Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Measurement Meme

Kami, joined by Geoff, is urging the PR blogosphere to spend some time thinking about measurement issues, and she tagged me to jump in the conversation. I put it aside for a few days, which turned out not to be a good idea, because so many people are talking about it now that I had to catch up on the reading. ;-)

Kami's basic question is, "Do you think measurement of social media is important, and why?" As usual, I'm thinking about PR students as I answer it.

It depends. (That's a running joke in our PR graduate program, as well as my answer.) As Katie Paine talks about in her book, and as Kami discussed in her presentation, there can be no measurement without objectives. If your objective is to practice writing, as it is for many student bloggers, you measure whether or how your writing has improved. You don't need social media measurement tools to do that. Similarly, my original mission for this blog was to reflect on and improve my teaching: no reader stats or subscriber counts needed here.

But many PR objectives -- increased sales or new client acquisition, positioning as a thought leader, or launching a new product or service, for example-- do require measurement, if only to justify to yourself (or the boss) the time and effort -- that's return on investment or ROI -- you're expending on the effort.

But let's stick with a student-related example: your objective might be to build an online portfolio for the larger goal of helping you find a great job after graduation. How could you measure your progress? Obviously you can search your own name, which everyone should do BTW, and see what comes up -- you want it to be you, and you want the engine to point the searcher to positive things like your own blog, other blogs that have linked to things you've written, and so forth.

However, social media measurement tools let you go far beyond that. Feedburner can tell you how many subscribers you have. Technorati can show how many other bloggers have linked to you. How impressive is that on your job application? It shows not only that you know how to use the tools, but that you know how to navigate the blogosphere in ways that have gotten you some positive attention.

Cool, but for a PR campaign, that's not enough.

Many of my students conduct PR campaigns that include social media, and they're required to complete evaluation of these programs. As Katie said, and reiterated, and said again, at Connect, we've got to get past counting eyeballs and measure relationships. Do people comment on your blog, or just pop in and bounce right back out? Do they trust you? Do they act on the information you provide? The Connect team is analyzing not only how many blogs mentioned UGA Connect, but also what people said about it (which sessions they liked, which speakers were specifically mentioned, overall evaluation of the conference, etc.). They also read the comments to see what other people said. This will be added to the evaluation attendees filled out at the conference itself to give us a better picture of how much progress we made toward our goals. (I'll have to do another post when I can tell you what they've found.)

In other words, start with the goals and objectives. Then figure out how to measure. I think it was Katie who said the data are out there, you just have to find a way to access and analyze them.

My colleague Kaye Sweetser provided more specific tips on blog measurement that are useful to newbies, and I'm tagging her in case she wants to add to the conversation.

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