Public relations or media campaigns have always been difficult to measure and the subject of much debate on what should be measured and how.
Most of the time the processes used have tended to be very crude. Some organisations just measure the size of the clipping and multiply by factors of 3 or 5, some try to adjust for the prominence of the company/organization and some tried to create a measure of desired message contained in a clipping.
Organisations such as Kantar and O’Leary Analytics also do a good job of using technology and manual intervention to give measures of the success of a campaign.
In general though many companies tended to reply on any publicity is good publicity approach and were only really concerned about how much it would have cost to buy the space if it were advertising and not the impact. The job was to influence the journalist and hopefully this would influence the public. Sometimes these audiences agree but not always and with pure reporting there tends to be little outside of the presentation of the facts, so how people interpret it varies wildly.
PR budgets are normally a pretty small spend in over all marketing costs so companies tended not to invest in market research to measure the impact of campaigns. Hence much was left to conjecture.
Now that media is well down the path of embracing aspects of web 2.0 and social media they have also accidentally generated some really nice feedback tools to get a nice snap shot of public mood.
Take the announcement today about the halving of sick pay for the public sector.
Previously radio show call-in’s would have been the most accessibly accurate measures of the mood of the land but looking at the comments and social media shares from the new and traditional media gives a real insight into how people feel about the announcement.
The Journal are really the masters here. This story got 3,415 views and 58 facebook shares but it’s the 51 comments where you really see how divided people are on the issue and the genuine anger on both sides.
The Irish Independent had less at 16 shares and the 7 comments were more pithy.
The Irish Times predictably got one long and well considered comment, 3 Facebook recommends, 8 tweets, 10 shares.
Newswhip also give a nice metric on the articles speed as it gets taken up by social platforms.
The debate also raged on Boards.ie where some of the media articles were posted and discussed or added to previous discussion on the same topic.
Along side this there is also the chatter and liking on Facebook profiles or replies or retweets through Twitter, some of which can be easily tracked.
Trending topics and the ever growing freely available social search tools also add to the arsenal.
In an era where semantic analysis is still in its early days these give PR practitioners and policy makers a quick and easy to digest snap shot of the impact of a piece of communications.
Getting the slickest procedure, working out how to interpret and reporting all this in a meaningful way is going to be difficult but in the day of instant reaction there must be great value in being able to react before the printed addition arrives and the phone call start coming in.
Those who get slick with these tools stand the best chance of becoming the crystal ball gazers.
The day after I wrote this I again checked the comments. Some big jumps as people signed in at home and added to the debate.
Biggest jump in the Journal comments.
Comments on the Sick Pay Article on the Irish Indpendent website- jumped from 9 to 89 overnight.
IrishTimes.com comments on Public Sector Sick Pay Decrease.
I am surprised that the launch of Microsofts Kinect, the long expected arrival of internet TVs by year end and the never ending expansion of cloud based services has not generated more debate about the potential impact on PR and social media.
In the not too distant future instead of the collection of different remote controls, DVD/VHS players, games consoles and related bits you will eventually have a very large screen with a built in sensor that can pick up and interpret your movements. This will all be connect to a ultra fast broadband connection which pulls down the different services you are looking for from entertainment channels, social media platforms, your photos, home videos and music collection. The lines we draw between different media, storage and internet access will become completely blurred. Instead of thinking PC for internet access, TV for news and programmes, stereo and radio for music we will consume it all through one screen. For alot of people this is already a reality as they access TV via RTE’s iPlayer on their PCs or laptop. We will probably spend more money on sound systems and bigger screens as ultra fast broadband via fibre becomes more of a commodity.
All of this sounds wonderful and not too futuristic but it has seriouly implications for the PR industry.
Picture this. You will be sitting on your sofa, to change a channel, increase the volume you merely waving your hands. You are watching the 9 O’Clock news or PrimeTime and see something about company. You wave your hand another direction and your collection of social media appears along with a virtual key board. As the piece is still running on split screens you visit the company website for more information. You also decide to check out their facebook page and decide that what was reported is worthy of posting a comment or you just check what others are saying. You go to the personal sites of the spokesperson via LinkedIn or another to see how credible they are. You tweet your comments on what is being covered with your own personal networks and make judgement calls on it. If it particularly irked you, you DM friends and organise for a coordinated response to the company. DMs will naturally switch to video chatter where you see the people in your network and the debate leaves a less trackable footprint. Parodies of the crisis/spokespeople performance will appear instantly as people create their own mocking content. The phone number pops up in the company search and you call the organisation to register your view point – all from your couch. Finally you organise a flash mob to appear at the company or outlet to register a protest, video record it and upload to keep the debate going.
