Whether you’ve read up on reviews to help make your next car purchase, or simply asked around about gift ideas for your loved ones, on a personal level you are a constantly subconscious researcher. At the professional level, you likely conduct research to determine your stakeholders’ attitudes towards your organizations’ potential moves. The same holds true for public relations professionals, who need to have an understanding of their audiences’ attitudes and beliefs before developing messages tailored to their tastes. Gaining this understanding usually involves more research, which admittedly sounds like a tedious and expensive process at times. However, there are many tools out there that professionals can use to create a measuring stick of how their target audience feels about something.
Here are three ways to conduct research even when you’re trying to pinch pennies:
Free online survey tools – When done properly, surveys are a great way to identify characteristics about your audience, and there are many great websites which allow you to create them for free. Some of these sites even include features like skip logic, which allows survey takers to skip certain questions based on their answers, while others let you customize your site with your organization’s colors. Although the two most popular tools are SurveyMonkey and Google Forms, there are many others out there that could better suit your organization’s needs.
Focus groups – If you work in a professional team environment, chances are that you’ve had a brainstorming session where you bounce around various ideas. If you have, then you’d also understand the benefits of a focus group and how great they are for gathering a few people to get a general consensus of your target audience’s attitudes. However, conducting focus groups usually come with a minimal financial cost as you may have to give potential participants some sort of incentive to convince them to participate, such as free food or gift cards.
Social media-based analytics dashboards – Social networks have come to recognize the importance of proving their worth to businesses and their bottom line. Digital analytics helps professionals by providing data to demonstrate how their efforts contribute to the organization’s goals. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Facebook and Twitter have built-in analytics tools for users who are interested in their posts performance. LinkedIn also comes with an analytics dashboard for managing company pages. Even websites can be tracked for effectiveness with the use of free analytics tools from Google.
What’s one of the best ways to find out how your audience feels about something? Ask them! On the surface, utilizing these tools may seem to be overwhelming and complicated. Luckily, Dr. Ford and I will demonstrate how easy these tools really are to use at the 2015 PRSA International Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, on Monday, November 9. We’ll also provide real-world examples of organizations and businesses who’ve used successfully used these tools even while having little-to-no budget to work with. Simply put: it’ll be a way to get in touch with your inner-grassroots communications self.
When it comes to getting information and news about your interests, who do you turn to? Is it their personality that draws you in? Do you often find yourself modeling your opinions after theirs? Just what is it that causes them to have such an affect on you?
Whether you know it or not, your favorite media personality, blogger or even entertainer may be a “One-Percenter” – that is, an influencer in the vast community of content creation. According to W2O Group‘s strategists, who spoke to Newhouse students at many events this week for Social Commerce Days, the influencers make up the top 1% of your interests’ community of content. Influencers are the ones who create the content that becomes shareable with their audience. Their biggest fans, or their advocates, are in the 9% who repackage this content into their own. Meanwhile, the other 90% consists of enthusiasts – average consumers of content who look to influencers and advocates to stay on top of trends. This is the 1:9:90 framework of social content, and it’s important for PR professionals to understand this as they seek out non-traditional methods of getting their message out to target publics.
Influencers have three characteristics that make them appealing to communications professionals:
Reach – Influencers get to be in the 1% of content creators because of the large audience they attract. They have their fair share of advocates who not only repackage their content to reach more people, but they also defend their influencers from criticism.
Relevance – If you let the strategists from W2O tell it, relevance is the new reputation. Previously, communications professionals wanted to align themselves with someone with a positive reputation. Now that attention spans are shortening, communicators have to find ways to align their content with influencers who have a stronger grip on their audiences’ attention.
Resonance – Finally, it’s not just enough for professional communicators to create content – it has to actually be good, if not, exceptional. Audiences flock to influencers because their content has a personal touch or flair to it. Influencers brand themselves to be memorable and not just put out content that their audience won’t find useful; therefore, communicators must be sure their content fits the same criteria when pitching it to the influencers they want to work with.
At the end of the day, being in the 1% isn’t always glamorous. Influencers have spent months, and probably years building their audience and delivering content that matters. It’s this drive that makes influencers unique, enviable and in a position to be gatekeepers of information, similar to journalists. Once PR professionals find and build the relationship with influencers, their clients will reap the benefits of an increased audience and another channel to reach them.
