Measuring what matters

Tim Linberg

When it comes to the metrics that measure the efficacy of public relations, social media and content marketing, we have all fallen into the trap of reporting what’s easy, instead of reporting what matters. We like big numbers, and “hockey stick” charts. We have been conditioned to define and defend our work through quantitative measures, instead of qualitative ones.

More impressions. More coverage. Bigger communities. Numbers at any cost.

But the fact that impressions, press coverage lists, and Facebook page likes are still viewed as industry standard KPI reflects, and I’m paraphrasing Moneyball here, an imperfect understanding of where ROI comes from.

Let’s be blunt. “Impressions” are the emptiest metric there is. “Impressions” are potentialeyeballs, that’s it. It’s the equivalent of magazine circulation. It doesn’t mean anyone saw it … or that they cared, or that they did anything. It’s just a way for advertisers and marketers to show their clients a big, juicy number that they can dial-up anytime they want. It can be useful, to a point, as a directional barometer of overall market penetration, but it’s a metric that is often used foolishly as the end-result instead of the starting point.

There is a big difference between an agency reporting that they had a good month because they delivered 20MIL impressions, vs reporting that they delivered 20MIL impressions that corresponds to a 15% lift in month-over-month web traffic, and an 8% increase in lead form conversions.

If your PR firm is offering a list of coverage as proof of their value, they are failing to connect the dots between their work and your business needs. Coverage in it of itself doesn’t matter. Coverage that drives strategic results does. That doesn’t mean coverage isn’t valuable. It is. But it’s a means to an end, not a final product. Agencies and brands should prioritize outcomes over output. Better to have one press hit that drives meaningful results than a spreadsheet of coverage that functionally does nothing more than make the PR firm look busy.

Similarly, Facebook page likes or new Twitter followers can certainly be indicators of a successful campaign or greater brand engagement, but in a vacuum they don’t mean anything as stand alone metrics. It’s a vanity license plate. You need 50,000 Facebook page likes? No problem, give me a few grand and a weekend and we can get you sorted out. If what you really need is increased lead flow from social sources, or better organic reach earned through quality engagement, that is a different story. One that can’t be told simply by showing a spike in audience size.

If we step back and seize the opportunity to redefine the metrics that really move the needle, whether that is web traffic, consumptions, commerce or brand sentiment, we can hold marketing to a higher standard.

There is no cookie-cutter answer for what metrics matter. It varies from client to client, and from day to day. The answer isn’t formulaic, it’s dynamic. The important thing is for brands and agencies together to decide what they are trying to accomplish, and what metrics can best measure, even directionally, the impact of their work. We might not be able to measure 100% of the work we do with numbers and charts, but we can decide to market with a purpose, and focus on indicators and outcomes that truly reflect growth in brand capital.