Are we smart about measurement… or unwittingly being Mata Hari?

Image: Bob Bobster, Creative Commons

Yesterday’s #measurePR chat was VERY interesting.

Philip Sheldrake of Influence Crowd was our guest, and we focused on the ethics of measurement; here’s a recent post that tells you how and why he came to be on the show, er, chat.

Before I could get to it, Philip wrote up a great recap of the chat, so I’m not going to try to improve on what’s already excellent.

You can, however, view and/or download the transcript of #measurePR with Philip Sheldrake, if you’d like.

What I couldn’t stop thinking about, after we ended the chat, was how clueless we PR pros are when it comes to actually understanding the motions that lie behind various tracking mechanisms.

As Philip puts it:

“The simple fact is, the vast majority of PR practitioners have next to no idea how the Internet or the Web function (yes, they are different), and therefore have equally little comprehension of how the social monitoring and analytics services they are being sold may compromise their reputation amongst consumers and all stakeholders when, inevitably, the digital shit hits the digital fan.”

The Wall Street Journal did a terrific job recently with a series called “What They Know,” which “documents the new, cutting-edge uses of [this] Internet-tracking technology.”

Even if you’re not a subscriber, you should be able to look at the report online if you follow the link above.

And if you haven’t already read the report, be warned – it might frighten you.

“But we’re not advertisers”

No, we’re not. But what about the solutions we use, that use tracking methodology, to measure the success (or failure) of our outreach and campaigns?

What about when we partner with media outlets for campaign promotions?

What about the nifty plugins we love to play with on our sites and blogs? I have a number of them on here myself, such as the Apture toolbar and the LinkWithin widget.

Yes, I really like what they do for my blog, but what are they doing for/to you?

Do we really know understand they work, other than the pretty charts and graphs that can be served up to us on like a smorgasbord for the metric-addicted?

Image: Richard Hemmer, Creative Commons

Clearly, I’m not intentionally putting anything on here that I think would endanger your privacy.

And I, personally, have never and will never use data collected online to sell you something, or put you on some list that you didn’t opt in for.

I make that clear on my website, but I should check back with my site designer to make sure it’s up to date, and I have to make that clearer on my blog. Two to-dos for me already.

Do we really know?

Are we unknowingly selling our clients or organizations a load of cookie-crap?

And what happens if we are?

And what happens when they find out?

And what… and what… and what?!

Maybe they’re all perfectly innocent. But we should know.

I was so struck by Philip’s thought-provoking writings and the discussion that I chewed up Joe Hackman‘s ear with much of the same shortly after we ended the chat (Joe and I had planned to talk any way, but I bet he didn’t expect this).

As an IT guy-gone-social, he completely got where I was coming from. We didn’t resolve anything, but I expect much more discussion with Joe, Philip and hopefully many others on the topic.

Now, I don’t think all tracking is bad.

But we’ve got to know how it’s being done and whether or not it’s something we’d buy into if the shoe were on the other foot.

If you already know more than I do – and I suspect there are many of you who do – will you share your thoughts and resources below?

More on privacy:

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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