Why the PR Industry is desperate to have some Klout…

7 Jan

Here are some questions to think about before we begin:

  • Can you measure the number of new customers a company gets over a given period following promotional activity?
  • Can you measure the number of complaints received by an organisation against the number of compliments received?
  • Can you give a number that represents the love that you feel for your wife/husband/partner?
  • Can you give a number that represents the enjoyment you get from taking part your favourite hobby?

How we doing? Let me guess, you could answer the first two because they are things that can be measured objectively in terms of numbers, but the second two would have caused you some head-scratching because, of course, emotions are highly subjective and certainly don’t lend themselves to measurement with number. If you’d have come back and said 37 is the number that best represents your love for your other half, even if you truly believed this to be the case, it would be ultimately meaningless as a measure. If you accept the accuracy of this assertion then you already know why online influence cannot be measured by a computer algorithm and, furthermore, that any score derived from such a process would be as meaningless as the number 37 is for expressing the love that you have for your partner.

Despite of all this being no secret, 2011 saw a lot of start-ups appearing and making bold claims that they can measuring online influence with Klout becoming the most popular service offering the measurement of the unmeasurable. I’m not going to spend too long discussing why it’s next to impossible for a computer program to measure and represent the intricacies of influence, but I recommend reading these posts by people who explain it for better than I:

@41MindsWhat is Influence  and The Truth about Influence

@ThinkingfoxWilly Waggling

@Robjones_TringThe One with the Influential Lists

Neville Hobson (@Jangles) – What is Klout worth to You? and Out of Klout

On to the the main subject of this post, the Public Relations industry and the measurement of influence. It really should go without saying why measuring influence (on and offline) would be of interest to PR Practitioners as the very basis of the profession, as set out by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), is:

Public relations is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organization and its publics.

The key words above are ‘goodwill’ and ‘mutual understanding’, these concepts are key to the idea of Relationship Management, which is rapidly overtaking the practice of Reputation Management as the core function within Public Relations. Here’s the thing, Relationship Management is impossible without the concept of influence and a lot of Relationship Management takes place online in social spaces, so it’s no surprise that the industry would want a way to measure it, but it is a surprise that so many chose to invest their faith in services such as Klout, but measurement has always been a problem for PR.

Emerging from the Shadow of AVE

Since the very beginnings of the PR industry there has been a question that no one has found a satisfying and unifying answer for: How do we measure the effectiveness of of what we do? The fact there has yet to be found an answer to this question is seen by many as one of the major reasons our industry often scrabbles around to demonstrate it’s credibility and any type of return on investment (As a rule PR costs a lot of money).

For far too long we have relied on something called Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE), which assesses the value of any activity based on column inches in newspapers: you calculate the number of column inches following activity and then work out how much that would have cost if you placed it as advertising. You will be hard pressed to find a supporter within the industry for this approach to measuring value (you’ll find a lot of Finance Managers who like it though as it makes spreadsheets make sense to them) but many of us have used it for years and many of us, begrudgingly, still use it. The flaws of AVE are pretty evident, but summarised below:

  • PR is not (and never will be) Advertising, so a measure that suggests such a comparison does little for our credability;
  • AVE ignores tone of coverage, it simply measures the length of coverage. No press is bad press is the mantra; and
  • So much PR activity now exists in online and word-of-mouth spaces and may never reach the printed media. This does not make the coverage less valuable, simply because the newspapers do not cover it, but it is totally invisible to AVE measurement.

If you want to read the case for and against there is a good article in PR Week from 2009 on the AVE Debate, that is equally relevant today (largely because not much has changed). There is a very interesting quote, that I totally agree with from Robert Phillips, CEO of Edelman PR, on what the future should look like:

The model of the future must be able to analyse the depth, resonance, importance and influence of the conversation. But of course no such model currently exists. Options currently available include reach, opportunities to see (OTS) and frequency, alongside the somewhat mysterious catch-all phrase ‘PR value’

No Such model existing in 2009 and, despite lots of very bright people thinking about the problem, there still doesn’t exist a measure for PR that everyone is content to agree on and use. There is also a worrying trend of practitioners looking for third-party, out-of-the-box solutions that they hope will address the problem, but that always fall short.

So what now?

I don’t have any quick answers to the problem, but here’s two things that I’d like to see for Public Relations in 2012:

  • Better explanation of why AVE should no longer be used as a measure for the effectiveness of PR activity and a wider commitment to its total abandonment. We have suffered under its shadow for too long; and
  • Less focus on third party measures for activity effectiveness and ROI. If we want an effective measure that lasts it needs to be created by Public Relations people, for Public Relations People (catchy, huh!).

Two short bullet points but a huge achievement if we manage them both! It certainly won’t be easy, but it is important and if we care about the industry we work in then it’s what we need to do!

It’s not just Klout

I’ve found myself feeling a bit sorry for Klout of late, they’ve been getting a lot of criticism and you’d be forgiven for thinking that they are the only service out there claiming to be able to measure online influence, there are others. Some of the other services occasionally come in for criticism (PeerIndex, Kred etc) but there is one service that everyone seems to neglect to mention: enter stage right Edelman PR with their TweetLevel.

Yes, that’s right, one of the biggest and arguably most-respected PR agencies in the world, seen as experts in the field of Relationship Management seem to have a vested interest in us all believing that online influence can be effectively measured and attributed a score by an algorithm…they even make money from it if you want more in-depth functionality. Reading back through the Robert Phillips quote above on the subject of measurement, I feel decidedly uncomfortable by this fact.

What do you think?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: