A New Model for Social (and traditional) Media Measurement

29 Aug

In November 2007 I suggested the current Outputs, Outtakes, Outcomes model and taxonomy for public relations measurement was confusing and therefore often misunderstood and misapplied (Let’s put Outputs, Outtakes and Outcomes in the Outhouse).  At that time I suggested a simpler, more descriptive approach was in order and offered the following:

“What we need is a metrics taxonomy that is easier to understand and explain.  Perhaps simple and descriptive enough that we could skip the need for explanation altogether.   I propose the following three terms:
* Exposure – to what degree have we created exposure to materials and message?
* Influence – the degree to which exposure has influenced perceptions and attitudes
* Action – as a result of the public relations effort, what actions if any has the target taken?”

Since November, I have given a lot of thought to the E-I-A construct and how to improve upon it.   Some of the feedback to the model was the gap between Exposure and Influence was too great, and perhaps there should be an interim step called Understanding or Relevance.  There is also the social media dynamic to consider since the measurement model should be flexible enough to work for both traditional and social media.

What seems to fit best between Exposure and Influence, and adds richness to social media measurement, is the concept of Engagement.  Not only is it one of the hotter topics in social media, it is consistent with the desire to have more descriptive and easily understood metrics.   With Engagement we now have an category that nicely contains such emerging key metrics as view-thrus, duration spent with content, repeat commenters and comments/posts ratio.  It also works well for old school metrics like recall and retention.  Engagement is what helps set the stage for Influence to occur.  Engagement is necessary for communities to form.  Engagement is fundamental to brand.

Here’s a graphic that shows the new model and sample metrics that might be used at each stage:

Would love your feedback on this new Exposure — Engagement — Influence — Action model.

There are still a few challenges in adoption of the model, not the least of which is that there is no consistent definition of Engagement.  Current definitions range from the simple comments to post ratio used by BusinessWeek in their Reader Engagement Index, to the 8-term formula for Engagement offered by Eric T Peterson.  The next year should bring more clarity and consistency to our understanding and use of Engagement.  At least there is modest agreement on the specific metrics contained within the category of Engagement.

Thanks for reading, Don B 

36 Responses to “A New Model for Social (and traditional) Media Measurement”

  1. Alan Chumley September 9, 2008 at 7:51 pm #

    Well done, Don. As one bloke who piped up about the size of the gap ‘tween exposure and influence, I congratulate you for closing that gap. ‘Engagement’ could mean slightly different things in the off-line stakeholder versus social media world but I think you’re bag on to try to inject that layer and that word. Perhaps how we look at engagement in the social media world could and should be force fit into the traditional, off-line sphere as well.

    While I like where you’re going, generally, with the various sample metrics, I do think that the off and on-line worlds are different enough that one model can’t account for both. They are just so different.

    We’ve got a similar (emerging) model (more levels, a lot of algorithyms, rankings, methods behind each,different words, but a similar idea) at Hill & Knowlton, specific to the social media space but I won’t yet show ‘neath the methodological kilt.

    Stay tuned. 🙂

    Again, well done.

  2. Don Bartholomew September 9, 2008 at 8:27 pm #

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Alan. You may be right on one model not being enough to cover traditional and online media. My current view is that one model does work for both. Engagement might mean reading and recalling an article in the Globe & Mail or it might mean spending 2 minutes watching a video posted on YouTube. The target is engaged in each case, just in different ways and perhaps to different effect. Influence is influence, regardless of what caused it to occur.

    I’ll look forward to the upcoming H&K model for social media. Perhaps you will convince me two models really are better than one. Thanks again, Don B

  3. Jon Clements September 16, 2008 at 10:50 am #

    I’ve come to your post late, but I’m glad I have.
    For a start, the idea to de-mystify the language of measurement is an excellent one. We preach to clients endlessly about junking their jargon, and yet proceed to talk about output, outtake, etc. I have never seen a client shut down quicker than when you unpack the PR evaluation explanation box. Your suggested terminology makes sense and can be understood by humans.
    What I like about your model is its practicality. As long as the client has realistic goals at the beginning, the measures you propose are meaningful.
    Great work!

    Jon Clements

  4. metricsman September 16, 2008 at 3:38 pm #


    Thanks for your comment and kind words. I really like your “PR evaluation explanation box”. We should create an acronym I suppose – PREEB. As a profession, It is amazing we don’t have better, more agreed upon, explanations to share with clients. All of our explanation boxes are a little too empty for comfort. -Don B

  5. Kevin Donnellon November 25, 2008 at 12:24 pm #

    As we struggle to measure sm success, this is a fantastic measuremetn to share with clients and prospects which I plan to do today. Thanks for the ideas and insights.

  6. Steve January 11, 2009 at 9:22 pm #

    First, excellent blog. As a practitioner I am somewhat vexed by measurement and as a professor I am equally vexed when trying to teach my students. I like this model. I wonder if in the Influence component there is value to measuring (or at least accounting for) the reach of those who are engaged with you. For example, how many visitors does s/he have to his/her blog, how many Facebook friends, Twitter followers, etc. Anyway, just food for thought.

    Again, I appreciate your efforts here. Very helpful.


  7. metricsman January 12, 2009 at 10:24 am #

    Hi Steve,
    Thanks for your comment and kind words. On your question, which I may be misinterpreting, a couple of points:
    – Influence in the model generally refers to audience effects, not the influence of someone blogging or commenting online. Are we influencing the attitudes, opinions and behaviors of our targets?
    – I would view blog visitors as an Exposure metric. Facebook friends and Twitter followers I might consider Engagement metrics.
    – In most cases, I would consider the influence of an online individual or conversation to be an aspect of Engagement – that is people may want to engage with those they perceive have influence.

