Wowing our boss with mad data-driven PR metrics is as easy as identifying what engagement is per channel.

PR is Social Marketing

Public relations has always been a social medium: the fundamental goal of every PR program is to start and maintain valuable conversations and relationships in the market.

Social networks turned marketing on its ear by fundamentally shifting our communications landscape.  No longer is marketing a monologue; we are now operating in a dialogue marketing discipline out of necessity.  (For more on that, check out our article, “4 Tips to Social PR.”)

The Primary Goal of Social Marketing is Engagement

The most obvious upside of a dialogue is that our message can be amplified ad infinitum by social engagement.  That engagement gives us earned media – and in an interconnected communications ecosystem, we can earn anything from the “impressions” we used to use as a core PR metric to traditional press placement via an indirect pitch.

The less obvious upside to that engagement is, quite simply, that many forms of engagement occur via a click.

Social Engagement = Trackable

The great thing about a socially networked media landscape – beyond message amplification – is that those of us in traditionally hard-to-quantify messaging disciplines have a way to set good Marketing KPIs by differentiating between vanity metrics and actionable metrics.  The core difference is that vanity metrics measure opportunity (community size), and actionable metrics measure engagement.

That being the case, setting data-driven PR Metrics is as simple as asking ourselves what “engagement” means on the different communication channels out there for our message.  Here is how that plays out:

Owned PR Channels

Our website press page, blog and our contact list (whether it be a Rolodex, a database of reporters or a gmail folder) are often the main owned channels we measure as PR pros, and they give us the most comprehensive analytics because of it.  Measuring engagement in press pickup is easy: we reach out to journalists or bloggers, and they give us placement.  That quality interaction is the engagement; the impressions from their community is the message amplification and the upside – and that can lead to more engagement in the form of social shares.

As for our blog and our site, looking at things like downloads, shares, comments, time on page, session time, exit rate and bounce rate as a whole are all great ways to see whether or not our content is spurring the engagement that we want.

Rented PR Channels

While a lot of people put our Facebook and Twitter profiles into the “owned media” category, I don’t: we are at the mercy of any third-party platform when it comes to both Terms of Service and analytics.  Facebook has made a lot of changes this year to move our marketing into a paid play (organic Reach throttle, Like-gating removal), and those changes affect our programs.

By the same token, we can only measure what these platforms let us measure.  Facebook arguably provides the most comprehensive analytics of any social network; the “Insights” and “Posts” tabs give us a lot of the engagement metrics we want.  We can look at which posts led to the most Likes, as well as which ones led to folks un-Liking us.  (For more on that, check out our book on Facebook ROI.)  On Twitter, measuring engagement is easy: RT’s, @ mentions and community growth rate are all great things to track – and that tracking is made far easier with a solid social listening tool that will deliver those numbers for us.

The same methodology applies to any rented social channel: if we look at what content spurred engagement and measure overall community growth, and check out what sort of reach we earned as a result of that engagement, we have a holistic picture of what’s working in our communications programs.

Earned & Paid PR Channels

Earned and paid media are the most tried-and-true of our messaging programs, but gone are the days wherein the impressions number is the core PR metric we want to measure.  In an engagement KPIs model, we can measure both the number of clicks and the number of social shares.  With sponsored content being the new rage, we may also get to a point wherein the folks who own those channels give us the kind of metrics we look at on our owned channels, like read time and exit rate; until then, we’ll have to be satisfied with the analytics they provide.

To that end, there was a great takeaway from PRSA 2014: owned, earned and paid media all work to amplify one another.  If we have a piece of content that’s doing well on our owned or rented channels, we should consider a paid play to promote it: we already have a signal that it’s working, so getting it in front of more eyeballs to spur social message amplification is a great idea.