When it comes to measuring public relations and, these days, social media, the question of “ROI” almost always comes up.

Which is why even for someone like me, who is well-acquainted, at least virtually, with Olivier Blanchard‘s propensity to call a spade a spade, and explain – often at considerable length (Olivier, I like your posts!) – why it’s not, for example, a trowel, last week’s #measurePR chat was fabulous.

After all, how many chat guests will tell you that they’re not just bringing unicorns to the chat, but participating while in the saddle?

Image: Howard Stanbury via Flickr, Creative Commons

Old Spice Guy, anyone?

Olivier also proved to be an expert on the various colors that unicorns come in (I’d like mine in silver, please). So if you have an order to place…


Seriously, it was a great chat. Some key points:

1. Olivier on the definition of ROI:

(each of these was a tweet from Olivier)

The definition of ROI? Okay. First, ROI is a financial metric. That’s the first thing we need to remember.

ROI is also an equation. The value of the investment must be the same as the value of the gain/return…

… which means that if the investment is calculated in $$$, the gain/return must also be calculated in $$$.

What you can’t have is an investment measured in $$$ and a gain/return measured in impressions, for example.

2. If you’re being asked to measure ROI, make sure you get the data you need from your client (or organization).

This is very important, as Olivier pointed out. And again, remember that “ROI” is a specific financial formula, i.e. (gain from investment – cost of investment) Ã· cost of investment.

So determining exact ROI can be a slippery slope. Especially if you’re just getting started it is far smarter, and often more effective, to measure the outcomes that you are trying to achieve (and again, these communication outcomes should tie back to business outcomes).

For a really detailed overview, read Don Bartholomew’s excellent post, don’t let the tool tail wag the measurement dog.

How I break it down when I do my presentations/workshops on measurement is this:

When you embark on outreach, you’re trying to achieve… something.

That “something” is way more than simply “impressions” or “buzz.” You’re trying to raise awareness and/or engagement to a particular end, be it sign-ups for a form, contest entries, donations (whether cash or in-kind), and so on.

(You might find my recent presentation on measurement at PRSA’s 2010 International Conference useful.)

All of these are going to be unique to your organization and/or campaign, so there really is no one-size-fits-all.

Focus on the outcomes you’re trying to achieve, rather than a muggy version of what ROI is (unless you have the ROI metrics down pat), and that is a much better way to start.

As Olivier said:

@thebrandbuilder: When a client asks a PR pro to show them ROI, the best thing to do is to ask the client what they want to see.

3. Measurable objectives need to include both a time frame as well as a quantifiable change.

@thebrandbuilder: Targets look like “13% increase in positive mentions YoY (year over year)” or by the end of the quarter, for example

And make sure you start off with a baseline, i.e. you have something that you’re comparing your progress (or lack, thereof) to.

@thebrandbuilder: I saw someone mention creating a baseline. That’s excellent. It helps define realistic targets. It’s very important.

(This was @jenzings, by the way).

I call out these three points because they are, by far, the most common questions I get when I speak on measurement (as I will be doing in a couple of days at IABC’s Research & Measurement Conference).

The chat had several other great contributors and is chockfull of nuggets, so you are welcome to download the transcript of #measurePR with Olivier Blanchard at your leisure.

I know you’re just waiting to read it!

Coming up…

I hope you’ll join us next week, when Seth Duncan of Beyond Analytics will be joining us to discuss the pros and cons of automated tools for measurement and evaluation. Seth is an uber-smart guy, and I’m looking forward to what he has to say.

Even better, the chat will be coming to you from London, U.K., which is where I’ll be, and Seth will be… well, I don’t know exactly where he’ll be, but I think it’s safe to say we’re taking #measurePR global.

See you there? Do RSVP for #measurePR with Seth Duncan, and spread the word. The more the merrier!