As we launch into a year with perhaps as much uncertainty, on multiple levels, as most of us have known, I offer my fearless predictions for 2009. The single most interesting dynamic this year in my view is the tension between an increasing need for accountability and tight budgets.
1. Social Media Dominates Measurement Conversation
In June of 2008 I did a quick blog analysis to understand the volume of posts about PR/public relations measurement compared to social media measurement. About 80% of all posts were specific to social media measurement. I repeated the analysis for December 2008 and got the same result. Social media measurement is dominating the conversation. It is interesting to note the social media measurement online conversation is not being driven (with a couple of notable exceptions) by the firms and individuals associated with traditional media content analysis. They seem to be followers and not leaders. New players and voices are emerging, particularly from the web analytics world.
2. Quest for Standards
For many in public relations measurement the Holy Grail is a single, powerful metric of success. A standard metric everyone generally agrees with and that is applied consistently would enable lower costs leading to greater measurement participation, and allow agencies and companies to compete on actual results, i.e. audience effects, not on cutesy proprietary metrics and algorithms. Or so the argument goes. In the other camp are the ‘snowflake measurement’ disciples who say each public relations program and set of objectives is unique and therefore requires unique measurement approaches – standardization doesn’t apply to snowflakes. Driven by a desire to find ‘standard’ social media metrics, look for the standardization argument to be a hot topic again in ’09.
3. Engagement Will Be The Hot Social Media Metric
Many have said Web 2.0 is about ‘engagement and not eyeballs’. Indeed, it looks like Engagement will be the metric of the moment in 2009. While everyone might agree, at a macro level, Engagement is about the engagement between individuals and brands, there is almost no agreement on what Engagement really means, particularly in the online world. There are many different views at different levels of abstraction:
- BusinessWeek has a Reader Engagement Index they calculate as a comments to posts ratio. An Engagement Index of 5 would indicate 5 comments per post
- Forrester Research defines the engagement between individuals and brands in terms of the four I’s: Involvement, Interaction, Intimacy, Influence
- And well-known web analytics guru Eric T. Peterson has developed an eight-term equation for Engagement that includes clicks, recency, duration, brand, feedback, interaction, loyalty and subscriptions.
Look for many other definitions and points of view on Engagement in 2009. Measuring Community and Velocity may also be hot social media metrics.
4. Cross-Platform/Domain Measurement Challenges
How do you measure the influence on someone who has read your blog, posted a comment, sent a tweet to 35 followers, visited another site, referred to your blog with a trackback, texted four friends about your post, two of whom visited your blog as well? Most measurement approaches and tools today are tied to specific platforms and not people. As communication increasingly becomes horizontal/ peer-to-peer – online and offline – our ability to measure discrete programs becomes exponentially more difficult. It would seem a greater emphasis on holistic approaches that are audience-centric might be a partial solution. Look for measurement firms to begin to address this challenge in 2009.
5. A Battle of Good (accountability) versus Evil (economy)
So far, the spirit of experimentation in social media has provided a sort of ‘get out of jail free’ card with respect to having to demonstrate the value of digital and social media programs and initiatives. It looks like all that could change in 2009 primarily driven by the economic climate. 2009 will be the year when the pendulum swings from experimentation to accountability. 2009 will raise the bar on all of use to demonstrate how social media and other PR programs are helping to drive desired business outcomes. Acting against this pendulum swing are the Evils of flat or reduced 2009 budgets. It will be easy for many people facing budget pressures to reduce or eliminate measurement. But you do this at the peril of credible accountability. What do you think will win in 2009 – Good or Evil?