As communication professionals, our actions have the potential to affect real change, inside and outside of our organizations. But in a world overflowing with information, it’s easy to lose sight – and track – of what really matters and what actually works. In my most recent articles, I’ve talked about how different (for the better!) the communications function is today than 25 years ago and how, as the landscape continues its transformation, we’re finally finding our seats at the proverbial table.
The value of communications as an integral piece of business strategy should be set, but given the pace of change and disruption, nothing is a given. Our ability to effectively measure, evaluate and yes, communicate, the impact of our work is increasingly vital. There are four best practices that have shaped my perspectives – and guided my actions – on what it means to measure the impact of corporate communications today.
Measure what matters. Corporate communications and PR efforts are historically hard to measure effectively. Vanity metrics – social media followers, page views, article impressions, open rates – may look impressive on paper, providing for “positive reporting,” but they offer no meaningful context on which to base future decisions. Take employee communications, for example. So what if 100% of employees opened an email? Dig deeper. The PoliteMail plugin for Outlook, for example, evaluates how long someone engaged with the content, if it was shared, if it was read or scanned, on mobile or desktop, if/what links were clicked. The same goes for editorial coverage. Article impressions don’t mean much. Instead, we now have the tools to measure tonality and evaluate the influence of the publication. This is the kind of data that matters.
Evaluate early – and often. Analysis of results shouldn’t be the last box you check on a campaign. Evaluate before, during and after. It comes down to accountability; when you can show – with numbers and with confidence – what your team has achieved, progress you’ve made, etc., you’re able to make a stronger case for further future investments of time, money and resources. As communications executives, it’s our job to know, in real time, what’s working and what’s not, and course correct quickly. After all, communicating results four months or so after the fact isn’t helpful – to you, your client or your team. Don’t wait.
Success is outcomes and impact, not activities and outputs. Activities, such as events, and outputs, such as press releases, websites, newsletters, etc., make you a cost-center for the organization. It’s only when you can demonstrate the outcomes of those investments that you become a value-adding center. Similar to the above message about measuring what matters, tactics don’t matter much – until you can prove their impact, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Did you change behavior? Increase trust? Strengthen relationships? Surveys remain an effective tool to measure emotional or qualitative outcomes, and technology has helped make them even more useful and painless. Keep them short and mobile-friendly. Then mine the results and disseminate them to those empowered to make changes happen – fast.
Focus on the future – and don’t be afraid to fail. When it comes down to it, measurement isn’t really about the past; it’s about the future. I’ve heard stories of communications managers who choose not to measure because they’re scared of the possible consequences of bad results. It’s not failing if you have a plan and the tools to learn from what needs to improve. Create a culture of measurement and evaluation without fear and focus on building the mindsets and skillsets that make progress possible.
Corporate communications will continue to evolve, as will the tools we use to do our jobs more effectively. We must be open and prepared to utilize new technologies. Learn every day. Listen to podcasts and webinars. Take an online course. Consider reverse mentoring and tap into the knowledge of rising leaders. Keeping skills sharp and strategies fluid are the keys to securing our value – now and in the future.