Measurement in public relations is a difficult topic. While everyone agrees it is important, there is almost no agreement on the right approach, techniques and data. We live in an age of tremendous technological innovation and data surrounds us. Piles and piles of data. But we really do not agree on measurement.
For the transportation communicator this can be a challenge, especially when trying to build a case for executive support and investment in robust outreach and engagement campaigns. How do we, as a profession, show a return on investment or a proof of performance for well-meaning organizational leadership that may not fully understand our business?
I think there are some basic ideas that are worth exploring. First, we have to acknowledge there are different kinds of measurements and each has some kind of value. So a good measurement program should probably include some of each.
As communication professionals, we often are best at outputs — media advisories, press statements, Facebook updates, videos posted on YouTube. These are activities that we control. We decide when to send a release. We decide when to post a web page update.
Measuring outcomes is more difficult. It can some times take the form of surveys to gauge public opinion. Or it might include measuring larger sets of data, like crashes in work zones. If the goal of an outreach campaign is to encourage people to avoid congestion by delaying or changing their trip, you would want to measure trips. That is not easy and probably takes coordinating with the local transit organizations and the DOT’s traffic office well in advance of the campaign.
Measuring engagement is one with which I really struggle. Engagement is a loaded word that means different things in different contexts. First, engagement might describe the level of interactions between a specific audience and the agency. So, the number of people contacted at a local street fair might be a decent measurement. But engagement might also describe interactions with a specific demographic or residents of a specific geographic area. Depending on the community or demographic, just counting the number of contacts does not get at measuring engagement. Level of effort, perhaps, but not engagement. In some contexts, the quality of the interaction with the “right” community representatives is a much more valuable form of engagement.
My question to you is, what do you measure and why? At AASHTO, the communication team produces a quarterly performance report that includes data on the web site, mobile applications and our daily and weekly news publications. We report on viewership for our online television channel, Transportation TV. We also track some very basic social media data, as well as the requests and responses from our constituent services program. Finally, we also report on our media relations efforts. The data are compiled in an annual performance report that we use for annual planning and for sharing progress with our management.
It was not easy getting started. Initially, we had numbers but little context. Now we have roughly six quarters of data that helps us better understand and spot trends, which helps in our evaluation of the data.
We are a long way from figuring out how to measure success. However, I can say that the act and effort of measuring our efforts has paid huge dividends. As a team each quarter we ask ourselves if our outreach efforts are on the right track. We celebrate what seems to be working well, and we question what seems to need more attention.
I would love to hear what you measure and why. But mostly, I just want to encourage you to measure something. It will make a huge difference to your staff, your program and your overall case for why investing in transportation communication is a good value.