Measuring communication? Five tips to help start a performance measurement program

“How’s it going?”

Bump into a friend on the street and you might hear, “How’s it going?” After all, it’s a casual, friendly way of greeting someone.

But get that same question from your boss, project engineer, transportation secretary or state legislator and, the innocent question: “How’s it going?” becomes a challenge for many transportation communicators.

The simple fact is that we in our business spend very little time actually evaluating how we are doing at communicating about transportation. We pump out the news releases, tweet until our fingers are number, but can we really say that things are going well?

Meanwhile, more and more policy experts, engineers, citizen activists are pushing for more “communication.” Our perceived value and importance to the process of running a transportation system is increasing. Transportation leaders know a good communication program can make their lives easier and it can pave the way for a more successful organization. Therefore, we must need to communicate more.

But what if the solution to breaking through the clutter of messages in today’s consumer-focused world is not “more” communication? What if the answer is “better” communication?

Before we can answer the question, “How is it going?” We have to ask a few more questions ourselves. And in most cases, there are ways to use common metrics to get to some kind of answer.

Do you know the best time to send your tweet so that it has the greatest potential to be seen by your followers?

Do you know what stories in your newsletter (internal or external) tend to get the most views? 

How much time do you spend answering constituent phone calls, letters and emails? Are people visiting your web site more, or less, than they did a year ago? How come? 

Are more people visiting your site from mobile devices? If there are, would that change how you manage your program? 

Now, more than ever, the PR industry is facing the challenge of measurement. The PRSA has an extensive web site dedicated to communicating public relations value. It is helpful and interesting from a big picture perspective. Other sites and blogs, such as KDPaine’s PR Measurement Blog, get down in the weeds and look at specific measurements to unravel their true effectiveness. But in some respects these resources are like giving lessons on flying to someone learning to ride a bike.

If we believe the biggest value is in the process of self evaluation, then the process of asking questions about what we do each day should help reveal measures that make sense for our own organizations.

Here are a few suggestions for starting a performance measurement program for your transportation communication efforts.

  • Get your staff and colleagues involved. The person closest to the task is very likely someone who knows what measurement makes sense. Ask the media relations people to suggest media measures. Then, make them explain why those measures matter to them.
  • Start simple. Measure visits to your web site. Measure the number of follwers and friends for your social media accounts. Try not to make it too hard. Initially, there will be tremendous value for your program simply in keeping track.
  • Don’t avoid the anecdotal. There is no harm in keeping track of nice Facebook comments, friendly emails and supportive letters from constituents. Save them and include them in your reports. Or, run an informal survey and ask people to respond. It will not be a scientific survey, but you still might find value in the responses.
  • Gather regularly and crunch the data. Your communication team – whatever shape that make take – should not only suggest measures and help gather the data, it should also help review the results. Over time you might find that a graphic artist is able to ask very salient questions about media relations programs purely from helping review the data.
  • Communicate your results. Share what you learn with your management team, even if your supervisors never asked. A regular measurement program might reveal some significant insights that can influence budgeting decisions. Or there might be smaller victories revealed by your measurement report that can find their way into other reports. Whatever happens, the management will appreciate your commitment to measurement.

I know from experience how easy it is to get lost in the daily, sometimes moment-to-moment, grind of communicating in an operations focused environment. Still, measuring your work is a tremendously valuable effort. Whether you work for a state department of transportation, or a transit agency or your focus is more toward transportation planning, you will find that measuring your work will help you work smarter – not harder.

And, no matter who asks it, you will always have an answer to that nagging question, “How’s it going?”

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Author: Lloyd Brown

I am the director of communications for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. I enjoy running marathons and triathlons, playing guitar and spending time with family. My professional interest is in how social media and new technology shapes the communication relationship between government and the general public. I have a Master’s degree in Communications and Leadership from Gonzaga University in Spokane and a bachelor’s degree in Communications from Washington State University.

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