A lot of this all happens at the moment. Anyone checking out twitter at the weekend will see lots of comments by people about whats on TV and radio. This ranges from mere obervational to wide ranging debates. At the moment this is a trickle as you need to have a reasonable smart phone, be working on your PC or feel motivated enough to go online. Once people have access to all of these on one ease to navigate screen its set to explode.
Most companies have a reasonable feel for the increased importance of social media and have started down the line of building a social media strategy. This will move it from a nice to do to a must have. Here are some of the changes I can see.
Social media monitoring and responding becomes a 24 hour job.
Debate will be swift and much more far reaching.
After hours online chatter will have matured by the time most people get to the desk the following morning.
Social media tombstones which have not been updated will be highly visible and reflect poorly.
The expectation that there will be a company representative at all times will grow (via social media or phone lines).
Big launches and crisis may need to have experienced teams working on them on a 24/7 basis.
The weight attached to traditional media will continue to be extremely important but debate will take place else where.
Local issues will get even more global exposure and debate.
Messaging will morph and adapt as the temperature of debate rages.
Expectation of an active presence on a broader range of channels.
Ability to rapidly create content to match particular platforms will increase from Video – YouTube, Photography, Pix.ie, Facebook etc
Traditional PR outreach will need to be integrated into social media outreach.
Communications, marketing and online teams will need to be synched.
Close community debate will be harder to track especially if video or DM orientated.
Coordinated action will spill over into real life organised action.
Nature and tone of online debate and chatter will change as it moves from early innovators to mass audience.
None of this is massively different from what PR companies are faced with every day but the scale, speed and timing are very different. 9-5 just wont work and ill thought comments will spread much faster and to wider communities. At the moment this is contained due to technological barriers, once these disappear a regular tidal waves will appear. Consider the difference between 20-30 tweets from a few influentials which can network out to a few thousand via retweets versus the 600,000 people who view PrimeTime. How well resourced would an Irish or international company be to that larger figure but also a much broader profile. Some Irish companies I have spoken to can be dismissive of what they view as a small Irish Twitter community while they are consignant of the impact of high profile programmes. Merge the two with sufficent numbers and you enter a whole new arena.
Of course its not all bad and with all this come huge opportunities but the the reality is its not that far away.
PS: Since writing this I stumbled across this interesting report by emarketer on social TV trends amongst different demographics.
Stumbled upon a nice Twitter influence/comparision tool called Klout.com.
Klout -Twitter Influence Tool
How you compare with others on twitter has normally been a manual task of looking at their followers, following, number of tweets, number of @ and general level of engagement. I did an analysis of some public sector organisations for a presentation to some press offices organised by Public Affairs Ireland and trying to decipher who was more influential was pretty time consuming and manual. This tool really helps giving a helpful snap shot. Unfortunately it does not find all twitter users but assume this will improve over time. When you search under your twitter user name it positions you on an x/y axis looking at influence and audience with the four quadrants covering Casual, Connector, Climber and Personal. The personal quatrant containing the most active twitter users.
Interestingly I was in the bottom corner and much as I would like to protest its probably a fair reflection on my personal twitter usage and out reach. I don’t follow everyone who follows me and I do engage with a relatively small pool of people on a regular occasion and I have a moderate rate of tweets.
It also give a text interpretation of the graph. Mine is below and although I dont agree with it all – ahem! – its indicative. Interesting to see youself reflected lower than you would expect as in theory everyone would like to be the utimate category but why and how people use twitter is a personal choice on time availability, how much engagement you want and can handle and how wide you wish to be spread among others.
“You don’t take this Twitter stuff too seriously. People towards the lower left corner are probably very new to social media. Most people in this quadrant tend to engage with a small group of friends that they know in real life. If you’re in the upper right corner, you have succeeded in building a strong audience, but need to engage and be more active to jump to the next level.”
I would like to see all the variables they use but its a useful snap shot when you are looking at improving your twitter profile or trying to get a handle on someone elses influence.
How influential someone is in PR has alway been a bit foggy to say the least. It is easy to claim you are influential but proof has normally been in the form of being able to open doors or hidden in the infamous black book of contacts.
In theory online makes it easier to check how influential someone is. Things have moved on in terms of people merely using the web to increase their digital footprint. To date there has been a bit of land grab in terms of occuping certain spaces and putting up profiles and leaving them to gather dust. This was useful at the beginning where you could find someone’s LinkedIn profile when you searched for their name but its hardly an indication of their influence – its merely that they exist. Now as people gather and participate in communities around them it is easier to get a better sence of their consistent presence on the web but also their level of contribution.
