Getting the measure

Picture: Shakerman / Creative Commons
Picture: Shakerman / Creative Commons

I’ve spent the last two days in London at CIPR HQ learning about measuring and evaluating public relations.  This is a pretty big deal for me and my colleagues. Evaluation isn’t something we’ve done a lot of as part of our day-to-day jobs. In fact, to be brutally honest, we’ve barely done any meaningful measurement of the impact we make and the value we provide since I joined the team in 2008. This is not an uncommon story, particularly in the public (and especially local government) sector.

But that’s all changing. We’ve woken up to the cold, stark fact that we need to be measuring, understanding and showing – clearly and in an evidenced way – the value we provide in supporting and achieving real outcomes. There is simply no excuse not to do it anymore and those comms professionals, like me, who haven’t previously known or been confident in how to measure and evaluate their activity need to learn, fast. And so I am tasked with bringing the spoils of my learning back to my eager workmates and sharing the wealth, via a ‘how to’ guide I’ve already drafted (but will no doubt now considerably tweak) and a couple of team workshops.

It turned out to be an apt couple of days to be at the CIPR in Russell Square soaking up some good learning on measurement. Today saw the launch of the really quite marvellous and possibly game-changing My #PRStack e-book put together by 2014 CIPR president Stephen Waddington and a group of like-minded communications and digital luminaries. It gathers a set of tools, compiled on the equally spiffing PRstack website (built using the ace PR platform, Prezly) to aid PR pros through the complete workflow of the new world of post-spin PR, social story-telling and content marketing.

I was fortunate to be in CIPR towers with two of the authors of chapters in the e-book: Stuart Bruce, leading the course; and Adam Parker, founder of Readwire and Lissted (a genuinely exciting influencer insight tool I’m keen to blog about soon), who just happened to be visiting and dropped by to give us a run-through of his app and overall philosophy, which was pretty compelling stuff. (He’s also Newcastle United supporter, which means that he’s both OK in my book and has my sympathy).

My #PRstack feels game-changing because of the spirit of collaboration and generosity in which it has been done, something I feel has become an essential characteristic of the new PR.  No longer are slick PR gurus able to hide their ‘dark arts’ behind smoke and mirrors lest the competition (or worse, their clients) find out the workings or suss them for charlatans. Transparency is vital.

In the public sector, sharing knowledge and best practice in communications is well-established, best embodied by Dan Slee and Darren Caveney’s go-to Comms2Point0 blog. Communities of professionals brought together by social media are making sharing the norm across all sectors of comms and marketing practice. As Stuart Bruce remarked at the start of the course one of the reasons why we measure is we do it to help us do our job better. So things like PRstack see comms pros helping one another to do their jobs better. This can only be a good thing for the health of public relations as it undergoes its necessary reinvention. I for one, am all for it.

Back with a head full of learning, it now remains for me to sort, process and comprehend the real-world application of the multitude of shiny tools I’ve been awakened to. There are some standouts I’m keen to start playing with – and the good news is many of them are either free or pretty cheap. Here are a few, some of which you can also find over on PRstack:

Currently in beta and free to use for those admitted to a list – so put your name down before you need to pay for it. As Adam Parker described it, this is a human-powered alternative to the plethora of social media listening tools out there in that it cuts through the noise to deliver real insight. Good evaluation and monitoring should tell you the quality as well as quantity of your interactions and engagement. So, Lissted enables you to see whether the people who really matter on any topic or in a target community are talking about the right things to the right people. (Adam also had an interesting insight into how the Conservatives won the UK general election by using social media to gather insight about their critical audiences and then target them with traditional offline tactics like door-knocking… but that’s for another post.)

Also very new, this was the one that was met with gasps by the course attendees when Stuart Bruce gave us a glimpse. Partly because it feels a bit like snooping, although it is generated by social data that is freely (if not necessarily consciously) shared by users. It’s a location-based social monitoring tool that lets you see on a map within any given area the number and nature of posts to social platforms like Twitter and Flickr. On paper, that may not sound revolutionary. But for me, the possibilities of being able to listen to and interpret what people are talking about and interested in to a hyperlocal level, right down to a single block, are quite exciting while also a little unsettling.

YouGov Profiles
If you live in the UK, you’ve probably heard of YouGov. They’re the market research people also responsible for some of those exceedingly mixed election opinion polls. Well, this is a free app via their website that you may not have heard of – and it’s ace. A little like established research tools such as Mosaic but with a dab more personality, it allows you to search for (almost) any brand, personality or thing and pools the results of its vast research together to come up with fascinating pen portraits of typical customers. The results should probably be taken with a sizeable shovel of salt, especially where brands’ results are drawn from a small sample of data. Certainly, for my highly localised and public sector areas of interest it didn’t unearth many jewels of insight. But it is fun to play with.

This is just a tiny sample of the overflowing toy box of data-crunching, social media scouring products vying for your attention. As with monitoring itself, it’s hard to discern the true, clear voices from all the noise. It feels daunting and not a little confusing. But I finally feel like I’ve at least now got a rough sketch map and a blunt machete to start to navigating and hacking my way through the evaluation jungle. I’ll let you know where I end up.


5 thoughts on “Getting the measure”

  1. Great blog post Mike. Look forward to hearing more about it when you’re back at the ranch. Have requested a membership to Lissted

  2. Great blog post Mike. Really glad you found both the course and My PRstack useful. One of the great things about PRstack is that everyone who wrote it is an ‘expert’, but we’ve all learnt loads from what other people have written. Give me a shout if I can be of any help in the future and good luck with the skills guides etc.

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