Incorporating new metrics into PR measurement

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For some public relations professionals looking to demonstrate return on investment to their clients, the wide range of new metrics available from the social Web can make it tempting to try to make orange juice out of apples. Accustomed to measuring impact online in terms of “eyeball” metrics like page views and Unique Visitors, many aren’t sure how to incorporate engagement metrics such as Facebook Likes, retweets and blog comments. If the end goal is to gain exposure, what role does interaction play?

Of course, engagement drives exposure. The more people comment, link to and vote for a piece of content, the more its exposure grows. But is all of that engagement activity just a means to an end? I say no: the more social engagement broadens the reach of an online video, article or blog post, the more important it becomes to report engagement metrics to whomever is interested in the results of our efforts.

This is not an academic question to PR pros using these metrics to justify and grow their budgets. At Cision, we’ve been looking at engagement as a factor in our media research and measurement services for some time. (I started wrestling with these issues on this blog 2 years ago.) But now that we’ve reached a point where most PR agencies and corporate communications groups have begun doing outreach on Twitter and Facebook, the question of how to represent that in a measurement report has become more pressing.

The most important thing to understand when balancing reach and engagement metrics is this: exposure is plentiful, interaction is scarce. It helps to recognize that getting someone to take action is always more difficult than getting someone to look at something. One of the best places to witness this to have a look on any band page on MySpace Music. Take any band’s page and compare the number of profile views and number of plays for each song to the number of comments on the page. What you’ll find is lots of people have had a glimpse at the page; some stuck around and had a listen; and a comparative few took the time to comment. 

Engagement metrics will rarely wow your clients or stakeholders with their sheer volume, especially if they compare them to unique visitors and page views. But helping your clients understand the role these online interactions play in spreading the word helps you demonstrate the value of your work.

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