One particular statement that stuck in my mind was from David Pembroke, CEO of Content Group, who said that it was important for communications people to bring numbers to the table to gain a seat alongside other decision-makers, such as CFOs and CIOs who already have numbers in hand to support their positions.
While most agencies now track the traffic to their website and report raw numbers of followers, comments and mentions on their social channels, I believe there’s still a way to go before these numbers are provided in the right way to the right people at the right time to help Communications areas – and particularly Online Communications – have the impact and the influence it deserves.
This has been brought home to me by Slideshare, which recently began sending me reports on the number of views and interactions on the various presentations I’ve uploaded to the service over the years.
Simply being able to see these basic stats has made me take more notice of the material I’m putting on Slideshare and whether or not it has a wider audience that I should consider when developing my slides.
I’m even considering paying money for an account to get more detailed statistics that will help me finetune material to better match what audiences want.
When working in Government I did place a considerable amount of effort into providing web statistics back to the areas responsible for specific content. I believe this type of reporting is critical to help policy and program areas receive regular and actionable feedback on what they are putting online to help inform their customers, clients, stakeholders and other audiences.
In fact, without web reporting many of these areas only receive ad hoc and irregular feedback on the content they are producing – an annual survey, or some Ministerial Correspondence. This makes it harder for them to understand whether their content is targeted correctly and also means they place much lower emphasis on what they are communicating online – what isn’t measured isn’t managed or valued.
Now with social media in the picture, web reporting needs to jump to a higher level of competency. While agencies might have made some steps to ensure that various areas of their business are receiving reports on the content they are providing through websites, the new frontier is to provide them with actionable information on what people are saying about their programs and policies across the broader web.
This helps areas within agencies not only assess how people are responding to the information they do provide online, but also gives them some understanding of what questions and issues are being discussed due to the lack of content.
In other words, web reporting helps tell agencies the quality and effectiveness of their own website content. Social media reporting helps tell agencies about the community’s content needs beyond existing content.
The benefits to agencies of this social media monitoring are immense, not only can we capture known unknowns, but also the unknown unknowns – intelligence that could shape the entire way a program or campaign is designed and communicated.
It is also very important to differentiate social media monitoring from media monitoring – something that is getting harder to do as media monitoring companies move to bundle social within their media offerings.
Media monitoring tracks what commentators say about an agency and its activities when posturing to a broad audience.
Social media monitoring tracks what your customers and stakeholders are saying about an agency and its activities to each other.
In other words social media monitoring can provides a granular and specific view on what your actual customers think and understand about specific programs and how they interact with them in the real world, while media monitoring only provides a shallow reputational view on what people are saying for an audience – which may simply be an act.
So while there is a clear incentive for Online and Communication teams to roll social media monitoring in as an extension to (traditional) media monitoring, it can be dangerous to consider the intelligence received through both avenues in the same light.
As agencies get better at both web reporting and social media monitoring, and develop standardised ways to communicate actionable insights to the right people, at the right time, we’re likely to see more ability for the groups providing these insights to have meaningful influence on agency decisions. This is right and proper – better information leads to better decisions and outcomes.
However it is up to Communication and Online teams and their leadership to recognise how web and social monitoring can advance their ability to positively influence decisions and take the lead on providing insights, otherwise they will find themselves on the margins as more traditional numbers-orientated disciplines take over the responsibility for these activities.