For decades, PR professionals have demonstrated their performance and value by providing clients with regular press reports accompanied by press clips – quantifying every media mention of the client, and proving that time spent on press releases, news distribution, pitches and interviews was worthwhile.
Enter social media.
With the rising popularity of social media, PR pros monitoring every mention of their client (and oftentimes, client’s industry, competitor’s, etc.) are inundated. TweetBeep and Google alerts flood our inboxes with Internet chatter. Fellow PR people have asked me, “How do you report on all of this?”
There is no place for social media in the traditional press report.
That’s right. I said it. PR people need to cut the chord from the coveted press report and take a step back and take a look at what we’re actually trying to achieve.
ROI vs. ROE – Investment vs. Engagement.
Before, we measured Return On Investment.
Traditionally, if a client was announcing a product launch, for instance, the PR pro would draft a press release, distribute it, pitch the appropriate editors/reporters, follow-up as necessary, and ideally, it would result in print coverage on the client and their new product.
This is earned placement, old-school style. That diligent PR pro would then summarize each of these mentions in a press report, along with quantitative information (often things like circulation, ad equivalency) to provide the client with a monetary ROI.
Now, we can measure Return On Engagement.
And, return on engagement can’t be quantified.
In today’s socially networked world, a PR pro may announce a client’s product launch with an SMR (social media release) and share via social networks.* By nature, these mechanisms are designed for sharing – the information spreads naturally between people and across networks.
This coverage does not belong in a traditional press report.
It’s not an accurate measurement of the conversation.
Conversations about your clients take place in countless places – dinner parties, parks and in phone conversations. Do these get included in press reports? Of course not. It’s just as ridiculous to think that social media coverage can be reported in this way.
Because we have the ability to monitor social media, however, (it’s much more difficult to monitor all those dinner party conversations), it is our job as PR professionals to listen, report and respond in a meaningful way.
We could try to attach a “hits viewed” or a Nielsen NetRating or Alexa rank to these online mentions, or make an attempt to arbitrarily calculate some sort of advertising equivalency for what the space would have cost had we purchased an ad on Facebook and on Google, but why? What would that tell us about the conversation, those who shared it and those who received the message?
A message spread through social networks is PR, but this engagement not a direct result of PR.
Take for instance, Kane Co’s efforts to promote our recent workshops. I created an SMR and shared it with our networks, which include media and bloggers. Suddenly, we had “coverage” in places we didn’t know existed. My favorite example – a long-time friend of Jen’s got wind of the event via our Facebook Group. He shared the information on his blog. A friend of his then shared the event with her Google group. Within the Google group, another friend of Kane Co sparked a conversation on the speakers and the relevance of social media.
In this strain, there were at least four mentions of Kane Co and our event. And not a single one of them was earned as a direct result of our PR effort. Rather, because of the equity we have in a network that we nurture, ambassadors told the story for us. Reporting them as separate mentions wouldn’t do justice to the value behind the conversation and how it spread.
The success lies in the return on engagement. In this instance, Kane Co learned that:
1) We’ve got some excellent, fertile soil in our online networks
2) We’re planting our seeds in the right places
3) These seeds will sprout and grow, on their own, into beautiful flowers
4) We need to nurture the garden so flowers continue to grow
(What can I say…we like metaphors).
The fourth point, above, is where, as a PR person, I find my place. What’s the next story we tell? With whom do we share it? With which of these “flowers” can I cultivate a more personal relationship?
Brand equity is built over time. In the same way, the extent of social media “results” will continue to surface over time. Because results are ongoing and dynamic, it’s nearly impossible to accurately measure them at any given time.
The most immediate, quantitative results from ROE might be increased sales (our in our case, registrations). The more valuable results, however, are qualitative, and occur long term. It’s not possible to quantify the value of a brand ambassador, who is essentially doing your PR for you. One exchange could plant the seed that eventually grows into a lead, a new client, or a partner.
*Please, don’t get your panties in a bunch – online efforts aren’t always a replacement to traditional media relations campaigns. They can, and often should, co-exist.