I’ve occasionally been asked to fill in for Shonali Burke on the #MeasurePR Twitter chat, and this is one of the top discussion topics. Any mention of PR measurement tools is eagerly followed and responded to—particularly any conversation about free or low-cost tools.
First, let’s get one thing out of the way: tools aren’t ever going to make measurement completely effortless. What they do is make it either easier to collect data, easier to process data, or easier to extract data. The interpretation of data and the making of strategic decisions that are guided by data are still going to require effort.
Next, it bears repeating: plan first, pick your tools second. There are some amazing products out there, but if they don’t effectively collect, process, or extract the data you need to meet business objectives, then they aren’t going to be of much use. Spending money on a tool because it generates flashy charts and then discovering that the charts it generates aren’t relevant to your program is generally a distressing thing to find out.
Google Analytics – This is almost always one of the first ones mentioned, and for good reason. Google Analytics is easy to set up, and is a powerful way to learn a lot about your website traffic.
Excel – Excel is part of the standard business and home software package from Microsoft, which means that it’s on most computers, thus the categorization under this header. It’s a powerful analysis tool that makes it easy to generate charts and graphs, calculate means, averages, and create pivot tables to summarize large data sets.
Buffer – This is a free application (with paid versions) that allows users to post content to multiple social platforms, and which provides information on likes and shares, who retweeted content posted, etc.
Facebook and Twitter also both have insight and analytics tools for user accounts on those platforms.
Low to Mid-range Cost
Hootsuite – This could be considered free, as Hootsuite has a product that is marketed to individuals that has no cost, but to get the tools that matter for measurement, you’ll most likely be looking at one of the paid versions (from $9.99/month up to custom pricing for enterprise clients). This tool helps companies to manage social media profiles, schedule posts, and provides real-time analytics.
Simply Measured – This tool allows for measurement and analysis of social platform profiles, allowing users to view performance on major social media channels in one place. It also measures and displays engagement on social platforms.
A great deal of what is listed above is focused on social platforms, which leaves a gap in PR measurement for mainstream media. This is where higher-cost solutions come into play, whether that means content collection with automated sentiment analysis or other dashboard data visualizations, or the hiring of human experts who sift through and provide analysis based on review.
One of the primary reasons that these services end up in a “higher cost” category is volume. It’s entirely possible that a client with lower volume media mentions could be priced relatively affordably. Generally speaking, as volume increases, the time spent on review and analysis also increases, and that leads to higher costs. The main benefit of working with human review and analysis is customization: by clearly outlining what is to be collected and measured, expert analysts can provide insights that no automated solution can match.