Archive for the ‘Online PR’ Category

In a cross between crowd-sourcing and Eurovision voting, the 100+ delegates at the European Summit on Measurement in Lisbon voted for five draft statements of needs that may end up in the Measurement Agenda 2020.

This will be the next stage of international policy development in PR measurement and evaluation, following on from the seven Barcelona Declaration of Measurement Principles agreed last year.

The statements are:

  • Create and adopt global standards for social media measurement;
  • Identify how to measure the Return on Investment of PR [a crowd source suggestion];
  • Measurement of PR campaigns and programs needs to become an intrinsic part of the PR toolkit;
  • Institute a client education program such as clients insist on measurement of outputs, outcomes and business results from PR programs;
  • Define approaches that show how corporate reputation builds/creates value.

The statements will go to conference delegates in mid-July for further comment. They were chosen from statements prepared from responses to an informal survey of delegates and other practitioners undertaken in recent weeks.  The wide range of academic research on PR measurement wasn’t taken into account.

This seems to be a less-than-robust method of data collection for policy-making when, for instance, a Delphi study amongst leading practitioners could have developed the propositions with greater certainty of future application.  Perhaps Barcelona Principle 7: “Transparency and replicability are paramount to sound measurement “, should have been kept in mind.


Recently Prof Ansgar Zerfass of Leipzig University used the terms ‘rituals of measurement’ and ‘rituals of verification’ to describe the demands for numerical proof of communication effectiveness. He was making the point that what was being measured was what could be measured in a quantitative manner, not what needed to be judged such as outcome and value-links. Often process is measured in PR, not whether communication strategies have reached the objectives.

At AMEC’s 3rd European Summit on Measurement in Lisbon, a major discussion about social media measurement has started. In a wide-ranging discussion today, the 170 delegates made their first contributions on whether there was a need for standards in social media measurement.

Three factors were identified – Engagement, Influence and Sentiment. Richard Bagnall made the point that these were often judged with widely varying criteria. The discussion that followed for an hour or more revolved about defining these terms and the types of data that could be applied to them. No decisions have been made but I wonder whether the discussion “can’t see the wood for the trees.”

Surely the main judgement is whether the communication activity, which uses social media amongst its strategies, is effective in reaching its objectives. The AMEC discussion was focused on mining data on the social media-led conversation from user traffic and the level of participation. For example, is there a difference in ‘engagement’ between clicking on an online link and looking at it(read), opening the link and commenting about it (respond) and sending it on to others (share)? Is this ‘engagement’ or ‘grazing’ information? Is it an active or passive process? And can this data on ‘engagement’ indicate future action, advocacy or behavioural change?

Rather than define these terms by a discussion amongst technical users of data, it would make long-term sense to invert the process and approach it from the user point of view. The definition of engagement could then be both more valid in terms of communication psychology and indicate outcomes rather than intermediary processes. Without this perspective, the definitions could become additional ‘rituals of measurement’.

In addition to the discussion, some interesting ‘nuggets’ of social media usage came forward:

– 30-40% of social media users offer up substantial information on their demographics and geographical position which can be used for monitoring and targeted messages;

– Social media, especially Twitter, is farmed by companies for data on customer attitudes towards them and their products rather than analysed for effective communication;

– Many large corporate in the US use Twitter as a listening tool, rather than take an active part in it;

– In addition to AMEC, there are at least seven other communication organisations looking to define methods of social media analysis, with the PR sector trailing behind promotional communications.

This blog started life after the 2007 International Public Relations Research Conference in Miami, so it’s about to celebrate its 2nd birthday. It’s a really enjoyable conference and this year, around 40% of presentations were from non-US academics and practitioners (but only two from the UK).


This year, there has been increasing emphasis on social media and its relationship with public relations and interpersonal communications. Tina McCorkindale reported on a survey of Facebook pages run by or linked to major US corporations.


Of 100 Fortune 100 companies, there were 55 Facebook sites, of which 52 could be regarded as ‘positive’ in their content (The ‘anti’ sites were for Wal-Mart, Verizon and ExxonMobil).


The ‘fan’ numbers for some sites were quite spectacular with the retail giant Target scoring 191,000 as No.1, followed by Verizon’s own site at 150,000 and Microsoft at 68,000.


Some sites were employee run, others by corporate communications staff. The retailer Lowes’s employees have an embarrassing ‘Lowes Hos’ area (with female and male staff identified). Ford and Microsoft look to be heavily managed. The carmaker was described by Tina as “positive heavy” while Microsoft has many deletions of postings on it, possibly taking out negative comments.


The Dell site, perhaps scarred by the “Dell Hell” controversy of several years ago, had rapid responses to questions with ‘Janet’ offering solutions to problems, including phone numbers to call.


Other phenomena observed included headhunters posting job information on corporate sites to attract staff from them; a low level of information on corporate social responsibility activity; and many sites without recent news on them.


Overall, Tina observed that there was “a lot of lack of engagement” which may indicate that corporate comms people see Facebook as another type of corporate website and not an opportunity to engage with customers, enquirers and staff.


