PR metrics and analytics: 10 trends to watch in 2019

Gathering data is fine, but deriving salient insights requires more than counting raw numbers. Consider these pressing realities and emerging approaches as you steam into the new year.

Inadequate measurement has long plagued public relations.

PR, however, is adapting, as more PR pros are mastering measurement. With new tools and a greater awareness of the importance of metrics, PR pros have gained greater recognition for their value to the organization.

Here’s what to expect as 2019 beckons:

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 due to its limited value. Impressions represent the number of potential viewers, and those viewers needn’t 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 Michelle Stansbury at Little Penguin 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 companies struggle to measure its ROI. They have learned that popularity (i.e., followers) may not necessarily mean real influence (i.e., believability, trust) on consumer purchase decisions.

More companies will 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 companies 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 online, and how they improve public sentiment toward the brand.

Message consistency. Where money goes will determine the future of PR measurement, as senior leaders demand more accountability for costlier investment areas, says PR measurement expert Katie Paine, CEO of Paine Publishing. Money is moving toward integrated, customer-centric marketing. Customers and prospective customers will see a single consistent message everywhere, making it a key metric.

More podcast measurement. The latest version of Apple’s podcast app offers more powerful analytics. The analytics reveal when listeners play individual episodes, which sections they listen to and what parts they skip. Podcasters can know whether people listen to the entire program or turn it off after a few minutes. Marketers can gauge the effectiveness of the podcasts their companies produce or sponsor. In some cases, more powerful podcast analytics will prompt businesses to reconsider the format as a strategy component.

Although podcasts have a viable future, the number of programs has 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, companies might pause or reevaluate their branded podcasts.

Video marketing. As video marketing becomes more prevalent, more companies will 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 the sales pipeline, as well as less advanced metrics. Those who examine advanced metrics can gain better insight into use, acceptance, engagement and sales results.

Interactive and personalized videos—such as embedded surveys, quizzes and links—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, Vidyard CMO Tyler Lessard says in MarketingProfs. Case studies can be about health care, business or most any other topic.

Micro-influencers. PR and marketing teams will use social media monitoring and measurement to find the right voices, including micro-influencers, for their brands. Communicators will realize that people want messages from others they trust rather than from paid celebrities. In addition, audiences are becoming more fragmented and receptive to niche subject-matter experts.

Identifying appropriate micro-influencers and determining the effectiveness of influencer marketing can 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 communications professionals recognize the benefits of integrating those 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 communication leads to consistent messaging and voice across all channels, more efficient allocation of resources, more nimble organizations capable of quicker reactions, and other benefits.

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

Fake news. Companies are realizing that fake news will persist, potentially forever. Social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook have been unable to stop fake news websites from spreading fictitious stories. Celebrities, politicians and businesses ranging from PepsiCo to pizzerias have been victimized by completely and intentionally false reports.

PR teams will take a lead role in combating fake news, adjust their crisis communication plans and monitor dodgy websites for mentions of their companies, products and top executives.

Human analysis. Although automated programs can cost-effectively analyze large volumes of data, more companies will see that the software-mediated analysis has limits. Advanced sentiment analysis software with appropriate training can assess sentiment reasonably well, but sentiment is only a part of a thorough media analysis. It also requires evaluation of subject, positioning, messaging, and issues—evaluations that only well-trained human analysts can perform with precision.

PR teams have learned that collecting data and tracking metrics might be easier than finding actionable insights in the jungle of numbers. 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 measurement with context. Measuring media placements in isolation from the marketplace offers narrow and often erroneous results. PR and marketing will emphasize metrics that account for the context of what’s happening with direct competitors and the overall marketplace. By concentrating less on data and more on content and context, business managers must “think like an anthropologist.” Focusing more on “why,” or the content meaning and context, will provide better insights than data alone.

A version of this post first appeared on the blog.

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