A couple of weeks ago, IABC Ottawa asked me to facilitate a conversation of special interest group that is focused on major trends in communications measurement and social media evaluation. It was held at the head office of CIRA in Ottawa. A had a group of about a dozen members came together for a very lively discussion.
I had my handy podcast a microphone on hand to capture some of it so that we could share the learning beyond that room. You can listen to The Voice podcast by clicking here. What follows below are some highlights from the 90 minute discussion.
Setting the table for communications measurement and social media evaluation
Sherrilynne: There are key things that we need to be aware of in discussion about measurement and communications evaluation, and the first is the necessity for accurate goal setting. That means linking your communications objectives directly back to the organization’s business goals.
Secondly, there are only two kinds of goals. One is behavioural and the other one is about awareness or attitude. I find it helpful when I’m writing a communications strategy to really think that through. What are we doing here? Are we raising awareness? Are we educating the public? Are we trying to create a positive attitude toward something or do we want our audiences to actually do something? Do we want them to vote for us? Buy our products? Share our content? Do you want them to actually take some action? And so, when you think through your objectives at the outset through this lens, it will help you in evaluating and measuring the return on investment for your communication, and it will impact how you measure it.
The third item is what to track. Is it likes, clicks and visits, or is it something else? There’s a range of things, and what you track will depend upon if it’s an awareness or behavior objective. How can we track things more easily? What tools are out there to help us? What kind of insights can we get from different analytics tools?
The last thing is being agile. Our agility in communications planning will help us improve communication, be more effective and get better results.
Getting executive buy in for communications plans
We started our conversation by talking about the importance of getting company executives and upper management on board in the goal setting process.
Dyna Vink: For some years working in-house, I found the ability to think strategically was limited. Communicators were kind of cut off or not always invited in. It was hard to understand what the corporate objectives were which, of course, would influence how the marketing and communications goals and objectives would be set.
It was a tough case to try to get that information shared. But, now I’m working on a consulting basis its remarkably easier to make the case that my work will be infinitely better if I can tie in the communications goals further, and that this will make my clients’ rock stars. This is how you actually demonstrate the business strategy’s implementation is through marketing and communications that basically shows it off and delivers it. So the process is this. First you speak to stakeholders individually about goals and objectives, and then you bring them together to say this is what I heard. They’re often quite surprised!
Sherrilynne: That was a great discussion about getting the people at the top of the organization involved in communications goal setting. But people around the table pointed to the importance of getting people at all levels within the organization involved in goal setting. The sum of the conversation was that yes, getting input from the highest level of the organization is very important, but bottom up input is also key in setting goals that are going to be workable in real life.
And of course all this discussion about top down and bottom up lead into a bit of conversation about trying to juggle priorities within your organization to make sure that you can achieve your objectives.
Alison Gareau: It’s when you have your corporate strategy. And then we have these project plans that others own, and we support them. At the end of the day project owners are focused on their project and it is the most important thing to them. This is normal. But, as communications as you are in this beautiful position of having a bird’s-eye view of the organization. You may decide to down scale communications for this project and upscale those for another to benefit the organization overall.
The big guys they get it, but with others it’s a much harder conversation to have because they’re going to feel like you have forgotten them. You don’t care about them.
Sherrilynne: Well that’s normal. It’s fighting for budgets and resources around projects. My advice is to be transparent. Give them the information. Share the ‘Big Picture’ so they can understand things in context. The project owner’s job is to lobby for their project, not with communications, but with line management if they think that they’re not getting the support that’s required to be successful.
Awareness Vs Behavioural Goals
The conversation moved on to the types of goals that we should be setting. It’s an important discussion to have because not only does it dictate how you measure communications going forward, it also affects how resources get allocated. Sometimes it’s a little tougher to fight your corner on awareness objectives because they are seen as a cost not a revenue generator.
If you are dealing just with awareness objectives, how you decide to track and measure will allow you to demonstrate the ROI. Even though it’s an awareness campaign, you still have a real hard metrics that you can present. Examples include driving traffic to the website, driving sales inquiries. X number of downloads, X number of inquiries for information.
