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Inadequate measurement has traditionally plagued public relations. PR, however, is adapting. More PR pros are mastering measurement in recent years. With new tools and a greater awareness of the importance of measurement, PR has gained greater respect for its successes that add value to the organization.

Here’s what to expect in the new and improved future of PR measurement.

Trends in PR Measurement & Analytics

Less emphasis on measuring views; more emphasis on conversions. Savvy PR pros understand that conversions take precedence over metrics that track views. Likes, followers, blog comments will see a lower priority. Impressions, a common PR and marketing metric, will fall out of favor as business leaders realize it offers limited value. Impressions represent the number of potential viewers, and those viewers don’t need to see the content to be counted as an impression. In addition, some PR agencies apply multipliers, which can produce outrageously high figures.

More PR pros will apply web analytics to track conversions. “For an ecommerce brand, referral and conversion tracking is easy – you can track someone right from a PR placement to a sale, showing how many revenue dollars a PR campaign brought in,” says PR expert Michelle Stansbury at Little Penquin PR. “For service-based businesses, B2B, and companies with longer sales cycles, it is not quite so simple. But, you can still track engagement and conversions if you know the lifetime value of acquiring a new customer and the average number of touch points from prospect to customer. Using this data, you can find the ROI of a PR campaign.”

Greater scrutiny and skepticism of influencer marketing. Early enthusiasm over influencer marketing has waned as brands find measuring the ROI of the strategy challenging. Brands have learned that popularity (e.g. followers) may not necessarily mean real influence (e.g. believability, trust) on consumer purchase decisions. More companies will examine the full consumer journey and hold influencer marketing accountable for driving lower funnel metrics, such as website referrals, content downloads and sales, in addition to awareness and engagement. They’ll hold their influencer marketing programs to the same measurement standards as their other media investments

More brands will turn to social media measurement to determine the value of both paid and non-paid influencer marketing programs. Social media measurement tools can identify ideal influencers for brands, what content they share, how widely their content spreads across the digital landscape, and how they improve public sentiment toward the brand.

Message pull-through and consistency. Where money goes will determine the future of PR measurement, since senior leadership demands more accountability for areas that consume more spending, says PR measurement expert Katie Paine, CEO of Paine Publishing. Money is now moving towards integrated, customer-centric marketing. Customers and prospective customers will see a single consistent message everywhere. That means message pull-through and consistency will become a key metric for all communications efforts.

More podcast measurement. The latest version of Apple’s podcast app offers more powerful analytics. The analytics reveal when listeners play individual episodes, what sections they listen to and what parts they skip. Podcasters can know if people listen to the entire program or turn it off after the first few minutes. Brands will be able to gauge the effectiveness of podcasts they produce or sponsor. In some cases, more powerful podcast analytics will prompt many businesses to reconsider podcasting as a PR and marketing strategy.

While podcasts may still offer a viable future, a sharp increase in the number of podcast programs recently surpassed the number of available listeners. Panoply, the podcasting unit created by Slate magazine, BuzzFeed and Audible, Amazon’s audio division, laid off staff and reduced podcast production this year. Following those well-publicized retrenchments, brands may pause or re-evaluate their branded podcasts.

Video marketing. As video marketing becomes more prevalent, more brands embrace video analytics and more will examine advanced metrics. Those using advanced analytics were twice as likely to say they improved ROI, according to the 2018 Video in Business Benchmark Report from video marketing platform Vidyard.

Vidyard defines basic measurement as using simple metrics such as views or shares. Intermediate measurement entails engagement metrics such as average viewing duration in addition to basic metrics. Advanced measurement tracks views by embed location, viewer drop-off rates, viewing heat maps or attribution to sales pipeline as well as less advanced metrics. Those that examine advanced metrics can gain better insight into usage, acceptance, engagement and sales results.

Interactive and personalized videos, such as embedded surveys, quizzes and links, will provide additional insights. Interactive analytics in video case studies, for instance, can measure the level of understanding a viewer has of the subject matter and the process the viewer uses to solve case problems, explains Vidyard CMO Tyler Lessard in MarketingProfs.  Case studies can be medical, business or most any other topic.

Micro-influencers. PR and marketing teams will use social media monitoring and measurement to find the right influencers for their brands. More brands will work with micro-influencers, who are not celebrities but have above average numbers of followers. Brands will realize that people want messages from others they trust and feel an affinity for rather than overpaid celebrities. In addition, audiences are becoming more fragmented and receptive to subject-matter experts in their favorite niches.

Identifying appropriate micro-influencers and determining the effectiveness of influencer marketing often pose challenges. However, increasingly advanced social media measurement tools can help companies find the right influencers for their brands and gauge the effectiveness of micro-influencer marketing programs.

Integrated measurement.  Silos for PR, social media marketing, advertising and digital marketing are crumbling as walls between functions dissolve and communications professionals recognize the benefits of integrating PR and marketing functions. Both PR agency professionals and in-house PR pros predict PR will become more integrated with marketing over the next five years, according to the 2018 Global Communications Report from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Executives believe integrated communications leads to consistent message and voice across all channels of communication, more efficient allocation of resources, more nimble organizations capable of quicker reactions as well as other benefits

All marketing and PR measurement of earned, owned, paid and social media will be integrated into a single online dashboard that can be parsed to meet the needs of multiple departments. That integration will provide PR an opportunity to establish itself as the hub of key data that affects strategic decision-making. PR will segment and share data with marketing, brand management, country managers and other functions that can gain insight from the data.

Fake news. Companies are realizing that fake news will persist, potentially forever. Social media networks like Twitter and Facebook have been unable to stop fake news websites from spreading fictitious stories. Celebrities, politicians and large and small businesses ranging from Pepsi to pizza restaurants have been victimized by reports that are completely and intentionally made up.

More brands will take the threat of fake news seriously. PR teams will take a leading role in combatting fake news, add fake news responses to their crisis communications plans and monitor fake news websites for mentions of their companies, products and top executives.

Human analysis. While automated programs can cost-effectively analyze large volumes of data, more companies will see that the software-mediated analysis has limits. While advanced sentiment analysis software with appropriate training can accurately assess sentiment reasonably well, sentiment is only a part of a thorough media analysis. In addition to sentiment, media analysis requires evaluation of subject, positioning, messaging, and issues – evaluations that only well-trained human analysts can perform with an acceptable level of precision.

More companies will appreciate the benefits of a hybrid approach that combines software for quantitative data analysis combined with experienced human analysts for qualitative assessment.

PR teams have learned that collecting data and tracking metrics might be easier than finding actionable insights in the jungle of numbers. They’ve learned that data and insights are not exactly the same. Services that include trained human analysts in addition to automated software analysis can provide more accurate judgments and uncover actionable insights that hide within the data.

PR measurement with context. Measuring media placements in isolation from the marketplace offers a narrow and often erroneous view of the results. In the future, PR and marketing will emphasize metrics that account for the context of what’s happening with direct competitors and the marketplace as a whole. Concentrating less on data and more on content and context will help achieve the full benefit from social media listening. In other words, business managers must “think like an anthropologist.” Focusing more on “why,” or the content meaning and context, will provide better insights than data alone.

Bottom Line: The public relations profession and PR measurement continue to evolve rapidly. PR measurement is becoming increasingly important as more PR pros recognize the benefits of tracking the effectiveness of their campaigns. PR pros who stay abreast of the latest PR measurement trends will be more likely to survive and thrive. While PR analytics tools become more sophisticated, brands will appreciate the contributions of highly trained analysts.

This post was first published on Sept. 29, 2017, and updated on Oct. 22, 2018.