Piaras Kelly posted about what your Facebook connections could indicate about you sometime ago and Tom Murphy has posted more recently about an Andrew Smith comment on how the media are using LinkedIn profiles to vet the credibility about a potential spokesperson.
There is no doubt that this will continue to evolve further but it is not an easy task to acertain someone influence as Micah Baldwin comments in Mashable.com. As a starting point he points to
Incoming Links – Primarily manual links such as blogrolls, in-post deep links
Reader Engagement – Internal searches, time on site
Recommendations – Retweets, share stats
Connections – Number of mutual connections, number of mutual connections on multiple sites
Track Record – Age of domain, number of blog posts, length of engagement
Engagement – How often and long a person has engaged with a service online
It is possible to get a manual snapshot of someone by using some of the tools that are available. By inputting someones blog url in Technorati you can get a numercial indication of their authority and ranking. By looking at their Twitter profile you can see how many people are following them and how many updates they have made. LinkedIn will show their connections, groups, length of time on the community and you can check how active they are in that forum. Similarly with Facebook and other social media.
None of these are perfect measures and having lots of stuff online does not equate to being influential but its a better start than taking someones word for it.
Surely there is good scope for someone to develop a FREE application that is comprehensive enough to take account of the different platforms (ie number of retweets on Twitter, pics through Twitpic etc to the strength of connections in Facebook rather than numbers) so that it goes beyond a popularity contest and give a genuinely useful figure. Following 500 people is very different to being followed by 500 people. It would encourage people to move from ‘I am online’ to ‘I participate and contribute online’. If there was an acceptance of the importance of a ORN (online reputation number) number and people could increase that number by engaging more surely this would lead to an uplife in genuine online activity.
I imagine such applications would be greately aided by people inputting their handles, user names for the different platforms with boxes to fill for a wide range of social media. This is probably especially true as people use different usernames and handles. There may be some issues with walled communities but technology normally finds a way around these.
I am sure that there are a few out there that come close to this but I have not found any to date. Let me know if I am missing the obvious. A simple tool could always progress into a more complex one.
Brian Marin from Marin Software (not related believe it or not) began this session with an overview of the drop in levels of public trust from the Edelman Trust Barometer, where 83% of Irish people reported that they trusted brands less, before giving some examples of companies who have experienced bad karma online. The are some really strong examples of where the negative online activity can really impact on brands. Some of the ones he touched are worth reading and included:
Some of these are fully set up sites dedicated sites that have a damaging effect on the search engine traffic but the examples shown went beyond this to include facebook profiles that also mirrored above including
The main point coming from this was that a lot of negative commentary is taking place and that most companies are blissfully unaware of it. Stage one being the obvious to establish resonable methodologies and automate the process of monitoring. Some good aids here are Brandwatch, BrandsEye and Yasni (for people searching). These can tell you a lot about trends but as Brian Marin pointed out you also need to watch downstream traffic using tools such as hitwise. He pointed to an example where HSBC were seeing lots of traffic to their site from Facebook (positive you would think) but when they tracked it back, it led to complaints by students about the bank.
All of this caught everyone interest but the pencils really started to scribble down notes when he covered actions you could take – some very ill advised – some reasonable. Most of the other sessions contained some element about the perils of trying to be more clever than the search engines so best to stick within the rules.
So what can you do if you are the recipient of negative online coverage especially when this pops up in search engine rankings before or after you company listing.
Google Tattling. Basically looking for link buying by the site and telling Google in the hope they will take action against the site.
Google Bowling. Not recommended but spamming the site with lots of links in the hope Google will act against them.
Denial of Service. Again not recomended but overunning the site with so many requests that it become unaccessable.
Creating land pages or microsites. Good in principle but the time and effort it takes to drive these up the search engine rankings (and out rank the negative commentary) makes it questionable about how useful they are.
Insulation. Get some credited third party endorsement or positive coverage of your company or the story. Basically floating the good stories to the top.
All of these are fairly dramatic efforts but the real ways to protect your brand comes back to a lot of the basics in PR including:
Participate in the discussion.
Communicate positively – early ideally and point to actions taken to address the problem.
Engage with the community. You will get a fairer hearing if you are part of the community.
Treat the cause. Get to the fundamental root of the problem. Sounds obvious but many people still prefer to try cover up.
Build trust and attract advocates. Nothing more powerful that other people coming to your rescue or balancing a debate rather than you defending the brand along. General Motors got a reasonable amount of flack in social media (as you would expect with some many cars and owners) but decided to let the debate continue. They were pleasantly suprised to see that members of the community came to their rescue with postive experiences.
These strategies are very positive news for the PR industry as the core skill set of communication is engrained in everything we do. Again the Edelman Barometer but a 91% figure was reported in response to being asked how important “communicates frequently and honestly on the state of its business” was to the overall reputation of a company.
