Erika KauffmanPublic relations is no stranger to innovation and change. As leading forces in global business, PR pros must adapt to necessary alterations; they must separate the immense accumulation of data available from the analog of human discovery and insight. Contemporary evidence of this vital importance can be seen in the recent impact of social media, which has allowed for ever greater accuracy in messaging.

Increasing value of quantifiable ROI

Given the skyrocketing popularity of social media over the past five years, PR professionals have had to address and overcome new and different digital research compilation and measurement challenges. Conversations and “shares” on social networks have surpassed the importance of mere webpage click counts. Audience engagement and participation have overtaken readership numbers. New and strengthening trends in social network metrics have become the valued measurement of online behavior, and enable accurate new interpretation by PR experts. By taking the older metrics methods into consideration while also integrating more innovative and relevant methods, public relations firms can grow with their clients, maintaining a prominent role in promotion, guidance and empowerment for many industries.

O'Dwyer's May '15 PR Firm Rankings IssueThis article is featured in O'Dwyer's May '15 PR Firm Rankings Magazine

The more sophisticated and digitized communications technology becomes, the more emphasis and value stakeholders, both individually and collectively, will place on personal and audience engagement. Simple analysis of typical social media communications by consumers does not just reflect the popularity of specific products and information through discussion and sharing. It also reveals the deepest, most vivid and sincere opinions, preferences, dislikes, actions and measurable future intentions of consumers via social networks. Social media has proven to be an extremely helpful source in collecting and analyzing content that reveals public opinion, buying habits and preferences.

Current high rates of online consumer purchasing via varied mobile devices continue to rise in modern-day digital engagement. Social networks also continue to be increasingly valuable to public relations and marketing companies and give strong indications of developing trends in today’s immense and diverse consumer marketplace. In general, people buy what they say they will buy, placing value on products and services in which they express holding value. Because increases in company ROI rates can now be predicted and confirmed through social media activity, social networks now hold positions of importance for current and future PR models and metrics.

New models for compiling, transmitting

Leading PR firms are employing new communications models. Traditional paradigms revealed the basic operations of the communication process, producing an architecture for analyzing and calculating results. However, these models are deficient in two key forms of focus in our current digital environment: clarity and relevance.

Clarity. Even PR pros sometimes mistake outputs for outcomes. With this confusion existing within the PR industry, it is understandable that some clients and audiences receiving PR results may rarely comprehend them.

Relevance. Older media-centric models of communication have become outdated in the digital world of today. Due to the current emphasis on consumer-created content, social media network sharing and usage powered by digitalization, communications are now focused on a content-centered model. Thus it will be key for agencies to create metrics which can link content to web traffic and, ultimately, to sales.

New metrics for growth and success

New metrics now being used by experienced PR companies are fueled extensively by social media networks. Major influencers in updated PR equations are targeting audiences rather than the primary social media movers and shakers. Metrics pertaining to influence incorporate changing audience opinions, interests, attitudes and webpage click counts for calculation of conversion rates. Another vital metrics factor is upswings in brand consideration.

Although metrics standbys, like message distribution, readership and impressions still hold value in measuring audience engagement, newer metrics phenomena such as percentages of followers, return visitors and subscription rates are now front and center. Target audience action metrics have assumed positions of top prominence in current PR metrics, from responses to proposed product-related legislation to consumer buying habits and event participation.

Offline and real-time transactions

The third facet or line of the triangle in new and emerging models and metrics for contemporary public relations is offline engagement and transaction levels in the real world. Although this marketing and sales analysis method may seem quite old-school to many, it is a vital factor that must be considered in the overall picture for adjusting PR strategies. Especially with the heavy consumer shopping rates at large-scale markets, shopping malls and superstores today, volumes of offline, in-store shopping both nationally and globally are still crucial to measuring consumer buying rates accurately. Although the public clearly enjoys the convenience of shopping via the Internet, many people still need and want to visit physical stores and marketplaces in their locales to make purchases. While online social interactions are immensely popular today, socializing through daily activities and errands is also still in fashion and practice among consumers.

How content is shared from PR to client

Research and measurement have always been powered by quality content collection and analysis by PR firms. When digital content became the major form gathered and examined, the main advancements came in the compilation and delivery of content rather than in research and measuring methods. Digital and auto-analysis of this data became common. Early in this process, web-based analysis with software resulted in huge volumes of data plus metrics from new sources such as website traffic volumes, webpage views, click-through rates, conversion rate optimization results and backlink usage rates.

With the current digital technology focus in both research and evaluation, there is a much broader, detailed and valuable content base from which to gain knowledge and insight. The human factor has won out to an impressive degree for greater accuracy in planning and initiating new PR strategies and campaigns. Clients are welcoming communications from their public relations firm experts that are focused primarily on direct consumer engagement and response, reflecting true public opinion, insight, purchasing preferences and intent for today’s expanding global marketplace.

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Erika Kauffman is Executive Vice President and General Manager of 5W PR.