it’s a nice companion piece to the last one that we talked about, and I’m a huge Gini Dietrich fan, as are you as well, and I like the post. But when a client comes to you and says something like that, makes that statement about it’s a three-month engagement, and these could be placements, traffic placements, Tweets, re-Tweets, et cetera, it’s missing the point. The missing the point is ultimately, what are you trying to achieve with your social media campaign? What do you want to do? Is it brand awareness? Is it, as you mentioned before, are you trying to sell something? Are you trying to get people to sign a petition Are you trying to change hearts and minds? What are you trying to achieve, is the first question that I think that you have to get answered. But what often happens is, at least what I’ve seen in the agency world is, if you commit to a metric, you are obviously going to want to live up to that metric. And if you make the mistake of saying, “I’m going to get you X amount of hits,” let’s use that term again, for this particular month, I think it actually encourages shady behavior. Because if you don’t meet that target that you have set, I think that it could sometimes cause people to employ shady tactics, padding the numbers, things like that that could have unintended consequences. I think that it also puts all of the responsibility on the PR or the social media practitioner to fix the problem or generate the traffic or make magic happen. But what happens if you have a client that doesn’t produce good content? Or what happens if you’re on the PR side and you have somebody who’s not good on camera? Or just what happens if they don’t get you the information by the time in which they said they’d get you the information? So there are many, many things that could go wrong. And I guess my final thought about this piece was, in kind of doing some other research, a common theme that I have seen when a client comes to you and asks for what are ultimately unreasonable or unmeasurable objectives is you aim low, and then you try and educate the clients about how they shouldn’t be asking for this piece of information, or you don’t want to begin a relationship like that. But ultimately, while aiming low isn’t really a good solution, somebody is going to take that business, and somebody is going to say, “Sure. I’ll get you that.” So what’s hard about it is you want to educate the client, you want to let them know that this is not the way that you go about measuring success, by starting with a statistic and then moving forward from that. No, you start with a goal. You define success, and then you move forward. But sometimes, there are people who will take that business. In fact, there are probably a lot of people who will. So you’re actually competing with people who will say, “Yeah, I can get you 10,000 hits next month. No problem at all.” So I think it actually creates a problem in the PR industry as well.

Chip: Well, I think this is particularly true in the digital arena in which you and I have spent a lot of time over the years, and there are absolutely people out there who will fulfill just about any promise that a client wants them to make. And they do do it. I don’t know whether you call it shady, shoddy, or useless tactics, they’ll do what it takes to get to those numbers. And to be honest with you, I’ve left lots of money on the table over the years because I’m pretty stubborn and I want to do things that I have a belief will work, and I don’t want to just take the easy money because that’s good for short-term business, not good for the long-term. Because eventually the client will typically realize that it’s not working.

Mark: Yeah.

Chip: And that consultant is the one that gets the ax. So I prefer to build long-term, meaningful relationships with the clients that I work with. So I won’t do that. But I think what this really goes to is the importance at the outset of a client-agency relationship of setting expectations. And it’s setting the expectations of what you’re going to do as an agency, what you can achieve, and what the expectations of the client are as well. In my client-agency contracts that I’ve put together, I typically will spell out what we’re going to do as well as what we expect from them in order to have the effectiveness that we need. So specifying that we need to get timely responses to drafts or those sorts of things. Whatever it is that we need for that particular engagement, we want to try to spell it out either in the contract itself or in an initial memo. Because I think in relationships where you don’t have expectations clearly set out and agreed upon by both parties at the outset, you’re likely to run into trouble.

Mark: Yeah. And what’s so difficult is that the most popular or well-known statistics are things like Facebook likes or YouTube views or website visitors or re-Tweets and things like that. And those are the buzz words that a lot of people hear. So, many times entering into client engagements, when they’re used to hearing those sort of terms, that is already how they have pre-defined success. And it’s almost like you have to re-educate them first of how to determine whether or not they’re going to be successful, and then move forward from there. Well, behind you, there’s a bunch of people lining up ready to tell them exactly what they want to hear.