Brians summary was also useful but in brief:
Insulate search results
Monitor your brand online
Act fast and dont hide
Communicate frequently and honestly
Build trust and adovates
And finally dont over do it. Make sure its natural.
Rob Shine from Cybercom had some additional gems to share.
The advent of Universal Search where other third party content is pulled high in search engine rankings, such as YouTube videos, is something people have seen but have not really thought about the implications. The Taco Bell video of rats running through the restaurant at night was followed by a huge online and traditional media coverage including footage of the reaturant opening up the next day. The Ryanair snoozing air hostess BBC coverage on YouTube also ranked high in Google. Interestingly enough the anti blogger stance by Ryanair, which for most would have been a near disaster, actually resulted in higher bookings to the site (higher visits to the site was expected). This sparked a debate about no PR being bad PR.
On the defenive tactic side Pay per Click advertising supported by good content can help to push down negative mentions or at least point to your side of the debate. One of the earlier presentations by Anthony Quigley pointed out that although many people ignore the ads on the side the paid for sponsored ads at the top of organic searches are frequently percieved as organic listings. This involves buying the negative keywords that people are using to find the story and then using google adwords to link to some positive aspect such as a balancing statement on the story.
Influecing the blogging community was another tactic mentioned but can take a long time and is uncontrollable.
Two other tactics were also covered including
1. Push down the critical site by having more positive pages rank above it. This covers optimised YouTube videos, optimised press releases, blog posts, social profiles etc and is well within the remit of PR companies.
2. De-legitimise the link in the eyes of the search engine.
You can always complain to Google through the editors of its Open Directory DMOZ. To be effective the critical site needs to be out of compliance with the DMOZ rules and can theorically decrease the importance of the site. However any action, if any, can be many months in actually taking place.
Rob finished up by highlighting the importance of establishing positive online PR as part of the marketing mix rather than waiting for negative commentary. He pointed to their work with blogger Guy Kawasaki who they brought over to the store house to show him how to pour the perfect pint. His subsequent blog posts on it resulted in 100,000 additional readers and an approximate 5% lift in visitors to the Guinness Store House site. He also spoke about an joint initiative with Irish photo sharing site Pix.ie. They realised the potential of tapping into the power of the thousands of amateur photos that are taken at the store everyday by creating a photo gallery on the site. In promoting this they did some blogger outreach where they targeted a group of influential photo bloggers and after a tour of the facility got 70 blog posts that helped generate an additional 400,000 extra readers of the site. Some of the photos that he showed were of an extremely high calibre and would have been difficult to achieve with a professionally contracted photo session.
Some of his summary tips were useful including:
Importance of establishling a framework to identify issues and influencers
Establishing proactive and reactive social media engagement teams
Monitoring and moderation of key review and comparison sites over a period of time is critical to getting an initial feel of how the brand is percieved over time – rather than one post or thread.
She open up with some more online reputation horror stories such as Motrin negative experience with a minor revolt in the blogosphere and social media sites over an ad they ran. Some users found the language and tone offensive (that interestingly was launched over a weekend) and resulted in a back peddling by the company.
She also pointed to an issue that blogger Emily Tully had with a mobile provider where the debate raged on IGO People. Interestingly the competing providers had a presence on the site and gained judos by interacting on the issue. It also made its way into main stream papers.
Krishna heavily endorsed using communications specialist to help decide the tone and nature of engagement when dealing with online reputation issues. One of the really obviously things that is overlooked by companies mentioned was the - Online Reputation Management Plan. We prepare these plans for clients for events in the real world but they are still very new for dealing with crisis and reputation issues in the online world especially with social media.
Krishna also pointed out the obvious step of making sure you own the url for high profile CEOs or management. She pointed to an example with Fast Company whose the CEO Shel Israel was parodied on a website in his own name following a volley of criticism over a inteview he did. This tactic also covers buying the domainname’sucks’.com address as this is a popular one for people who have an axe to grind with a company.
Another good practical measure, especially as brands are on the fence in relation to engaging with social media, was to at least claim ownership of the name. While not exactly cybersquatting there are many examples of multiple unofficial versions of sites/profile/brands on Facebook and Twitter. Apparently an Exxon Mobil Twitter account that was being lauded for being proactive was not officially part of the company.
In terms of engagement she also recommended getting in early rather than late and not necessarily staying until the bitter end.
Once again listening to the online conversation, understanding the medium and building relationship are key and should be done before a disaster strikes.
Overall some great learning and some new tricks. If PR people ever needed a reason to get to grips with adwords then this is a really strong one.