Tracking…not always used for bears and parcels

Organisations seem to be getting obsessed with how many Twitter followers they have or how many people like them on Facebook, what they are failing to notice is whether these people are even interacting with their brand?

I noticed the other day, at the top of a local high end lifestyle magazine that they printed how many Twitter followers they have and how many likes they have on Facebook and it got me thinking. Why do companies get sucked into this false pretense that if 1 million people are following them on Twitter it means that these 1 million people are also buying their product? I’m sure there is a percentage of these people and in some case it could be as high as 90% that actually interact and purchase from an organisation they ‘like’ on Facebook, but in most cases the overwhelming majority don’t.

We are all guilty ourselves of seeing a brand’s Facebook page that we like, or we like to be seen to like and hitting the ‘like’ button (I am genuinely sorry for the amount of times I used the word ‘like’ in that sentence). But the likelihood of you ever returning to that page is pretty low. Organisations don’t seem to be using their personal experience of social media and transferring it into their professional usage. Maybe this is highlighting a need for younger members of the organisation to be taking a lead on social media communications or maybe it is showing how quick organisations are to take up social media but how slow they are to actually understand the inner social workings of them.

Instead of the ‘local high end lifestyle magazine’ stating how many people ‘like’ them on Facebook why don’t they print how many unique page views they get a month or how many returning visits they get? Both of these statistics would say far more about them than their Facebook likes do. What I’m trying to get at is there are ways for organisations to track customer interaction with their website and social media that are far more valuable than the amount of followers they have on Twitter.

Trackers (not the types used for bears or parcels!) can range from free programs like StatCounter that do basic monitoring including how many unique views, return visits and page loads your site receives. StatCounter then complies these into a weekly report and email them straight to you. The best thing about StatCounter is that it’s easy to install by simply pasting an html code onto your blog or website. As well as free services you can also find plenty of paid for tracking programs ranging in prices and the amount of monitoring they do. Trackur is a popular program offering services from influencer analysis, allowing you to find out who is talking about your product the most to an archive of every conversation had about your brand online. Depending on what exactly you want tracking will determine whether you really need to spend a lot of money on a program like Trackur or whether using a free service like StatCounter will be enough for you.

Although saying you have 1 million followers on Twitter and 2 million likes on Facebook might be impressive figures, being able to tell how many of these people are frequent visitors or influential bloggers is actually more useful for an organisation. This is another example of organisations taking up social media to follow a trend, without really knowing how the tools work and how they can be effectively used. Instead of obsessing over how may likes you have I urge organisations to look closer at traffic statistics to see whether their social media presence is really working for them.

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Audit: find out if your PR is working for you

In my last post I looked at some online programs that you can use to research prospective and current clients and I have also posted about social media auditing and the importance of keeping tabs of your social media presence. These are both important for the public relations of businesses but what about the wider opportunities of auditing?

Auditing is integral for any business and can look into every aspect of an organisation, a public relations audit will specifically look at how you are being put across to the public, your brand value and reputation and in these tough financial times can asses how effective your PR strategy really is. It is often easy to forget that there is a world outside of the online augmented reality we have created for ourselves, so I’m going to briefly look into audit measures for both on and offline PR.

In a general auditing sense there is a cycle that is often followed and in it’s simplest form follows 4 steps: Planning, Audit, Analysis & Reporting. These 4 steps are the basics when carrying out any audit and are easily applied to a PR audit whether it be on or offline.The following are brief guides to some of the points I would include in an audit, they are not every step that should be taking, but in my opinion are some of the most important.

Online

Consistency is Key: it cannot be stressed enough that all URLS, domain names, Facebook pages and groups, Twitter accounts, Google+ and LinkedIn profiles are owned and maintained by the company themselves. There are various stories of companies that have discovered their .com is being used by another person, not only is it confusing for consumers but it can be potentially damagimng to a company’s reputation. This also goes for branding across sites, make sure you have a style book that is available to all employees so any logos used are always consistent with the company branding.

Integration: with new social networking sites popping up every 5 minutes, integrating all of these with your website is a very good idea. There are programs out there including HootSuite that can do this for you, linking all of your social media profiles on one dashboard so you can update them all simultaneously. It really is becoming too easy not to do this.

SEO: search engine optimisation or SEO as the jargon junkies like to call it essentially ensures that when you type your company name or area of business in to Google (other search engines are available) that the top hit is your website, followed by your Facebook, Twitter etc etc.

