Online PR Evaluation – do we need new models?

Posted on: March 23, 2007

 The focus for public relations evaluators has long been on message delivery.  One of the key trends over the last 25 years has been an increasing focus on quality of coverage, not just on the volume.  And the prime indicator of that quality has been the presence or absence, strength or weakness, positive or negative reporting of key corporate messages.  That was easy enough when messages took a straight (and signposted) path via traditional media to their intended audience.   Now, the message can be changed, developed, added to, hijacked and contradicted along the way.  This provides peculiar challenges to communicators that can be met by the technology that begat them.  The tests for public relations evaluators in the 21st century are these. The first is that formative monitoring of “who is saying what about you” will become essential in order to enable the rapid intervention and rebuttal necessary to influence the online conversation before it is set in stone.  The Kryptonite bike lock in 2004 or the recent Dell Hell examples shows how control over online messaging is lost forever without rapid and early intervention. The second is how to divine the nature of relationships (planned and unplanned) that exist through social media. Despite the sound and fury around both Kryptonite and Dell Hell, which were badly handled, the two brands continue to operate and prosper. Was the damage to reputation as severe as it might have been in a traditional offline media “storm”? How do organisations The credibility of offline media is well documented. Many would argue that (in its media relations guise) the supposed “killer benefit” of public relations is the credibility afforded by the media’s third part endorsement. But with many bypassing the journalist/media interface and transmitting messages direct, how can “credibility” be weighted from online media coverage and social media commentary. 

The answer at this stage is a very indirect one. By tracking traffic, tonality of comments and responses, use of unique links and weighting of blog responses and cross-links, a very loose correlation of quality factors can be created. But without a precise “call to action”, this evaluation is about output measurement (message distribution) rather than outcome.  That’s the state of play on a lot of supposed online PR measurement at present. It’s just an online variation of the media measurement that has been delivered for decades now. 


Do we need new models of communication for online media and social media that use “out-takes” – the audience reaction to and processing of messages – as the ultimate valid measurement of effectiveness? For both formative monitoring and relationship measurement, out-takes may be the most effective route ahead.


6 Responses to "Online PR Evaluation – do we need new models?"

[…] interesting post here from Tom Watson on his new blog Dummyspit. Tom poses the question – do we need new models of […]

I think the the online environment is by-passing much of the traditional structures that have formed the media – look at what is happening with advertising where last year £2bn was spent in the UK on online ads – much of it directly (mostly with Google) by companies, missing their ad agency markup. Your point about ‘credibility’ is very well put – outtake measures have to be way ahead and I would like to see some sort of mechanism to measure outtake developed, like the BBC’s Most Popular Stories Now, but for the wider online environment; easier said than done I fear!


There are some out there that transpose the old output, outtake, outcome, outgrowth spectrum onto the CGM world, but that strikes me as a bit of a temporary square peg round hole excercise.

Though there may be the odd methodology or element of said methodology that could be adapted / cobbled together (relationships, content analysis), measuring CGM requires in my view a different approach.

If we consider PR to be about (among others) relationships, and that blogs are really communities of interest, there seem to be social networking theory/analysis models popping up:


While some would argue that such tools are simply an extension of tradional media monitoring, one could say that if you add an extra layer of analysis (both quantitative data and qualitative commentary) behind the fancy charts, well then we’re going beyond monitoring and into analysis.

Still, such tools are certainly not the end all be all answer to CGM measurement but perhaps a step in the right direction.

The assumption here is that the organisation has ‘messages’. For the most part, the online community likes to respond to values and if wrapped in ‘messages’ fine but all too often not.

The important metric is values not some marketing generated corporate or brand speak ‘message’. In a conversation it just does not ring true.

Where there once was out-take, we now have ‘out-pull’.

It is all very different in an era when a journalist is no longer needed as an intermediary and is just another RSS feed reader serving up considered critical analysis to a time deprived audience that might see the works on any of a dozen platforms from Reuters in SecondLife, a mobile phone, Sony Playstation3 or the Echo’s TV stories.

The new metrics are pullability and values.

[…] Moreover, there’s some great blog discussion to with whether or not we need entirely new models to measure on-line PR.  […]

I argued in my paper that the old output/outtake/outcome rules still apply because if you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve, you can’t measure anything. What I find interesting is that all too often, people get into “social media measurement” without having a clue as to why they’re doing “social media” to begin with.
I agree with David, there is no longer a market for your message, you need to be there when people are trying to find you, but you also need to know what you want those people to do.

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