Chip: Well, and it’s also, I think a lot of agencies will buy into these things because they are so easy to measure. Right? You can measure how many Tweets you put you, how many re-Tweets there were, those sorts of things. It’s really hard to measure the outcomes, and that’s, depending on the kind of business … if you’re an e-commerce business it’s easier than if you’re, say, a [B to B?] business. But in any case, it takes a lot of hard work and effort to try to measure those things as best you can. And so, just as clients are willing to take the easy way out, some agencies are too.

Mark: Yup. I think you’re absolutely right. But we’ll keep spreading the gospel, right?

Chip: That’s all we can do, Mark. That’s all we can do. Eventually, someone will listen to us, right? All right, speaking of having people listen to you, for the final topic for today, it’s sort of an amalgam of different stories, but ultimately it’s about the use of Twitter in crisis situations or near-crisis situations. And in particular, this was something that you had suggested as a topic based on a recent live Q&A session that the CDC hosted on Twitter about Ebola.

Mark: Yeah.

Chip: And so, I know you have some strong thoughts on it, so I’ll let you take the lead on this one.

Mark: Sure. Well, I’m in the public health arena now, and when I found out the CDC was going to do a live Twitter chat on Ebola, I really got interested in it. And I followed it on Tweet Deck. And my first reaction to following the Twitter chat was that CDC did not achieve the goals that they set out to achieve. I changed my mind, but at first glance, I saw the probably 50 Tweets that were coming in for every Tweet that somebody at CDC, that an expert who knew what they were talking about could respond to. So there was a record being created of wacko questions or crazy information or people highjacked the hashtag when it was trending. I saw a Tweet that said, “The Republican Party announced that until one of the one percent gets Ebola that it will not be a problem.” And there was another Tweet that said, “Virus researchers say Ebola could spread through air and even spread without symptoms. Build immunity with,” and I’m not going to say the drug name. There were 272 re-Tweets and 73 favorites that came out of this chat. So when I was first watching it, I said, this was not successful. And then I went through and I did a little bit more research, and there’s a wonderful tool out there called Simpler, or the Healthcare Hashtag Project. It’s run through Symplur, and if you can get a hashtag registered through Symplur, which we have done at the NCI before, you get some really, really good analytics, and not only did this CDC chat produce analytics, but the folks at Symplur actually blogged about it and they talked about, was the chat actually a success. And after I read their blog post, I changed my mind a little bit because I saw things like, okay, the volume did peak at 99 Tweets per minute. I mean, 99 Tweets a minute. So if you think about the volume of information that’s coming in and the ability of the folks at CDC to respond, clearly they were a little bit overwhelmed by the volume of what was coming in. But I think that eventually it came out that they were actually pretty responsive and that people caught on to the information that they were putting out there. What I read on Symplur was that almost 74 percent of the Tweets the CDC put out were re-Tweeted. So they were sharing CDC responses to direct questions being asked that would help kind of dispel some of the misinformation, shall we say, about Ebola. And just as a side note, they did this chat at about 4:00 in the afternoon, and at 10:00 that morning was when they found the first patient in Dallas. So what was just flying all over Twitter at that point was just all sorts of information about, if somebody breathes on you, you can get Ebola, so I think the timing was actually pretty good too. Finally, the thing that I found that I thought made this actually a pretty effective crisis communications tool, or at least a public information tool when it comes to healthcare was that the most frequently shared link was about Ebola Hemmorhagic Fever, and had a parent page, and off of that parent page on the CDC website, you had sub-pages that would delve into things like signs and symptoms, diagnoses, preventions, and more things. So if the number one thing that came out of that was that almost three out of every four Tweets the CDC put out was re-Tweeted, and their number one Tweet was something that led to additional sources of information, at first glance, I thought, “Eh, this isn’t a success. Their message isn’t getting through. There’s too much misinformation.” But on second glance, I think that actually was pretty effective in terms of getting reasonable, rational public health information to the folks who needed it.

Chip: Well, I think one of the things that what you’re saying points out is that in almost any situation we’re using Twitter for something high-profile, you’re going to get a certain amount of nitwits out there acting like nitwits. Right? And so –

Mark: Yeah.

