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Online PR evaluation – is “Out-Pull” the new measure?

Posted on: May 10, 2007

Following on from my posting of March 23 (Online PR Evaluation – do we need new models?), there has been a wide range of comments. Some agreed with my point that Walter Lindenmann’s “out-take” descriptor was the most likely zone of measurement that could be achieved in measuring online public relations activity. Others said that was all wrong as the online community didn’t want to be “messaged” and that organisations had to lay in wait to be discovered by searches (i.e., it is a passive presence). Katie Paine illustrates this in her posting on May 9, “you need to be there when people are trying to find you …”

Going back to Lindenmann, it’s worth reviewing what he wrote about out-takes, even if it was conceived in the pre-online era (that is, about 15 years ago). To quote from Watson & Noble (2005: 83), out-take measures “judge whether or not the target audience actually received the messages and so evaluates retention, comprehension and awareness.” In the online era, the problem is that it is difficult to know whether the audience is reached because it is amorphous and ever-changing. The point I was making was that we may only be able to measure the manner in which the audience uses the “messages”, information or resources in blog, news media or corporate form to pass it on to others. This is equivalent to the out-take judgements.

In an email to me, David Phillips argues that “pullability” is key factor to measure. His draft definition is, “it is the result of activity by the online community combined with technologies to aid a process of pulling information that is “out there” for use by an actor.” He adds that evaluating and assessing the reach of an organisation’s online presence isn’t possible because there’s no way of identifying the total readership of online content. “At best one can monitor a handful of web sites and access research data about online traffic.”

He goes on to argue that “there is evidence that content evokes behaviours online”. And it is by measuring when someone refers to a press release, web page, video, keyword, concept, tag, blog associated with an organisation in an online technology such as a blog¸ podcast, video, wiki or other channel, that evidence can be found that content is being “pulled” by the online community.

Comparing the two notions of “out-take” and “pullability”, I would argue that they are similar but not the same. Out-take is concerned with message recognition and the interim responses before there is any decision to act (or reject). Pullability refers to recognition of information which is found and then passed to others, without action necessarily resulting. Both terms recognise a mid-way stage in handling of messages and/or information.

So my proposal is that “Out-pull” may be the appropriate term to describe the process of handling information and messages. It fits into the Lindenmann model which is a neat and compressed way to explain the stages of PR measurement and evaluation.

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8 Responses to "Online PR evaluation – is “Out-Pull” the new measure?"

What an interesting concept – ‘out-pull’. I think there is a long overdue discussion owed to Macnamara’s PR Research Model of Output, Out-take and Outcome and how it can be related to online exposure.

On a practical level, I am interested in peoples views the recent proliferation of news websites indicating which of their pages are the most popular. The BBC News site has a particularly good feature called the Most Popular Stories. Would this not be an out-take measure?

Michael: Thanks for your comment. I’m sure that Jim Macnamara would welcome feedback on his model which had its evolution in the early 1990s although it has been updated since then. You can contact him via http://www.carmaapac.com.au.

As for the BBC Most Popular Stories as an out-take measure, I think it is limited as it indicates only the story that people click on to. Margaret Van Heekeren, a former colleague at Charles Sturt University in Australlia, did a long study on the most popular stories on the Sydney Morning Herald’s website, smh.com, and found that the most popular category was entertainment, followed by sport. Surprisingly politics came third or fourth.

The out-take or, in this case, out-pull measurement is whether they refer the information to others. Browsing the site for gossip and celebrity information is just that.

Hello Tom! I’ve discovered your blog, so be afraid.

I too am intrigued by the concept of outpull — passing along information may well be a measurable objective. But let’s not limit the Out-take discussion to message retention. Is it not also an out-take to see a story written from a press release or personal contact? The effectiveness of a release or contact would be a story, no?

The outcome of the story may be traffic to a site — purchase that occurs as a consequence being the best outcome… Does outpull suggest an intermediate step between outtake and outcome?

Fascinating…

Hi Sean: Thanks for your points about “Outpull”. This term is a first attempt to categorise and define the measurement of online communication. From my reading of Lindenmann’s ‘out’ typology, the appearence of a story as a result of a press release or media contact is Output, not Out-take, because it is the presentation of a message that has yet to be processed or responded to.

As for Outpull, I’d position it as parallel to Out-take because it demonstrates recognition of the media in the online arena and its reference to others. That falls short of Outcome, which is the state in which the message or information has prompted action of some kind.

Outpull, as I tried to argue, is a new term for the online arena. But I’m happy to discuss this until there is a consensus and we can offer it to Don Stacks for the next Dictionary of PR Measurement and Evaluation.

TOM

interesting debate, i’ve looked at measurement indicators for online campaigns (for example) and found several indicators that can be measured and are “immediate behaviours” by website users, such as: referring a webpage to a friend, signing an e-petition, signing-up to receive extra information or making an online donation – Tom, do you see these as outpull – or are they outcomes?

Glenn: There are two answers to this. Broadly, the immediate behaviours are Out-pull. As you can see from my initial post, “Pullability [or Out-Pull] or refers to recognition of information which is found and then passed to others, without action necessarily resulting.” The exception is where a PR or information campaign has the specific objective of encouraging people to, say, sign an e-petition. When they do so, it is an Outcome.

“…the online community didn’t want to be “messaged””

Agreed. On-line PR and Consumer-generated Media has changed both the nature of the audience and how we communicate to (or with) it.

Even the term ‘audience’ is a complex, loaded, questionable term these days given their ability to encode, decode, subvert, and not be stictly passive consumers but active co-creators (prosumers in Don Tapscott’s lingo) of what is no longer (nor should it be) a corporate monologue but rather a dialogue. So where once they would simply receive a message (an output) now they co-create it which is behavioural (output or outpull in this case).

I believe the ‘outpull’ concept has merit.

Kudos.

Beware what we seek….

The introduction of Tapscott and Weinberger is helpful. The online conversation may be among a minority of observers. The observers will be to an extent (n) actively self selecting (dependant on ambition to select, technology and a Zittrian-esc determination of network/device neutrality). I think outpull remains interesting and is evidence but not necessarily the whole story of the ambition of the active, aware or latent actors (I think Grunig still stands up in this debate). Thus there may be ‘shades of outpull’ such that aware and latent actors would not be excluded.

I am getting progressively more aware that social segmentation is of the social group’s choosing and not of the demographer, marketer or stakeholder theorist. Outpull may therefore be an important part in evolution of market segmentation and issues management ‘audience’ theory.

We have to be careful of Internet Agency (the 1999 Gregory theory – CIPR/PRCA Internet report – which says that the Internet acts as an agent and is capable of changing messages). Its ability to offer morphed content my also be a factor in outpull and the integrity of the ‘message’

With Mark Adams, I have been looking at how the Internet changes marketing – essentially to a continuum of listen, contribute, innovate – and it is noticeable that, as a model, it is all about ‘pull’

As organisations build an online presence (copyright asset), they develop processes (intangible asset ) to manage the online community such as email, enquiry follow-up, web site management etc. Developed into online sales supported with SEO and social media, UGC and all that online stuff, the online asset grows. I introduce a description of the online asset as eFootprint. The eFootprint interferes with the management and value of the company. For example, UK online retailing is more than 10% of all retail turnover but it seems not to be supported with much by way of reported assets. This is quite serious by way of disruption. Outpull is interfering with the online eFootprint assets of retailers because it acts as a lubricant for information if not motivation to act.

There is a lot more to Outpull we have yet to discover and I like your refinement Tom.

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