What to use Instead of AVE – Shares

What to use Instead of AVE – Shares

Rob Ashwell
23 February 2018
8 Shares

In this blog, Rob Ashwell, from Fourteen Comms, discusses why we shouldn’t be using AVE as a measurement of PR campaign success. AVE is a controversial topic in the PR world. Find out why he thinks social shares may be a better way to measure the success of your campaigns. 

What to use Instead of AVE

Read most PR blogs and you’ll see that evaluation is a significant buzz word in PR circles. As an industry, we (mostly) know that we shouldn’t be using AVEs (advertising value equivalents) as a tool for evaluation. But that isn’t stopping us.

Last year a survey by PR Week / the PRCA showed 35% of agencies were still using the AVE metric. As were 23% of in-house teams. But other data suggests these figures are likely to be far too low and evaluation is, in fact, rarer than many, such as the PRCA and Amec, would hope.

In 2016, 83,000 people worked in the UK’s, and 226,000 in the US’ PR industry’. So, according to Google AdWords, how many searches for “PR evaluation” are made in all English speaking nations each month? 210.

Google Trends (which gives relative Google search volumes) backs this figure up with a highly erratic graph of weekly searches – and if you ask the tool to break this down by region it simply says “Hmm, your search doesn’t have enough data to show here.”

What to use Instead of AVE - Shares

Fig 1: Given there are more than 300,000 PRs in the US and UK and two-thirds of these (in the UK at least) have ditched AVE as a reliable metric, why are so few searching for ways to evaluate PR success?

So if AVE isn’t right, what is? And how can you use Meltwater’s media intelligence tool to start to evaluate results and plan what has the greatest likelihood of working?

Meltwater alerts you to new coverage as well as allows you to search retrospectively. This makes it a great starting point when analysing a campaign, or planning for your next one. 

Now, it should be said up front, coverage is not an end goal. Editorial volume is just a step towards creating awareness. AVE has been widely discredited as an evaluation metric. In my work for clients, I often see more traffic come from a niche title such as EE Times (Engineering) or Bicycling than from a national paper or from TV. Rather than just looking at quantity or reach, we should bring in a range of data points for example website traffic, social media shares or sentiment. 

For example – wire services can guarantee coverage on huge publications like WSJ and Bloomberg, but is this coverage worth the fee?

This question can be answered nicely using a Meltwater search. In the graph below you can see the number of shares of wire coverage vs the number of shares on editorial coverage. This lack of reaction to paid for wire coverage indicates that in many cases, other activities will deliver a great return on investment.  

What to use Instead of AVE - Shares

Fig 2: If a wire distributes a press release and nobody cares enough to share it, does it justify its fee?

Data is from a Meltwater search on the term “Semiconductor” over a three month period. Share analysis was performed via Shared Count (Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Stumble)

How to measure social shares

Social share is not always perfect as a metric (see below), but then again neither is AVE. Social shares are a way to quantify how many people have reacted to coverage (and therefore a campaign).

Most social networks’ APIs let you track the number of likes and comments. For example, most news sites such as the Guardian show how many times a story has been shared. 

There are several free tools that track shares from a URL. Meltwater’s free Impact tool helps you both track coverage over time and gives a total share count for any given press release, just by pasting in its URL.

What to use Instead of AVE - Shares

Alternatively, if you’re working off a Meltwater coverage list for an entire year’s coverage you can use services such as SharedCount. You can measure more than one URL at a time – however it only tracks Facebook, Pinterest and StumbleUpon shares. You can then cross-reference the shares in Excel or Google Sheets (tip the v-lookup function allows you to do this – see image below for example).

What to use Instead of AVE - Shares

Being in a spreadsheet you can then easily manipulate the data to pull out key time periods, key influencers or other key trends graphically. Note: if you’re a Meltwater client, you can view key trends, key time periods and key influencers within the tool. 

What to use Instead of AVE - Shares

What to use Instead of AVE - SharesWhat to use Instead of AVE - Shares

One project we did last year helped an agency understand how to best prepare for a major product launch. Their client was one of the product’s two distributors. We used Meltwater to identify all coverage from a previous product launch. By analysing editorial coverage and shares, we were able to discover potential media targets, and when to time our promotion. 

We broke it down in several ways to identify media targets and activity to prioritise. But, one of the key elements showed that the type of coverage and the publication it appeared in was less important than timing, with distributor 2 getting more (but later) coverage, but distributor 1 getting the shares (and as we’ll see in part 2, Google searches too).

Similarly to AVE, it should be noted that using shares alone as an evaluation tool has weaknesses.

Firstly, people are less likely to share something if it doesn’t put them in a good light. In the same way photos on Instagram never represent real life, nor do shares. This limitation can be seen in the circulation and share figures of the National Enquirer tabloid and Atlantic magazine.

Both publications have roughly the same readership figures and the same number of monthly Google searches, yet the highbrow Atlantic gets 27 times the article shares of the lowbrow tabloid. Whether the reason is fear of being ridiculed by friends, or desire to make yourself look ‘better’, the limitation can cause a title to appear more/less influential than it actually is. 

Its second weakness is that share count alone doesn’t give a sentiment. Too many replies (rather than likes) and it’s likely a sign that people are speaking negatively. This rule of thumb is called The Ratio and is based on the fact it takes more effort to write something than click a button. As Luke O’Neil more succinctly wrote in Esquire “The lengthier the conversation [from the post] the surer it is that someone royally messed up,”. This is particularly worth bearing in mind for crisis comms. 

Blend a range of data points to build up a full picture of your media coverage. For example, share counts, sentiment and reach. 

Rob Ashwell has worked in PR since 2002 and through Fourteen Comms helps agencies and companies evaluate what has worked and how to make their budget go further.