Unfinished business: there is nothing worse than getting to a company’s website and discovering that there is a gaping hole on the landing page or the contact details are missing. This is the same for Facebook pages/groups, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, it is essential that your social media and websites have all the company’s information on and

Maintenance: where possible maintenance to any sites should be done at low traffic times so as not to inconvenience consumers. House of Fraser for example carry out maintenance at 4:00am to avoid loosing customers.

Measurement: In my previous post I profiled some programs that you can use to track aclients, as well as being good for research purposes they are also good ways to measure your social media, collating information including how many followers or likes you have, mentions you are receiving as well in some cases the sentiment behind these mentions.

Offline

On and off: another point of consistency is to ensure that your offline profile is the same as your online. This includes messages and branding, the last thing you want to do is confuse your customers when they are looking for you in the real world after researching you online.

Inside and out: sometimes it is easy to forget that your employees are just as important as your customers. Your employees need to be singing from the same hymn sheet so to speak as the PR campaign for the company is to ensure that the same messages are being put across.

The media and your messages: as with social media measurement and monitoring it is integral to do the same with traditional media. Look into your recent media coverage including print, television and radio and see if the messages and reputation you are trying to maintain are what are being included in the coverage.

Auditing is not a one off and it certainly isn’t a quick task, but it is something that will benefit a company in the long run. It is important to carry out PR audits to ensure that you are portraying the right image to the public as well as knowing that the money you are spending on your PR program is well spent. A lot of these auditing measures can be ongoing tasks which will ensure that you are always on top of your PR activity.

For more extensive guides to PR auditing both on and offline I found the following useful:

Cindy Kim РThe Marketing Journalist 

Kwame Boame – How to Audit Your Social Media Efforts: 20+ Questions to Ask Yourself

Client research made easy

I’ve harped on about how important I think it is to monitor your social media presence, which it is. It is also important for you to be able to collate this information on a perspective client. There are various different websites out there that offer online monitoring, which makes it incredibly easy for you to do this yourself. Depending on what exactly you want to know about a client, will narrow down the type of site you use. There are literally hundreds of websites out there offering you free and pay for services, so here are just a few examples:

Comparative: If you are looking to compare your client to a competitor and get a general day to day view of what is being said about them, a quick, easy and free service is Google Trends. All you do is type in the name of your client a comma and then the competitor and it brings up a graph of news references over the last seven years, links to recent news stories that explain the graphs troughs and peaks, and facts about the companies presence across the world. It’s a basic tool, but it provides instant results that are clear and easy to understand and it’s perfect to use if you want to see how your client is being talked about online in comparison to a competitor.

Website Analysis: If you want an in depth analysis of your client’s website including traffic, SEO and server information then you can use sites that allow you to search for information on your clients wesbite. Woorank is a website much like this, you enter your clients name and woorank provides you with a page of information on their website. The information ranges from your woorank rating to its SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). Another site similar to woorank is Website Grader, this site gives you more information on a website as well as suggestions to how you can improve the way the site runs.

Everything you need to know: If you want websites that are a one stop for information on a client, then Alexa gives you everything woorank and website grader do and more. You can create your own dashboard where you can add one or more websites to receive daily information on these websites. This is great for an agency, as you can add a new clients website to your dashboard and get the information sent straight to you. Another all round website is Quarkbase, unlike Alexa Quarkbase is more basic. You are given an overview of the website, but included in this summary is information from the current CEO to the latest comments on the company on Twitter as well as contact information and site traffic.

What is integral for you to remember when using these sites, is with the ever changing landscape of the internet as quickly as these analytic sites are created, the internet is evolving and changing. The tools out there are fantastic as a general overview when researching a new or prospective client, but there are glitches to these tools. For example woorank ranks Google the world’s largest website at only 84.5, so some of the information that these sites provide will obviously need to be taken with a pinch of salt.

What has 2011 taught PR?

I have come across lots of predictions for what 2011 would hold for Public Relations, but nothing on what the events of the year have taught the industry. The events of last year really have shaped the way a lot of businesses now conduct themselves and the PR industry can also learn from the happenings of the last 12 months.

