Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Potential Value of Big Data to PR and Communications

This Blog is adapted from a comment I made on an IABC LinkedIn Discussion on Big Data, which was initiated by Natasha Nicholson. I am also indebted to comments in that discussion by Mike Jenkins and Sam Ford.

In my mind, the promise of Big Data for PR is in planning successful communications campaigns.

However, I am concerned that communications professionals are not well prepared to use Big Data. They face a number of challenges. Some are database management challenges--making the data accurate, making it inclusive and making it represent what it purports to represent. Beyond these challenges are those of coaxing meaning from the data, which are data analysis and statistical issues. For the most part, I do not believe these skills exist in communications departments or consultancies, with the possible exception of research departments.

What communications people should be able to do is ask the right questions of the data. I believe these should start with the basic questions of business and communications such as:
  • Who are my stakeholders?
  • What do they care about and why?
  • What messages are likely to resonate with them?
  • What are the best media for reaching those stakeholders with those messages?
  • What trends and issues matter to these stakeholders that may have an effect on how and how well I can communicate with them?
My last bulleted question is sometimes addressed by the folks monitoring media. So, at least we are doing that.

To summarize, I believe communications people understand communications and the questions that need to be answered to communicate effectively. However, to use Big Data to inform and drive successful communications campaigns, they need also to understand and be conversant in database management, data analysis and statistics. Beyond being conversant, they need people who can actually do these things to answer the communications questions the communicators pose.

We know that the Obama campaign effectively used Big Data to help win the presidency in 2012, but beyond that, proof points for Big Data's use and effectiveness in PR and communications are sparse, to say the least.

I expect that the first organizations to actually use Big Data effectively outside of politics will be large, well funded organizations that actually value communications and its effect on reputation (think Fortune 100 here). They will have the communications expertise and the influence to be able to draw on the database management and data analysis and statistical skills elsewhere in their organizations to put together the whole package necessary to make Big Data work for stakeholder relationship management.

Until then, what I believe communicators should do to prepare themselves to use Big Data is develop an analytical mindset. They need to start asking the questions above as well as other questions of the data they have access to. First and foremost, this would be the data in their organizations from such places as marketing, sales and HR. If their organization is using data resources in other parts of their business (for example risk management), they should learn how that data is being used and try to think of ways they might be able to adapt it to use in communications (e.g. Sam Ford's suggestions in "4 Ways to Use Data to Tell Stories," in IABC's Communications World Magazine.

For those of you who already have access to Big Data, I suggest you think analytically, jump in and swim. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The importance of doing research before diving into social media

Before jumping into social media do general research to determine which social (and traditional) media are most appropriate for your target audience. Check out the article I wrote for the Measurement Standard:

Thursday, May 29, 2014

How To Link Communications to Your Organization's Business Goals and Objectives (Part II: Evaluating Your Success Against Your Goal)

How To Link Communications to Your Organization's Business Goals and Objectives (Part II: Evaluating Your Success Against Your Goal)

In my last Blog I wrote about how to set measurable communications objectives that are linked to the business goals of your organization.  In this Blog I will outline how to evaluate the success of your program against your communications objectives.

As you will recall, our business goal was sales, and the measurable communications goal we derived to support sales was:
  • Increase awareness of the product by 10%
    • Among U.S. women (or women in a specified market)
    • With children five-years old and younger
    • Household incomes of $80,000 to $150,000
  • Within six months
Measuring An Outtake Goal
To measure your success, you would want to do a pre- and post-campaign survey of the target audience as defined above to determine the change in awareness before and after the campaign. In the best of all worlds you would do this survey by telephone. To reduce costs, you could buy one or two questions in a reputable omnibus survey, such as the one done by Opinion Research, and have them cut the data to represent the target audience definition. This should only cost you a few thousand dollars per question.

"A survey!" I hear some of you saying. "Those are expensive. What about our media and content analysis service. Can't we evaluate using that?"

Measuring An Output Goal
Yes, you can, but it takes you one step further from the business goal you are trying to support. Our business goal is increase sales; this is what we in measurement call an outcome goal. Our communications goal is increase awareness among the target audience by 10% within six months;.this is what we call an outtake goal. If we have not the budget or for some other reason cannot measure awareness, we can step down to how you expect to achieve the communications goal and create an output goal.

In this case we assume that if we get coverage in traditional, digital or social media that we know reach our target audience, that some part of our target audience will see the coverage, become aware of our product as a result and buy it. These are all fair assumptions, but, as you can see, we're getting to be a number of assumptions away from the business goal. Our output goal might be some number of impressions that carry our message in the media we know reach our target audience. To measure our success, we then need to monitor those media and evaluate the coverage to ensure that it actually carries our message points. It also is useful to determine how much competitive coverage is mixed in with ours. For example, are we in a round up story including all the competitors? If so, how did we come out? Is it a feature story only on us? Obviously, these would be rated differently in terms of the success of the output.

