There are a lot of common misconceptions about media monitoring metrics, from the “more is better” thinking that surrounds volume metrics, to an over-reliance on impressions to guide outreach targets.
What PR practitioners need to understand is what aspects of analytics are misconceptions, and how to dig deeper than the surface numbers to uncover the actionable information needed to inform good PR work.
Misconception #1: Volume equals success
Whether you are old enough to remember clipping binders or not, there’s a persistent notion that a high volume of mentions means that one is doing PR right. Setting aside the obvious problem with this logic—which is that a crisis can cause your volume to skyrocket and is decidedly not a positive—tracking the quantity of mentions alone doesn’t really provide you with any actionable information.
A news release that gets pushed to a wire service will see hundreds of results. Based on a simple “hits” metric, that news release was a success — even if not one person actually read the release. One can quickly see how tracking volume alone is insufficient.
What smart PR practitioners focus on instead is coverage that resonates with the target audience. Instead of a press release that goes everywhere but no one reads, pitching a relevant angle to well-researched reporters is a better path to take. You can use your media monitoring tool to find which journalists are writing about the issues that are important to your company or clients and then use that information to develop tailored pitches that result in high-quality pieces.
Misconception #2: It’s only worth pursuing high-reach targets
Almost every PR professional has a story about a client who was laser-focused on securing coverage in an almost unattainable publication. Situations like this are when PR people become diplomats—somehow, we have to convince a client that the BBC is highly unlikely to run a piece about a widget redesign (unless something goes horribly wrong either nationally or globally, which is a whole different story).
The temptation to pursue coverage in a high-reach publication is logical. Because of their readership base and cachet, prestige outlets command attention. However, chasing coverage in one of these outlets at the expense of others is both inefficient and unlikely to yield the results you’re looking for in PR.
What smart PR practitioners focus on instead is identifying outlets and publications that may be smaller but are directly relevant to the target audience. Pitching a niche publication means you’ll be reaching your audience directly. Put another way, while getting a story in the New York Times or BBC would be a big deal, that coverage would likely reach a whole lot of people who would either have only a passing interest or no interest at all in your news. More eyeballs doesn’t necessarily mean more interest.
Misconception #3: Counting likes and followers as engagement
The tendency to equate highly visible numbers, such as likes and followers, with engagement is a problem that has long plagued social media metrics. When X (formerly known as Twitter) had grown to the point that brands began to incorporate visibility statistics into their PR analysis, it was fairly common to see assumptions creep into reporting that just didn’t withstand scrutiny. For example: If Brand A has 120,000 followers in the morning and 125,000 by the evening, that increase of 5,000 followers means the brand’s fans are engaged with the content being posted.
While it is true that increased numbers of followers can indicate brand interest, following a brand alone isn’t high enough of a bar to indicate engagement. Actual engagement is more interactive over time. Following is the first step, but it’s what happens next and over time that really defines engagement. Put another way, meeting someone for the first time doesn’t immediately indicate a friendship—that happens over time with subsequent interactions.
What smart PR practitioners focus on instead is the progression of engagement and the type of content that people respond to, and use that information to guide PR decisions. Do people interact with posts? Are they sharing brand content to their feeds, or with other people? What types of topics generate the most discussion? Answering these questions provides more context to what motivates an audience and sparks real engagement.
Misconception #4: Impressions are impressive
Impressions are one of the most vilified metrics in professional PR circles for a reason—they can be wildly inaccurate. And yet, they are still frequently included in analytical reporting because they are so entrenched in the industry, and they are easy to calculate.
Here’s how impressions are typically calculated: take the number of appearances in a given publication and then multiply that by the publication’s circulation. If your brand is mentioned in two articles in a newspaper that has a daily circulation of 350,000 subscribers, your brand has 700,000 impressions. A social media equivalent is, if your brand is mentioned in a post by an influencer who has 1.2 million followers, your brand has received 1.2 million impressions.
The most obvious problem with this calculation is that in both cases—print and social—the assumption being made is that every single subscriber or follower has seen the article or post. Calculations become even more absurd when “multipliers” are included. The argument behind multipliers is that—particularly for print—basing the number of people who have seen any given article is probably under-counted because print can be passed along to others. Using multipliers for social media can yield some results that just aren’t believable, with impressions soaring into the billions. There are eight billion people on the planet, so it’s not logical to report a metric indicating a series of social posts reached half the globe’s population.
What smart PR practitioners focus on instead is coverage that 1) appears in priority publications, and which 2) includes key messages. Developing a list of publications that make the most sense to target because they reach your key audiences is more important than appearing everywhere, as we already established in Misconception #2. Coverage in those publications that carry your key messages is even more impactful.
Analytics that yield results take work
The common theme across all four of these misconceptions is that relying on a surface metric isn’t enough. There’s nothing wrong with looking at your volume numbers or targeting a high-reach outlet, or even with reporting impressions, but don’t stop there. What these numbers represent is a starting point—not the end. Finding actionable metrics means delving into the data and finding the information that leads you to make better, smarter PR decisions.