presenting on measurement to PRSA OrlandoLast week I was in Orlando, Fla., speaking to the PRSA chapter on measurement. No, I didn’t go to Disney World, but I did have a terrific time.

And I realized that while I speak and teach often on practical measurement for public relations, I haven’t really written about it here at WUL all that much. Not good. So here’s my approach. Especially if you have a small budget and don’t have access to fancy dashboards, then this might be helpful (and even if you do, it might still be helpful).

Before getting to that, though, I have a few don’ts:

Don’t

  • get caught up in shiny new measurement tools. Because then you start trying to measure the tools, and not what you should be focusing on.
  • get stuck just counting Twitter followers, Facebook fans, media impressions, yada yada. Note I said “just counting.”
  • go crazy trying to find the one-size-fits-all measurement solution… because it doesn’t exist.

Now that you’ve read the don’ts, here’s what to do.

Typically, I undertake this very simple… ok, uncomplicated, five-step exercise:

1. Identify what the business objectives for your program/campaign are.

Based on these, what do you need people to do?  For example, if your B.O. (not body odor!) is to increase sales, obviously you need them to buy more of your product/service, or more people to buy it, or both.

And while sales is one of the most common examples we use, they could be anything, based on your unique situation. For a nonprofit organization, for example, it might be to increase members of an online community… because those are the people it can start trying to convert into members/donors.

That last bit is what’s most important. That’s what you’re going to work backwards from, because while all roads might not lead to Rome, they should lead to that business objective.

Your business objective(s) should be at the core of your measurement program. So before you do anything else, figure them out.

2. Identify how you will measure the success or failure of these objectives.

For example, if your objective is to increase sales, what percentage do you want your sales to increase by over the last fiscal year (or whatever time period you choose)? Online or offline? Or both?

If your objective is to grow your email list (because that is where you convert the most prospects into customers), by how much do you want to do this? In what time frame?

Get as specific as you possibly can. This means not just quantifying what you’re trying to achieve, but identifying the timeframe within which you’re going to try to do this.

3. Now outline your communication strategy.

The most important thing here is to remember that you didn’t work out your strategy first. You looked at what the business objectives are, and then decided how you would use various communication and marketing vehicles to achieve those objectives.

And in order to do this, you must have an understanding of how your audience reacts to and uses different communication mediums. Because your program/campaign is probably going to be more effective if you include those mediums in your plan… right?

This means that you didn’t seize the shiny new toy du jour and say, “Oh, everyone’s on ____! We’re going to use _____!” Or: “Let’s make a viral video like Stop Kony!”

You don’t have to be everywhere all the time. Be where it makes the most sense.

4. Figure out how you’re going to track your efforts.

This is the part that is a lot of fun for me. With so many of our communications moving online, it’s possible to track a lot of things… and I mean a lot.

But don’t get caught in tracking nonsense numbers. I mean – going back to the “don’ts” above – you might get an ego boost out of seeing your Twitter followers grow, but if that growth isn’t helping you reach your business objectives… what’s the point, exactly?

Tracking URLs have become commonplace now. Use them. Get comfortable with Google Analytics and Google’s URL Builder. You will be amazed at how much insight these tools give you, particularly when it comes to understanding what is driving actions, clicks, downloads, purchases, sign-ups, etc.

And that helps inform your strategy, to make it better, and even more effective. It will also tell you what’s not working, so that you can decide whether or not it’s important enough to fix.

Smart tracking lets you know what worked, instead of making you guess what worked.

5. Correlate.

Even if you’re not a statistician (I’m not, though I did take Stats in college), I’m pretty sure you already know this principle. Correlation is basically when one thing is related to another in a way as to have an effect on it.

So, for example, if you get a terrific “hit” in X blog that you know is popular with your target audience, and you see traffic to your site/desired landing page increasing more than usual when that post runs, there is probably a correlation between the two.

This means keeping track of your outbound activities (e.g. new blog posts, news releases, e-mail campaigns, and so on) and watching what effect those have on your desired outcomes (see, this is why you needed to get comfortable with #4 above).

You should also be keeping track of everything anyway so that you don’t mistakenly draw a correlation where there isn’t one.

Since most of the time I don’t have access to fancy dashboards, I’ve found the easiest way of doing this is combining a few things:

  • Using Excel or a Google spreadsheet to track outputs and outcomes
  • Making sure the timeframe within which I’m tracking different things – e.g. traffic, downloads, purchases… whatever – is the same
  • Watching Analytics at the same time, and regularly look to see if there is a correlation between outputs and outcomes

If you’re keeping an eye on everything you’re doing, as well as looking at the back end, pretty soon you’ll be able to tell what’s working and what’s not.

And if you want to find the statistical correlation, Excel even has a formula to help you out (though I would work with someone who is really into Stats to make sure you understand what you’re doing).

That’s it.

Put these five steps to work for yourself, your business, your campaign. Lather, rinse, repeat, and I’m fairly certain you will be taking giant steps in demystifying measurement. Who knows, you might even start having fun!

Since you sat through that lesson so patiently, here is my presentation to PRSA Orlando. I hope it’s helpful, and if you have more questions, give me a holler, or leave a comment, please!

Shonali Burke
Founder and publisher of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke helps purpose-driven brands bring big ideas to life. She teaches at The Johns Hopkins University, has gone back to school herself with the Harvard Business Analytics Program, and is creator/lead instructor at The Social PR Virtuoso® online training hub , where ambitious PR pros learn how to unleash their inner Social PR superheroes. Owned by Lola the Basset Hound, she's mad about ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis, though not necessarily in that order. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke

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