Getting Your Media Analysis Vendor To Provide What You Really Need
One of the problems many media analysis vendors have is they do not understand PR very well, and they do not know how to articulate output objectives that support communications (outtake or business objectives. Consequently, when they set up their programs for clients, they end up measuring the wrong things and their measures have limited usefulness in assessing the success of campaigns. If you as a practitioner can make explicit what the business, communications (outtake) and output goals are, you will be in a strong position to demand from your vendor that she provide metrics that enable you to evaluate your output. If she cannot, find another vendor who can. There are good ones out there.

Measuring By Activity
Now to the lone practitioner who has virtually no budget. I meet these folks regularly. They want to demonstrate their value to their clients, but their clients have budgets so small that any kind of external evaluation is out of the question. In these cases I still suggest research, but it is the up front research that should drive all PR. Identify the target audience for the business goal, determine through further research the kind of message that is likely to persuade that target audience to behave in the way that will enable the business to achieve its goal and identify the media that will reach that target audience. Unfortunately, with limited resources the research to do this may not be as sophisticated as we would like. Much of it may come from those who are in contact with customers. Perhaps the practitioner can talk to some customers herself to find out why they buy and how they find out about the product.

But once that is done, set some specific targets. For example, if your research suggests your target reads some specific trade magazines (traditional or digital) and blogs, make a list of them and make your goal be to get your client's product mentioned in six (or some other reasonable number) of these media venues in the next six months. Make this agreement with your client.

Here, too, you might be able to get unique URL in the material you place, which would give you an actual link to behavior in the form of web site visits that would lead to achieving your client's business goal.

What's Stopping You?
So, it can be done. The only thing that's really stopping most practitioners is the fear that measurement will show they have not achieved their objective. That's just unprofessional. How will you ever get any better at your profession if you don't regularly assess how well you're doing?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

How To Link Communications to Your Organization's Business Goals and Objectives (Part I: Setting Goals)

How To Link Communications to Your Organization's Business Goals and Objectives (Part I: Setting Goals)

According to research done by Jim Sinkinson, publisher of The Bulldog Reporter, one reason PR practitioners have trouble adhering to the Barcelona Principles is they don't know how to set measurable objectives. Another is they have trouble tying their results to corporate strategic objectives.

In my next two Blogs, I'll outline how to do both.

For reference, I wrote a paper with Linda Hadley on this topic for the Institute of Public Relations Commission on Measurement and Evaluation back in 1999. David Rockland, Mark Weiner and I updated that paper in 2010.

Tying Communications Results to Corporate Objectives
To tie communications results to corporate objectives, you need to start with corporate objectives. These might be:
  • Increase sales
  • Increase share price 
  • Reduce employee turnover
  • Reduce supplier costs
  • Etc.
Sometimes you can tie a communications campaign directly to a business result. But this is unusual because communications is usually only a part of what makes behavior happen. In sales, for example, price, supply, shelf placement, advertising, promotion, competition and many other factors affect a sale. With share price, management's business model and strategy must be solid, no matter how good the communication. With employee turnover, research I have done suggests an employee's immediate supervisor has a much greater effect on retaining that employee than does communications. Some sophisticated organizations are using marketing modeling programs to assess the effect of PR on sales. You can find a paper on that here.

Unique Internet Links
Another way to tie communications directly to business outcomes in our online world is to include unique links for actions. For example if you can get a "for more information" link in the material you place, make it go to a unique page. Then you can not only get credit for the information request, but you may also be able to track the person who made the request on to sales. 

The Communications Goal Link
Though we can rarely tie the effect of communications directly to achieving a business goal, we can articulate a communications goal that supports the business goal your organization is trying to achieve. Some useful questions to ask before coming up with the communications goal are:
  • Who is the target stakeholder group
  • What does the organization want this group to do (what behavior does it seek)
  • By when must this be accomplished

A Measurable Communications Goal
Let's take our first business goal as an example: Increase sales. What will increase sales depends very much on what you are selling, who you are selling it to and the general sales environment. But generally speaking, communications might help sales by increasing awareness of the product and its features. By doing homework with the sales and marketing people in your organization and by doing research on your target audience, you should be able to identify the primary barriers to sales and come up with a communications objective that should help achieve the business objective of sales. Let's say that in this case the communications goal that will support increasing sales is:
  • Increase awareness of the product.
However, that's a bit broad. A better communications goal would include a tighter definition of the target audience. Increasing awareness of the product among people who will never buy it would be wasted effort. If our sales target is U.S. women with children five-years old and younger and with household incomes of $80,000 to $150,000, we should include that in our objective. We should also note the time frame. Finally, we should put a stake in the ground and say how much we are going to increase awareness.

So a good communications goal that supports our business goal would be:
  • Increase awareness of the product by 10%
  • Among U.S. women (or women in a specified market)
    • With children five-years old and younger
    • Household incomes of $80,000 to $150,000
  • Within six months

Management Agreement On Goals
You also want to get agreement from your management that this is indeed an acceptable communications goal. Then, when you achieve it, there will be no question about whether you had done the right thing.