Mihaela Vorvoreanu of Clemson University has also made an initial investigation into the inter-relationship between Facebook culture and PR efforts, and what is appropriate and inappropriate engagement between corporations and ‘Facebook natives’.


Using focus groups with PR students, she found:


§        Students didn’t like the loss of exclusivity when Facebook moved away from its original student base and allow access to everyone (including corporations).


§        The initial attraction of Facebook was to ‘digitally hang-out’ in which you can keep up with friends, but corporates “are just trying to sell and they have other motives”.


§        Facebook natives like to recognise things they like and become fans – “it can be a way to show off what you are”.


§        There was a strong belief that Facebook was ‘personal’ and that you should be able to post pictures without fear of potential employers using the site to vet applications. [It appears that many students tidy up sites before they enter the workforce, which they resent.]


§        Facebookers don’t mind supporting small businesses and hearing from them as “they have a face” but they don’t want to hear from Sony or “something big and obnoxious like Microsoft”.


Mihaela ended her presentation with the rhetorical question – Can relationships (between organisations and stakeholders) be protected by staying out of the conversation? That is, leave the Facebookers alone in their own space for fear of annoying them? It’s a relevant question and links with Tina’s view that the corporates’ own Facebook presences lacks engagement.




It’s hard to argue with the results of a research programme that has been running for five years and is focusing on Best Practices in public relations, but what’s your response to the list that follows.


It has been prepared by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication, which each year investigates the Generally Accepted Practices (GAP) in public relations practice in the US. This year, using data from 520 senior professionals, their researchers have identified these Best Practices.


        Maintain a higher-than-average ratio of PR budget to gross revenue

        Report directly and exclusively to the C-Suite

        Optimize the C-Suite’s understanding of PR’s current and potential contributions

        Establish effective strategies for

o       Social responsibility

o       Digital media

o       Issues management

        Optimize integration and coordination within the PR/communications function, and between it and other organizational functions

        Encourage across the organization, beginning with communication,

o       Highly ethical practices

o       A long-term strategic point of view

o       Proactive and flexible mindsets

        Optimize integration of PR and reputational considerations into organization strategies

        Measurably contribute to organizational success.


Prof Jerry Swerling and co-author Major Jim Gregory say their approach to identifying the Best Practices is “a bit subjective because we cannot scientifically demonstrate causality” but that the consistency of the patterns is unmistakeable. The full report can be found at and the Best Practices can be found in the GAP V report, Section VII. 



One of the claims being made for new media is that it gives greater access for ordinary folks to express their views and debate politics. The current US election prologue is being put forward as the first real “Internet Election”, although this claim was made for the 2004 campaign.

In his ‘Read Me First’ column in the Guardian this week, Seth Finkelstein, takes a swipe at the limited access to citizens in the recent CNN YouTube debates with a column headed, New media is just another way to pull the same old tricks. Finkelstein argues that “new media bring new media manipulation and new media exploitation” and that the method of selecting YouTube postings by a gatekeeper was the same as “contests where the winner gets a cameo appearance on a TV show”.

He goes on criticise the process further with, “ss is typical of user-generated content, despite all the hype about empowering citizens, the individual is utterly powerless, except to try to please and serve the interests of the gatekeeper and thereby obtain some attention (but not remuneration).”

There is a raft of issues that arise from this critique: would the candidates have participated in an open-access debate where they didn’t know what issues were likely to be? That’s highly unlikely, although it might make edgy broadcasting. Would broadcasters, like CNN which staged this cross-media event, give up their control and their standards of presentation? Again, highly unlikely.

So Finkelstein’s hope that a true shift in power could have occurred was forlorn before the start of the process because the broadcaster as gatekeeper has too much to defend and he recognises this in his sign-off comment: “… we should never mistake a change in media style for any advance of citizens’ power in politics”.

New media has also brought unforeseen problems for two of the UK best known brands – Vodafone (mobule phones) and First Direct (online banking) which bought packages of online advertising space on Facebook and ended up on a page giving information about the far-right British National Party (BNP). As the Guardian reports, “the move may affect other advertisers on Facebook by highlighting a current lack of control over where the multimillion page network places their bookings”. The report highlights the problem that there is little control over where where advertisements appear.

Ironically, The Guardian’s online version of the report includes a Vodafone click-through advertisement across the top of the story (or it did when this blog was being written) which again shows the problems that advertisers have when seeking associative coverage of their organisation.

Perhaps these two instances of new media problems – lack of access to a range of voices and damaging associations – make a collateral case for well-researched, targeted public relations activity. The public relations practitioner as an intermediary can have a valuable and ethical role to play in promoting genuine debate.

David Phillips has just posted a podcast on his site about ROI and the measurement of online PR. It follows on from earlier discussion on DummySpit about “pullability” as a measurement of the associative referencing of online communication. From this discussion, the concept of “out-pull” as a measure was proposed. It has received a very positive reception from practitioners and academics.

Is ROI a relevant measure? Listen to David’s views. As he says, analysis shows that the measurement of online PR and communications is not an easy task and not given to financially-based measures.

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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Tom Watson

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