Dyna Vink: I have a couple different projects right now, one of which has awareness and an action component to it. It’s a cannabis project. With the legalization of cannabis, it’s interesting to note that most organizations don’t have policy. First of all you have to raise the awareness of the implications of not having this policy which can be very serious from a legal standpoint. This is an important factor, and the action associated with that is: take the course, buy the product. On the behaviour side I’m working with a technology company that is all about changing behaviours. You do that by learning about people’s judgments, their decision-making and ultimately their behaviours.
By understanding at a deeper level what motivates people to think a certain way, to do certain things, is a very different way of conducting your research and ultimately your communications objectives. If you think somebody needs to know to update their policy on medical cannabis because 85 per cent of companies haven’t yet even though it’s been legal for 17 years. Perhaps they knew all along, but were just foot-dragging because updating the policy was going to be inconvenient or there was some office politics going on. Then we need to focus efforts on another objective. Maybe it’s workplace safety. If there are people driving trucks or operating precision equipment a cannabis policy is a must. There are big consequences and there’s the awareness piece. The deal is to get those behaviors changed so it’s a really nice balance.
Which metrics matter?
Sherrilynne: No conversation about evaluation of communications would be complete without touching on the controversial subject of metrics. Which are the ones that matter? Which are the ones we should be tracking?
Public awareness research is always the gold standard. Not every company wants to pay for it, but there are other ways that you can measure awareness. For instance, I did an analysis of media coverage for certain issues. I looked a certain time point and measured it against another period. Were there more stories? Were there fewer? Were they positive? Were they negative? Did they mention my client? Did they mention somebody from my client’s industry? That’s a hard number you can take back to the boss. Sentiment analysis is another. AI isn’t yet everything it’s going to be, but it’s getting better. Was sentiment positive and now it’s negative? Did it used to be negative and now it’s neutral?
And then there’s other ways to survey people through social media or from your own list. While this won’t be scientifically as good as public opinion polling, it’s a pretty good ‘finger in the air’ indication of awareness and attitudes.
Alison Gareau: In thought leadership, for example, there’s other metrics. For example: This year did we get invited to speak at more events than last year or at new, different events? Are we getting more media calls? Are we getting just asked more by important stakeholders? Is the minister’s office calling us to discuss various issues with us more often because our CEO’s name is being connected to an issue? These are good metrics as well.
Sherrilynne: Let’s talk about being agile. Agility is an esteemed process that lets you plan short-term and long-term allowing to adjust as go because you’re always learning and brainstorming. You work quickly to implement things, measuring constantly and changing ‘on the fly’ from what you learn. The trend is driven by Internet communication. Formerly we used the R.A.C.E (Research, Analysis, Communications, Evaluation) formula for communications planning and that means leaving evaluation to the end.
We don’t have to wait until the end any more. There are so many sources of insight available and they keep getting better. The reason I put it on the table for discussion of measurement and evaluation is to cover those micro metrics that you need to track every single day using could adjust on the fly.
Certainly, in terms of my own experience, pay-per-click advertising is a place where this agility is necessary and highly effective. You can see the length of a 60 day campaign how effective your ads are on Day One is starkly different from how effective your ads are on the last day because you’ve made adjustments every day improving the targeting, changing the creative, changing the copy. You’ve done some A/B testing to see what things that work better than other things.
This allows you to focus on value. You can adjust your strategy going forward when you see where high value activities have impact. You can have great creative ideas, but if they are not delivering the goods, they can go by the wayside. You can focus on only those activities that are going to give you the most value. Also mitigating risks is an important benefit. So when you’re able to change things on the fly you can fix bad things almost before they happen. For instance blowing a budget on an ad that’s not effective.
There you have it. A fulsome and animated discussion about major trends in communications measurement and social media and valuation held among IABC Ottawa members. We all learned a lot. If you’re interested in getting involved in or attending some of IABC Ottawa’s member only events watch the website for special interest group events coming up.