I often work with organizations that find themselves chasing rather than leading a communications program; a tiger-by-the-tail approach.
Scenarios often include an understaffed or undertrained communications team in reactive mode, frantically putting out “fires” with little time left for proactive communications. Many communicators are “super busy” spraying messaging and hoping something works. Some are churning out tired and uninspired content, checking a box and moving on to the next. Unfortunately, they fail to understand the difference between outputs (tactics) and outcomes (results). One makes for a lot of busywork while the other makes a difference.
If this sounds familiar, you’re in good company. These scenarios are more common than communicators would like to admit, whether from large corporations or nonprofits of all sizes. Often leaders fail to understand the importance of strategic communications and measurement, and communicators working for them aren’t empowered to advocate for it. This is why a seasoned communications strategist is a game-changer for a communications program and the bottom line.
Communication metrics should measure impact. More specifically, the intended impact vs. the actual impact. Intended impact stems from purposeful communications. That means anything you communicate (and measure) ties into strategic operational goals outlined in an annual business plan and a corresponding communications plan. Organizations that bypass this process are setting themselves up for failure. At the very least, they are operating with a self-afflicted handicap.
It’s vital to clarify 1) what you want to measure, 2) why you want to measure it, 3) when you need to measure, and 4) how to measure BEFORE you begin any communications initiative. Measuring just for measuring’s sake is as useful as communicating without a point.
Communication metrics also illustrate the value of communication efforts and often reveal trends and information about your audiences, such as seasonal impact. This data enables professional communicators to fine-tune their approach, striving for continuous improvement, identifying and controlling as many variables as possible in the planning phase.
Metrics (results) provide leadership with justification for continued or increased funding of headcount, resources, software, training, and your next raise. It includes information useful for annual reports, marketing materials, fundraising, news releases, recruiting and retention, and the development or strengthening of community and government relationships.
There are hundreds of possible data points for communication metrics. Here are a few dozen examples:
- Tone of coverage
- Number of news clips
- Media attendance
- Scale-rated knowledge of targeted reporters/outlets
- # of proactive news releases
- Unique visitors
- Most visited pages
- # times brochures/info downloaded
- duration of page visit(s)
- Number of site registrations
- Search engine ranking
- Engagement (# reactions, likes, shares, clicks, views)
- # followers/page likes
- Number of vanity hashtags/links used
- # of external mentions
Employee & Board Relations
- Annual survey
- Survey response rate
- Social media engagement
- Anonymous feedback
- Peer assessments
- Performance reviews
- Exit interviews
- Post-event survey
- Annual survey
- Number of social media mentions
- Event attendance
- Change in sales or donations following targeted communications
- # of new leads following targeted communications
- # of calls or emails received after targeted communications.
When selecting how to measure communication efforts, think through the process. Ensure your method(s) are reliable, and the correct tools are in place in advance. For instance, if you want to measure the number of sales calls received during a communication campaign, is the sales team willing and able to track the calls, collecting the data you need? Do you need a tracking template so that information is collected consistently across all salespersons? Would a shift change generate a gap in data? If so, are you able to brief each shift in person or rely on a shift manager to do so? How and how often will the data be collected? To whom should it be returned, when, and how?
Employees or partners outside of your department may not be motivated to comply with your request. Sometimes you need to get leadership buy-in in advance to hold others accountable for data collection. Don’t forget the follow-up. Providing timely appreciation, recognition, and reciprocation after the fact goes a long way when you need their help again.