By Kim Newcomer – Bio, LinkedIn, and Twitter
Spoiler alert: when you’re done reading this you will be no closer to establishing the ideal performance metrics for all your communication efforts. The truth is, measuring the success of communication is nuanced. Comprehensive measurement can be expensive and individual data sets very rarely tell the complete story. Frankly, it’s enough to drive you crazy.
So, if you want to stop reading now and just call it good, I won’t hold it against you. Unlike those of you who stopped reading after the first paragraph of last month’s article…that was unforgiveable.
For those gluttons that have decided to stick with me, here are a few ways to measure your communication efforts listed in order of most accurate and data-driven to least.
What it measures: Opinions
If you’re looking for statistically valid, data-driven proof that you have influenced awareness or public opinion, you need to invest in polling. I know, I hate the idea too. But the reality is, it’s legit.
There is a reason that national politicians invest so much money in determining baseline opinions and measuring the impact their statements and actions have on those opinions.
That said, it costs money. Developing non-leading questions, administering the questions, and analyzing the data requires a particular skill set. I don’t have it, and I bet your staff doesn’t have it either. If it’s critical that you know – I mean really, statistically, as much as you can without a doubt know – consider the investment. If not, read on…
What it measures: Engagement
Nothing has been more helpful in the world of communication measurement, than the World Wide Web! Where as we used to be forced to report “outputs” (more on that later), we are now blessed with “engagement statistics.”
Yes, Facebook will tell you how many people you’ve reached. But the real value is how many people liked, shared, or commented on your posts. The assumption is that they had to at least read, hopefully understand, and ideally appreciate the information you presented. That’s what we call a win! Re-tweets, favorites, mentions on Twitter – oh my goodness, that means some one was paying attention! Hashtag use on Instagram? Be still my heart!
Measuring and reporting engagement statistics on social media is a solid, data-driven way to demonstrate your success in getting your message out to your residents. The challenge is that it doesn’t apply to a lot of your communication tools.
What it measures: Reach
The world doesn’t live on social media – well, some of the world doesn’t. Reporting on impressions has a place in your reporting arsenal. Impressions can tell a story too.
Reporting the number of times your information was presented to a target audience gives an idea of how successful you’ve been getting the message out. Visits to your website, reach of a newspaper article, number of direct mail pieces sent, views on YouTube, number of publications printed and distributed – these are all helpful in painting a picture of how many people you’ve reached. And, odds are a portion of these folks have read, understood, and appreciated your information.
What it measures: Nothing, but provides anecdotal evidence of success
Sometimes the best way to demonstrate the success or failure of a communications campaign is to simply get out in your community and listen. When you’re out and about, ask questions related to the hot topics about which you’ve been communicating. Embrace fly-on-the-wall status at public events to listen to what your residents say when a City staff person isn’t visibly present. Even at the neighborhood barbecue, when the last thing you want to do is to chat about work, let people vent. Let them share. If you hear your key messages repeated back to you, that’s the ultimate success.
See, I told you. You’re probably just as frustrated with the idea of communication measurement now as you were at the beginning of this article. You can’t say I didn’t warn you.
The best advice I can give you is this: determine why and how you’re going to use your data before you start. Nothing is more pointless than gathering performance data and then ignoring that information when it’s time to make decisions. Set your goals, determine what information would be helpful as you work to accomplish those goals and then find a way to gather that information.
If nothing else, I hope you have a few ideas about how to track your progress. Just like most issues in local government, one simple solution doesn’t fix every challenge. Even though measuring the success of communication campaigns can be tricky, it does add value, and therefore you can’t just skip it…even though I told you could at the beginning of the article.
- Beyond Checking the Box: Developing a Killer Analytics
- 98% Think Local Government Is Boring*
- Fact or Fiction: Outsourcing Communications Is a Good Idea
- Storytelling: Local Government’s WD-40
- City Staff Turned PR Firm, Meet Slate Communications