    Please let me know if I’ve confused rather than clarified – entirely possible! Thanks again for reading. -Don B

  8. Andrea Hadley January 21, 2009 at 6:35 pm #

    Hi Don,
    Funny, I’m working on key messaging for a press release for the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit in Toronto coming up March 29 – April 1st, so did a search on “new media measurement 2008” as we have quite a few sessions with this focus, and up popped this blog and its discussing exactly what my mind is focused upon…I love it when search works.

    I too really like your model and think its headed in the right direction as you capture initial exposure along the points of interaction through to an effect and end result. However, I’ve got two comments/questions:
    1. I would like to see sm success metrics move towards alignment with our overarching marketing/communications and ultimately business goals. As I don’t often see this happening. Yes, I understand that online and offline are different and ultimately have different measures for success, however, the end result is what truly matters. Any suggestions as to how your model might be adjusted to measure whether the end result aligned with overarching business goals?

    2. I often see success metrics where the goal is engagement, but what’s being measured are page views and click thrus, which in my opinion are not measures of engagement, they are still measures of exposure. In your model you’ve included click thru and view thru within the “Engagement” category, but on their own I disagree, as taking a peek or having a quick look is not the same as subscribing, downloading, commenting, etc.

  9. metricsman February 3, 2009 at 10:31 am #

    Hi Andrea,

    Thanks for your comment and sorry for the delayed response to your very good questions. Let me respond to your questions:

    1. I fully agree PR or social media program objectives should be aligned with desired business outcomes/business objectives. PR 101. However, in practice, this seldom explicitly occurs. The time to align objectives is of course when they are written – before the program is implemented. In that context, your properly written and aligned objectives are what you should be measuring using the framework. For example, let’s say your corporate objective is to increase perception of the company as an ‘innovator’. Our aligned PR/SM objective might be to increase our target audience’s association of our company with ‘innovation’ and ‘innovator’. We can measure this using the framework. Our association metric would fall under the category of (audience) Influence. We would also want to measure our levels of Exposure and Engagement to understand their relationship with Influence and/or to serve as diagnostics to determine what’s working and what’s not.

    2. As mentioned, Engagement metrics are pretty fluid and lack consensus. I take your point on click-thrus and view-thrus. I believe you are right that click-thru is probably better placed under Exposure – I’ll make that change. View-thrus seem less clear in that if someone views an entire video that might indicate what best might be described as Engagement. Time spent or duration being a factor. I could go either way on that one. Think I’ll leave it under Engagement for now but will think more about it.

    Thanks for challenging the model metrics. That’s the only way we’ll make these sorts of tools better. I appreciate it. -Don B

  10. jvad April 17, 2009 at 5:01 am #

    Thank you. Really interesting model. Is it though quite rooted in the idea that there is a central content hub to which visitors/links/track backs can be counted.

    how would the model adapt if the campaign objective is based on take up of message – so, say, the amount of exposure generated by xx bloggers who have posted content?

  11. Christine April 20, 2009 at 8:47 am #

    Like where you’re going with this- the area that seems underrepresented here are the insight-oriented outcomes of social media – the things that don’t represent a sales or an action taken, but rather represent a cost savings or strategic gain for a company- for example, social media and social network engagement, especially when coupled with sentiment monitoring, reputation systems, etc — can help a company make better products, serve customers better, understand market dynamics, refine position and messaging. In addition to insight, Social media- particularly in dedicated online communities- can also seen by companies as a peer to peer offset to R&D costs, to market research, to customer service. We think the PR/ awareness/ lead generation aspect of measurement is very important, but not complete- and fundamentally under-represents the true ROI of these technologies, and still needs more indirect measures, and more tools to facilitate insight- especially semantic tools.

    We would like to see a cross-disciplinary measurement dashboard emerge- and also ways of disseminating key insights through the organization so that they are actionable.

    What are your thoughts on this?

    Thank you for all of your great contributions-

    Christine McCaull

  12. metricsman April 21, 2009 at 10:55 am #

    Thanks for your great comment, Christine. insight-oriented outcomes would generally be captured in either Engagement or Influence. Influence in this model means actual influence against the target audience (e.g. did the program change their perceptions), and not Influence of the blogger, etc. You are right in thinking the majority of measurement and ROI work focuses on the marketing aspect of PR (i.e. PR’s role in sales ultimately) and ignores PR’s other significant contributions in areas like Brand and Reputation. My Total Value Cube is an effort to broaden thinking beyond outputs and marketing which is where the majority of measurement work occurs today. One last thought, true audience insight requires understanding how people are thinking not just what they are doing. While sentiment analysis is directionally consistent with this, we also should consider primary research against the audiences we hope to engage with. Thanks again, Don B

  13. Michal Gorecki November 19, 2011 at 2:38 am #

    Great model, Don. I find it really useful to show the road to Action, that is of course the most important thing for Clients. But it might also be used to show the traps, or shortcuts which some agencies sell as golden remedies. Examples?

    1. Building huge facebook pages with either spamming other profiles, own “farms” (community pages with lots of fans used to advertise without having to buy ads), or organizing lots of contests. This is clearly building Exposure without moving to the second point.

    2. Then comes the second degree of bad practices. Building high Engagement without moving on to Influence. How? For instance by asking empty questions (Weekend is coming how do you feel?) or lots of “fill in the gaps” – in one word an engaging communication that is meaningless for the brand and doesn’t build any Influence.

    Thanks again 🙂


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