Social Media has shown itself to be an incredibly valuable tool. In 2011 social media sites were responsible for the fall of celebrities (Charlie Sheen, Ryan Giggs etc etc), breaking the news on the death of Osama Bin laden and fueling riots across London and the rest of the UK. Of course everybody within the Public Relations industry knew how important Social Media was before all of this happened…right? Jokes as side, 2011 really has proved just how important a tool Social Media is, and if every PR agency and in house team aren’t putting together a Social Media strategy for 2012 then I would seriously question their PR ability.

Trust in the British Newspapers after the phone hacking scandal broke in early 2011 has undoubtedly dropped. When it was reported that the News of the World had hacked into the mobile phone of Milly Dowler, the public was outraged, and rightly so. An already struggling industry really shot itself in the foot and on the 10th July The News of the World published it’s last issue and in September the Leveson Inquiry was launched, looking into the practices of the British press. Newspapers are still an excellent tool for PR, but the industry now needs to readdress how they use this tool in light of the events of 2011 and the findings of the Leveson Inquiry. Theses events have also shown that the biggest empires in the world are not safe, in 2011 the Murdoch family became testament to that.

Mobile technology as with Social Media have been a huge trend for 2011. When RIM went down in October every BlackBerry users in Europe, Middle East and Africa (another lesson for RIM don’t use jargon when speaking to your public!) were left stranded when their emails and BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) stopped working. BBM was also blamed as one of the ways the London Rioters organised themselves during the riots. This shows the dependency that we now have on mobile devices. Public Relations need to make use of this dependency, mobile technology allows you to communicate instantly, constantly and directly to your audience.

These are only three points from 2011 that I think the Public Relations Industry can learn from, I’m sure that there are lots of other lessons learnt from the last 12 months. 2012 is a mixed bag in my opinion, the biggest high is sure to be the Olympics however with the growing discontent of the country (2011 saw various protest, strikes and riots) and the worsening economy the Great British public are going to hard nuts to crack. Public Relations really need to cut the crap and communicate honestly to their audiences, people can see through the smokescreens. I think Social Media is going to continue to grow in importance for the industry, hopefully it will learn to use the tool and monitor it effectively this year. Clients are going to want to know what they are paying for, so PRs need to be able to prove they are value for money.

Evaluation, evaluation, evaluation

It’s all very well creating a stunning PR campaign but what’s the point if you don’t understand why it was successful or in some cases unsuccessful.

It has always been hard for public relations to show the true value of it’s work. The old system of AVE’s (Advertising Value Equivalent) is flawed in many ways, AVE rates on the basis that advertising and public relations hold the same value, this is not the case. An online advert doesn’t hold the same worth for example as an influential blogger writing a positive piece on a product or service. In traditional media such as newspapers there is no value that can put on a positive mention in an article on the front page the same can be said for a piece on the BBC. This is because you cannot buy advertising on the front page of a national newspaper or on a BBC TV station. In my (humble) opinion when people use AVE’s they are just being too lazy to produce a proper evaluation.

With the hard financial times we are currently in people want to get the most out of their money, so now more than ever clients want an accurate evaluation of their PR activity. Presenting them with a couple of press clippings and AVE’s is not going to cut it anymore. It’s important to provide your client with an accurate evaluation not just so they know you’ve done your job, but also to see for yourself what has worked well and what may not have worked so well. It’s also a great way to show how valuable PR really is, historically when times get tough communications departments are the first ones to be cut this is a huge mistake (obviously!) but if you provide the CEO with an evaluation of the work you have done he can see just how valuable PR is to the business.

So now you know how important an evaluation is, how do you produce a good one? Firstly you need to remind yourself of exactly what you wanted to achieve from the campaign, once you have done this you can evaluate whether the campaign was successful or not. Depending on what your campaign planned to achieve will largely determine what evaluation techniques you will use, however below are a few examples of techniques you can use that are more valuable than just AVE’s:

Audience coverage and response the basic of all tools is to monitor whether your message has reached your intended audience and if it has, what their response is to their message. This can encompass some of the methods below, and essentially is the foundation of your evaluation.

Digital Media Monitoring as I have spoken about in previous posts is integral. Monitoring what is being said about you online is incredibly important as consumers value online opinions more and more, it is also a valuable evaluation tool. Keeping track of online conversations during the time of the campaign can be a useful tool for audience awareness. There are various programs that can do this for you including Google Analytics and Lithium.