Chip: – it’s important to step back and look at the big picture. And we frequently see this with the various hashtag campaigns that get created, whether it’s in politics or corporate America or those sorts of things, you always see these stories about, “Oh, it was a screw-up for so and so because their hashtag got hijacked.” Well, if you’re going to be out there on Twitter and you’re going to be talking about things and it’s something controversial, the other side is always going to do what they can to respond to get their side out, those sorts of things. So you really have to look at it in terms of is it overall useful to you, and if it is, then just ignore the haters, I guess you could –

Mark: The trolls. Yeah, the trolls.

Chip: You can maybe … if I had a DJ here, I’d have him play some of that Taylor Swift song about haters. I don’t even know the lyrics. But anyway, so those are the kinds of things that you have to be ready for on Twitter, but I think it’s not the kind of thing that you want to be completely scared away from the platform, and I think that’s something that we’re running that risk with a lot of larger organizations as they see some of these stories about hashtags being hijacked, Tweet chats or Twitter chats going off the rails. It’s not necessarily as clear cut as it looks. Even for someone like you who’s looking at it all the time, you had to dive deep before you really could see the benefit, I think.

Mark: Precisely. And I think it ties back into what we’ve talked about basically all of this podcast, and that is, what were the objectives of the Twitter chat, and can it be used as a crisis communications tool. And I think that if you went down to Atlanta right now and you asked the CDC folks, I think that they would say that they were successful. One of the examples that you and I had e-mailed back and forth that got kind of famous of not working was the Florida State quarterback. I’m not even sure how to pronounce his first name. I guess Jermais Winston?

Chip: Jay-mes.

Mark: Thank you. Jameis Winston. And the hashtag was “ask Jameis.” So they decided that they would take a quarterback who’s been accused of sexual assault, who’s been arrested for shoplifting, and they were going to open up a public Twitter chat to say, “ask Jameis questions.” And very, very quickly, their intended outcome, which was to I guess raise his popularity, or I don’t know, allow people to enter into dialogue with him, it just went off the rails immediately because people were asking him about the sexual assault. Some people were making jokes about it. Many, many people were making jokes about him shoplifting crab legs. So if the objective of the Florida State University communications department or the social media folks was to improve his public image, I think that they failed miserably. I think CDC did a good job, and that Twitter was the right tool at the right time. But it doesn’t always work for everybody. And I think all you have to do is ask the people at Florida State, and they might tell you that Twitter might not be such an effective tool all the time for crisis communications.

Chip: Yeah, and I think Twitter works best when you’re willing to be completely open in responding. If you look at some of the things the CDC responded to, they responded to some pretty bizarre questions.

Mark: Yep.

Chip: But they took them seriously. They didn’t brush them off, they didn’t ignore them. I’m sure they ignored some stuff, but they were really dealing with it as openly as possible. Obviously in the case of Jameis Winston, there were certain things that I can’t imagine that he would talk about. Frankly, if he was going to go out there and he was willing to talk openly and honestly about the accusations of the various activities, it might not have been a bad thing. But if you’re going to go out there and try to turn it into just a rosy PR play, that’s clearly misguided.

Mark: Yes. He got some bad advice when it comes to that. But I think he’s been getting a bunch of bad advice lately based upon things that I’ve read about him since the Twitter chat happened. So I think that particular gentleman could use some public relations advice in general.

Chip: He probably could use some advice beyond public relations as well, but we’ll leave that for a different show and some different hosts. In any case, that’s going to wind up our time here today. I’m really grateful to have had Mark Story with me at the Round Table today.

Mark: And I have been absolutely delighted to be here. And thanks for having me.

Chip: And I appreciate you being on good behavior so I don’t have to go in and do any surgery on our remarks.

Mark: Well, my son’s still in the room, so I kept my language clean, Chip.

Chip: Fantastic. I appreciate that, Mark, and I look forward to having all of you back here listening to next week’s Roundtable.

Mark: Great. Thanks, Chip.

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About The Author

Chip Griffin is the Founder of CustomScoop. He writes and speaks frequently about data-driven public relations. You can follow him on Twitter at @ChipGriffin.

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