The day of my Econ 101 final, I swore off functions, curves and computations forever and declared a major in the farthest thing away I could find — French. And (while I’m being honest), when I began a career in PR, I never thought complex, algorithm-based analytics would become a cornerstone of my day-to-day decision-making. But thanks to Facebook, Google and that beast we call Big Data, they have.
At this week’s PRSA International Conference in Washington DC, Facebook’s Vice President of Global Communications Mike Buckley urged roughly a thousand right-brained PR professionals to repair their burned bridges with all things mathematical and embrace data and analytics as the true communication allies they can be.
“Data is power,” Buckley said. “It gives us intelligence that enhances our ability to advise, manage expectations and help our companies grow.”
Not convinced yet? Here are Buckley’s reasons why communicators should start paying attention to analytics NOW:
- You can’t manage what you don’t measure. All other organizational functions – IT, operations, sales, legal – are expected to perform their jobs in a way that is rooted in data, and there’s a reason for that. Data is the basis of effective management, and now that PR pros have access to increasingly accurate and relevant data, we need to step up our game. For example, one reason the Obama campaign succeeded so magnificently was that it used simple AB testing to advise its digital communications and fundraising strategy. We all saw the tangible benefit that had. But how often are we AB testing for things like social media posts, email campaigns, website design and ad concepts?
- The more we can make decisions based on analytical results, the better advice we will give and the more often we will succeed. When Facebook bought Instagram, they caught a lot of criticism for using poor judgment. The headlines they saw could have caused them to doubt their decision, but, Buckley said, because they had analyzed the data and because they respected the math … they could confidently stand their ground. When they had plotted Instagram’s growth curves, they saw they were steeper than Facebook’s curve … and they saw that Instagram users were ‘stickier.’ The data didn’t let them down. Now, each time they launch a new feature, Facebook measures what happens to overall sentiment about their brand. They’ve noticed a correlation between what goes on in press and how users feel about their service (making the case for greater investment in PR, perhaps), but their data has also shown that the issue to focus on isn’t the downward curve, it is how fast that curve will rebound.
- Predictive analytics is the future of PR. And here’s where my eyes begin to glaze over … Buckley introduced us to the K-factor, which is a predictive formula used to measure virality. When something has a K-factor greater than 1, it means it will have exponential growth. In theory, this friendly little factor allows PR pros to predict which stories, links, websites, etc., will take off vs fizzle.
- Data isn’t an ‘all or nothing’ game. If you’re hopelessly right-brained, don’t dismay. Buckley reassured us we can all become more quantitative and analytical without being math experts. He also made the important distinction that, while data is an essential ingredient to communications strategy, it isn’t everything. Data will never replace human judgment or emotion, and emotion- and thought-provoking content continues to rule the day.
So, how can we begin building bridges with our mathematical brains? Here are Buckley’s tips:
- Go to lunch and talk shop with the data gurus on your teams; find ways to collaborate and understand each other’s strengths
- Push your clients and managers to spend money on data analytics; convince them of the value this info provides
- Fight for the right to test strategies and ideas quickly (things move too fast to test for a month)
- Connect social data to business data – whenever and wherever possible, show a correlation between marketing/PR activity and sales
- Warn management teams that you need to fail on certain efforts because that’s the only way to know what works and what doesn’t
- Approach everything with an ethical framework – don’t sell your soul to the data gods
Whether or not you agree with Buckley’s point of view, it’s hard to argue against the notion that data is a must-have for any company seeking to achieve its goals in a purposeful way. How are you using it to improve your marketing focus?