Media Mention tracking, including the likes of press clippings are still a good tool to use in conjunction with other methods. For audiences that read newspapers the value of pieces in newspapers will be hugely beneficial. In order to understand how beneficial you need to obviously know how highly your readers hold the opinions of journalists and newspapers.

Evaluation is such a huge task there are entire books, research papers, agencies and associations that focus solely on the subject. Public Relations still doesn’t have a universal evaluation process and I’m not sure this is entirely a bad thing. Public Relations campaigns can vary so hugely and like I said depending on what you want your campaign to achieve will determine what evaluation techniques you need to use. I agree there should be some official guidelines on how to produce an in depth evaluation, however I don’t believe standardising the process is particularly helpful. However there is one thing that I think all evaluations need to show, they need to demonstrate how effectively you have reached your audience and how the audience has responded, because if your message isn’t reaching you’re public you have definitely failed! How you monitor this though, is dependent on your campaign

Timing is everything!

The internet and social media has made it infinitely easier for consumers to contact companies about their products and services. This is fantastic for the consumer as they have direct contact, and in most cases it’s beneficial for the companies to hear what their consumers have to say. However when the feedback is less than complimentary these comments can snowball and cause significant damage.

Listening to your customers and valuing their opinions is very important for companies, as without loyal customers (in turn buying products or services), there really is no point to a business. So when they have something to say about you, you need to listen and take note. With the popularity of blogs, social media and forums soaring, consumers can talk to each other about their experiences as well as talking to the companies. It is integral that companies monitor these online conversations so that when something negative is said they can prepare a response and have it instantly posted.

Public Relations is all about creating and sustaining a positive reputation, and today this is done partly through instant online communication. The important of communicating with your public today is no different to before the internet was so popular and user generated content was the norm. Back then if a company didn’t react quickly to a crisis or a negative comment made about them, then the public would start to loose trust in them. For example when Coca Cola had had their recall in Belgium during the summer of 1999, the main factor in escalating the crisis was CEO Douglas Ivester’s silence on the whole thing. Today there is no excuse for CEO’s not responding to a crisis, a statement can be made immediately and posted onto a company’s website. In some cases you can prevent a crisis simply by watching what the public is saying about you and officially responding where appropriate. People want to know what is going on and they hate being left in the dark, so to avoid idle gossip it is hugely important to keep them informed and it is now than ever.

There are various tools out there that you can use to monitor your online mentions. There are online web searches like Ice Rocket or Addict-o-matic. There are social media specific monitoring tools like Brand Watch and Radian6 (more can be found here) You can even track mentions of your company on YouTube videos and other sites that host video via Google Videos. A lot of these services are completely free allowing any company to monitor what is being said about them, whether it be your local cafe or major international businesses like Starbucks. Even if your business doesn’t have an official social media presence it doesn’t stop people using Facebook or Twitter to talk about you, where user generated content is concerned anybody is fair game which makes it all the more important for companies to invest time into tracking what is being said about them.

It really is integral for any serious business to have measures in place so that they can act fast and respond quickly to user generated content like blog posts or Facebook comments, especially when they are negative to your company. You can’t afford to ignore the influence and importance of these online conversations, in these situations timing is everything the faster you can respond, the better the outcome will be.

Is anyone listening?

With big brands and and corporate companies catching on to the social networking bug, it has become more and more important to see if anyone is taking notice of their expensive social networking campaigns. Enter the social media monitoring tools…

These tools can track and monitor everything from how many ‘click throughs’ you get on your Twitter Tiny URLS, to how many times your video has been played on YouTube. Everyone from Google to Facebook is offering there own analytic tool to help you discover your standing in the social networking tree.

I looked into 5 different types of social media monitoring tools (see below) to see what all the fuss was about.They range between free and pay for tools, tools focused on one social networking site and all social networking sites as well as tools used by Joe Bloggs talking about his cat to Mr Obama in The White House!

5 social media monitoring toolsHaving only really ever used Facebook Insight, (which I personally find very limited) I came to my research open minded. There is obviously a need for these tools. As social media becomes the lynch pin of online communications, company’s need to know if they’re Facebook campaign is really working for them. I would be hesitant in recommending any company to pay for such a service, especially when the likes of Google provide Google Analytics as a free tool, but I would definitely suggest company’s invest the time into tracking their social media activity. I believe it is as much about a company’s understanding of social media as it is tracking how many likes they get on Facebook. The more they understand how these online communities work the more likely they are to justify tracking them!