Hearing our speaker’s presentation gave me additional ideas for reasons why PR professionals should embrace the tools of digital analytics. As it specifically pertains to social media, gaining knowledge of analytics can be helpful in the following ways:
Determine your audience’s demographics – When developing a communications strategy, it’s usually common practice to know your target audience or primary publics. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn all have analytics dashboards that can help you determine if you’re really reaching them or another unintended audience. Characteristics you can find are average ages, ethnicity, and geographic location among others.
Find out when they’re viewing your posts – There are a ton of articles out there which will tell you that there’s a specific time to post on social media – usually between 1 and 3 p.m. on Facebook. These articles, however, take a generalist approach and assume that what works for one page works for the other. Once your communications strategy is implemented, you may find that your target audience requires a different approach.
Uncover their purchasing preferences – What might be creepy to know is that analytics can dig more than just your audience’s demographics. Analytics uses tracking codes that can tell you where your audience likes to shop and what items they like to buy. That’s when you can use this information to publish social media ads that tie-in to their purchasing habits.
Find out what they’re saying about you – Analytics is useful for finding the conversations which your audience is having about you. At a basic level, you can use searches on Twitter and Instagram to find almost every post that mentions your brand’s hashtag or name. At an advanced level though, you can use tools such as Foresee, Ubervu and Meltwater to get a general scope whether those conversations are positive or negative.
Create social media ads geared towards their interests – Once you use analytics to find out the information you need, you can use its many tools to figure out the best way to reach them. As one example, Facebook allows you to “boost” certain posts beyond those who’ve liked your page. Of course it’ll involve a monetary investment, but you can spend as little as $1 for five days to expand your posts, and your page, to a broader audience.
It’s inevitable that understanding digital analytics will be crucial for public relations professionals going forward. However, those who understand its tools and tricks sooner will reap the benefits of being able to communicate well-crafted messages that speak exactly to their public’s tastes.
Digital analytics has become somewhat of a dirty buzzword for those in the communications industry lately. Ironically though, it has been the theme of my third week into the fall semester at Newhouse. From Sysomos training for my research course, to my continued work as Dr. Ford’s research assistant, I’ve found myself regaining my appreciation for the science behind gathering meaningful analysis.
Whether you like it or not, public relations and analytics are becoming synonymous with each other. It’s not just enough for PR professionals to communicate their clients’ message, but they also have to prove that those messages are effective. Best of all, you don’t have to spend a ton of money to have decent analytics in place as social media tools like Facebook and Twitter offer dashboards for you to see how your content is performing.
Here are some ways that analytics can be a beneficial tool for public relations professionals:
Finding your biggest advocates – One of the best things you could have in PR is a loyal fan who’s willing to go to bat for you. They’re the ones who are always sharing your content and are usually the first to leave comments. The frequency with which your biggest fans share your content is a metric you could utilize in addition to recognizing them for their free promotion.
Following the process – If you have a registration process for attracting donations or purchases, you can use analytics to determine the likelihood of visitors to complete the process, also known as the conversion rate. High-end tools like ForeSee, and easy-to-use tools like Google Analytics, allow you to set up tracking codes to determine where visitors might be losing interest and leaving your site, especially if it’s in the middle of a process.
Timing your visitors’ stay – If you’re putting out content that features multiple elements, you’ll want to find out how much visitors are engaging with it. With tracking codes on your website, you can find out just how much time the average user is interacting with your site’s pages. For instance, if you embed a five minute video on a webpage, you might be concerned if visitors are spending listen than five minutes on that page.
What you’re doing right – If you’re putting out a steady stream of content you eventually want to know what type of messaging works for your audience. By keeping track of metrics such as likes, visits and page views, you can notice trends that are more effective than others.
What you’re doing wrong – Of course if you find that engagement with your posts are low you can use analytics to figure out why your messaging isn’t resonating with audiences. You could also use sites like justunfollow.com to see if you’re losing your audience on social media.
With this in mind, I’d hope that more PR professionals will come to recognize digital analytics not as a niche area, but as part of the overall strategy. Just as PR has become integrated with advertising and marketing, digital analytics will continue to make its way into the mix for years to come.