Setting data-driven PR metrics is as easy as understanding what success looks like in today’s technology-fueled communications ecosystem.

PR metrics – like the metrics associated with other relationship marketing disciplines (events, social media) – have been traditionally hard to come by.  But in today’s communications landscape, it’s a lot easier than it used to be to set data-driven PR metrics that upper management can understand and appreciate.  Here’s how:

1) Understand that Engagement is the Goal of a Data-Driven PR Program

In the modern messaging landscape, success = engagement.  Whether we engage a traditional journalist and receive placement in the “Wall Street Journal” or engage an influencer on Twitter and receive a RT, our payoff is the same: we are earning media, and as a result we garner the impressions that we’ve traditionally used to measure success.  (For more on that, check out this article on vanity metrics vs actionable metrics.)

The great thing about setting engagement as our primary goal in a socially-networked communications landscape from a PR metrics perspective is that – unlike “impressions” – it’s easy to prove: most engagement comes in the form of a click.

2) Determine what Engagement Looks like on Each Channel

Engagement simply means that someone decided to share your message.  On traditional journalism channels, that’s media placement: how many articles or releases were picked up?  The social networks have their own metrics of engagement: a share on Twitter, a “Like” or share on Facebook, etc.  All of these channels work together, so understanding what engagement looks like per distribution channel is important, even if we’re just going for the traditional media placement.  The social engagement is what creates the message amplification we’re after, and as a result those are crucial PR Metrics to track.

3) Measure & Qualify Engagement & Reach

How many people took an action on behalf of our brand?  Now that we know what engagement looks like, measuring it is easy with the right tools.  A good traditional and social media monitoring tool will identify and quantify that engagement for us.  One important delineation to bear in mind is the tracking of social shares both from both paid and owned channels where possible (i.e. the article was on the homepage of the NYT, and was then shared to Facebook whereupon it took on a life of its own, and it was also on our own Facebook page, which spurred engagement from that audience).  That sort of channel-specific analysis will help us both measure and qualify our engagement.

Now, to answer the age-old communications question: is our message actually being heard?  The qualitative side of measurement is less linear, but still doable:  A good traditional media monitoring tool in addition to a social listening tool allows us to set up a variety of searches complete with threshold alerts that can tell us who’s saying what – and where.  In this way, we can track whether or not the language and positioning we’re introducing into the market is being adopted.  If it’s not, by listening we’ve identified both what messages are out there, and where we might insert ourselves and/or engage in order to change that.  This makes for a modern communications program cycle that looks like this:

In a socially-networked communications model, fostering productive dialogue with the right people starts and ends with listening.


With this in mind, our PR metrics might list a hard number of RT’s, and we might then qualify our success by showing a few concrete examples (i.e. screenshots) of our message being out there organically, in the form of other folks adopting it.

4) Measure Reach

The reach and impression numbers that our channel partners give us are also an important part of our PR metrics – impressions are, after all, at the top of a purchase funnel, and we want to understand the opportunity there.  This is the PR metric we’re most used to using: in a time of offline communications, it was the best one available that demonstrated the value of media placement.

The power of message amplification via social sharing is that we can get huge, huge impression numbers from earned media – and those impressions might be on important influencers.  Today’s media channels don’t operate in a silo: reporters use blogs and social channels and bloggers use social media and social channels and social media influencers use journalism and blogs.  Or, as we learned from PRSA: paid, earned and owned media service to amplify each other.  With that in mind, measuring our reach in conjunction with both hard engagement metrics and qualitative messaging analysis gives us a data-driven and holistic view as to the success of our messaging campaign.