Do Research So You Actually Achieve Your Goal
Note, too, that you need to develop a message that appeals to and use media that reach the defined target audience. If you want to succeed, you will need to determine what these are. You may be able to get this information from your marketing and sales people, but you may need to do your own research.

Measuring Success Agains Goals
Next week I will Blog about how to measure your success against your goals.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Evidence from Ad Age that PR Gets Big Data and Analytics

Finally actual evidence from Ad Age that PR agencies understand some of the real potential for big data and analytics:

Though the article doesn't say it, this also suggests small agencies without advertising parents will be at a distinct disadvantage as the agencies with such parents become sophisticated at using the data to which they have access.

Friday, March 7, 2014

More Successful Online Surveys Tip 3: Design the Research Correctly

In my earlier Blog, 11 Tips for Doing More Successful Online Surveys, the third tip was "Design the Research Correctly." By this I mean: don't do an online survey if some other kind of research is more appropriate.

Online surveys are a great research tool, but they are only one tool. Alternative tools are:
  • Other kinds of surveys, such as telephone, mail and door-to-door surveys
  • Qualitative research, such as focus groups and one-on-one interviews
  • Secondary research, such as online searches of the Internet and specific data bases as well as good old library research

Secondary and Qualitative Research
In the example I've used in my last two blogs (One Way Research Can Help You to the Management Table and More Successful Online Surveys Tip 2: Get the Question Right), we've used as an example a not for profit that's suffering from decreasing contributions. The first research I recommended in this hypothetical case was reviewing internal records to determine where the decrease was coming from. That would be secondary research relying on company data. I also recommended that once we determined the kinds of people who were not giving as much, as frequently or at all, that we talk to a few to find out why. This would be either one-on-one interviews or small focus groups--both forms of qualitative research. After learning some reasons for people not giving as much, we could incorporate those into a survey and quantify it. That is, we could determine which reasons accounted most for the fall in giving.

I assume we could do this survey online, because I assume we would have the e-mails of people who had given in the past. Even if we sent the survey to every person who ever had given to the organization, meaning we sent it to the entire population or a census, we still would probably not get a representative sample of this population, because there likely would be some bias related to those who wanted to respond and those who didn't. But in this case, I don't think it would matter very much whether the sample was completely representative. We're simply trying to get a handle on what's going on, and rough numbers will probably be good enough for that.

If, however, we were doing a survey that was going to be critical to making a very important prediction, such as who will win an election, or on which your organization were going to make a high stakes decision, such as siting a new multi-million- or billion-dollar facility, an online survey might not be the best methodology.

Representative Sample a Prerequisite for Statistic Validity
When the stakes are high, you want your numbers to be as close as possible to the real numbers for the population you are surveying. This means you want your sample to be representative of your population. If your sample is representative (and you avoid other biases), the results you get from your survey will conform to statistical rules, and you can assign probabilities (confidence levels) to how likely it is the percentages for the sample (within specified ranges) represent the true percentages for the population.

Clear Population Definition
Before you pursue your representative sample, you need to clearly define your population. If you wanted to determine who was likely to win an election in Illinois, you would not include people registered to vote in Wisconsin in your poll. You probably would not even include all people registered to vote in Illinois. You would narrow your population to those likely to vote in the next election and might even use a question like that to screen respondents. You would not be able to survey the entire population, so you would want a representative sample of, say, 1,000 of them. 

Definition of Representative (Random) Sample
This means you want a sample in which every member of the population is as likely to be included in the sample as every other member of the population. This is the definition of a random sample, and in order to get one, you need access to every member of the population.

Can You Get a Random Sample Through an Online Survey?
To achieve a representative sample through an online survey, you would need to have a list of the e-mail addresses of every member of the population. You may well have all the emails for all the employees of a given organization or all the customers who have ever purchased a product online. But when you start talking about the U.S. population or the community around a potential factory site, you almost certainly do not have an e-mail for every individual. So, in these cases, some of the people in the population (those for whom you do not have e-mails) do not have the same likelihood of being included in the sample, and you cannot survey a random sample online.*

How Polling Companies Get a Random Sample
Traditionally, polling companies have done this kind of survey by telephone using telephone landlines. Now, because more and more households (especially younger households) are dropping land lines in favor of mobile phones, polling companies use a mixture of randomly selected land-line and mobile-phone numbers to generate representative samples.

Think Through What You Need
I apologize for going into so much detail regarding sampling methodology, but I wanted to make the point that sometimes even when a survey is appropriate, an online survey may not be.

So, returning to my main point, if you want your research to truly help your organization, don't just rely on surveys. Instead, determine what kind of information you actually need and think through the  best way to get it. It may be an online survey, but then again, it may not.

* Another issue with e-mail lists is that you may also have more than one e-mail address for some individuals and only one for others. This increases the likelihood of those with multiple addresses being included in the sample. This, too, reduces the randomness of the sample.