5 traps to avoid with data driven PR

Data driven PR

The exhortation for PR to become more data driven is hardly new. Back in January 2012, Arun Sudhaman wrote an article for the Holmes Report entitled PR Gets To Grips With A Data-Driven World. Over five years on, and it would be a stretch to say the PR sector has fully converted to a data inspired approach to research, planning, implementation and measurement.

However, it would also be wrong to say that PR has never been data driven. The point is that the data used to inform and shape communication approaches has traditionally been drawn from sources that aren’t aligned with the type of metrics that senior decision makers are prepared to pay real attention to.

So how can PR professionals get smarter at using data to properly drive communication strategies?

The promise of data driven PR is seductive. However, there are traps for the unwary. Here are five things to keep an eye out for to make sure you get the most out of a data driven PR approach.

  1. Confusing awareness with visibility

How often are PR professionals tasked with “raising awareness” of a brand, product or issue? For many awareness and visibility are conflated. Or more specifically media coverage is treated as a proxy for awareness. Traditionally it has always been seen as problematic to understand how coverage visibility translates into some observable behaviour in the real world that could be attributed to awareness.

However, it just so happens that there better proxies for awareness available.  For example, Google search data provides insight into what people are actually aware of. This is at least allows for correlations between PR outputs and changes in observable search behaviour.

A combination Google Trends and Google Keyword Planner can start to put a quantitative value on the level of interest in brands and issues and to what extent PR work may have contributed to rising levels of visible awareness.

  1. Neglecting behavioural targeting

Audience definition in PR is often based on usual suspect dimensions such as age, gender and location. However, there are data sources available that help to base targetting on actual behaviour, particularly in social media. For example,  Facebook Audience targeting opens up a huge amount of insight into how many people fit a whole variety of criteria including income, behaviour and interests. If nothing else, using the audience data available to size an audience is an essential first step in determining levels of budget and resource required to build necessary relationships through PR.

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  1. Not properly defining goals and objectives

In many ways, having access to more data and analysis won’t matter one jot if the goals and objectives for PR and comms programmes continue to be defined in vague terms and with no quantatative element.  As an example, techniques such as attribution analysis can help show the contribution that various areas have either directly or indirectly on concrete outcomes.

  1. Taking digital and social data at face value

PR professionals often look enviously at their counterparts in digital and social teams and feel envious at the apparent rigour of the data and measurement in those fields. However, digital data often isn’t as squeakly clean as it might first appear.

For example, Google Analytics is often cited as a contender for an overarching measurement platform. However, many data traps lie in wait for the unwary. Lack of  proper data filtering (for internal visits, bots, etc), referral spam and tracking code errors are just some of the factors that can provide a dirty data set. Unless you take steps to make sure you are looking at “clean” information, you may well end up data driving into a ditch.

Social media isn’t innocent either. Fake account activity is still a big issue for many services. And even the platforms themselves aren’t immune from their own data integrity issues. For example, Facebook has been caught in various metrics snafus over the last year. Moves are afoot for third party verification of social metrics. But in the meantime,  it is probably wise to not just take data provided by platforms at immediate face value.

  1. Leaving money on the table

Industry surveys over the last 3 years have continued to report an appetite for greater PR involvement in search engine optimisation (SEO) activity and social media. And yet it still seems to be the case that PR professionals are generally not involved in SEO. Worse still, PR activity that has contributed SEO value is often missed from PR evaluation. Or the credit is taken by others. For example, if press coverage contains followed links back to an organisation web, then this will provide ongoing SEO value that will continue long after the coverage first appeared. And how many PR teams fail to include social sharing data related to coverage?

Not only is this data useful for evalution purposes it can also serve as a source of insight for future PR activity.

Data analytics is more important than ever for PR

In summary, data analytics is more important than ever for public relations professionals. Nearly two-thirds of PR executives surveyed for the Global Communications Report from USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations believe analytics is a required skill for PR pros.

And two-thirds of agency executives and over half (54%) of in-house PR executives say measurement and analytics is very or extremely important as a growth driver.

Just make sure you don’t caught out on your journey to a data inspired PR future.

Blog post by Andrew Bruce Smith = Escherman

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