Have you noticed how discussions between CEOs and communication professionals eventually boil down to the question: What is the return on investment (ROI) in public relations? It’s a difficult question because reputation itself is an intangible asset, one that can be influenced but never controlled. Thus, measuring Return on Investment (ROI) by Advertisement Value Estimates (AVE) or other specifications of media output made a lot of decisions easier.
However, to continue to measure ROI basis this methodology is a death knell given the rise of consumerism. What public relations do is influence behaviour, and thus it is imperative that the tools of measurement shift from investment to involvement / engagement. To elaborate this: A PR exercise can excite a consumer to enter an apparel store by highlighting the fashion quotient, but whether the consumer purchases anything is dependent on various other propositions like value for money, service delivery by the in-store manager etc. Why isn’t PR effectiveness measured by footfalls rather than through a non-justified sales number?
Millions of us today are digital natives. The online audience is growing by the day and agencies are all hopping on to the digital bandwagon. They continue to claim Facebook likes, tweets, Google page ranks, etc. as standard ways of showcasing ROI. But, what they fail to measure is whether they delivered the message to the right audience. By this I don’t mean the number of people visiting your page or liking it is not important. One of the principal indicators of the effectiveness of online PR is the growth in audience. As more people like your brand and your products, your audience should grow. While these numbers aren’t an end result (because a following is no guarantee of bottom-line activity), they are important diagnostics. If your PR and marketing can’t even get someone to push the ‘’like’’ button, then chances are you won’t get them to make greater commitments to your company and its product.
But how do you measure the effectiveness of turning these views in to leads? There is a need of an additional layer and that is ‘research’. It’s time for PR agencies to invest in consumer research capabilities, whether in-house or outsourced, that will help them understand online consumer behaviour. For example, if a client has a Facebook page, then instead of measuring relevancy of their page by the number of likes, measure the relevancy by the quality of audiences and their consumption. Similarly, there is no point in having hundreds of twitter followers if they will remain dormant forever. Hence, the answer lies in audience engagement.
The rewards for an organisation that invests in defining and therefore inoculating itself through involvement/engagement will be rich indeed. For example, Cadbury realised that despite having so many fans, only 16 per cent of them ever saw the content that the brand posted on Facebook. The challenge was to increase the engagement among its fans, as well as reaching out to friends of fans and the wider Facebook community. Cadbury built a giant Facebook ‘like’ thumb out of pieces of Dairy Milk. It used teaser ads in the build-up to the event and then live streamed in a studio decorated with user-generated content and photos. The team also responded to user requests and comments in the video. As a result, Cadbury gained 40,000 Facebook fans and more than 350,000 people were actively involved in the campaign. Some fans even left the live feed running for hours on end.
Hence, it is imperative for communication professionals to invest in research, consumer insights, measurement and evaluation so that robust campaigns are developed, the impact of which is measured by Return on Involvement / Engagement and not by investment.
Communications professionals (both in agencies and corporates) who continue to measure the impact of financial investment in building reputation, will fall down the rabbit hole, leaving organisations vulnerable and the playing field open for others to define the game or change the rules.
(The author is the COO of Avian Media)