Social Listening in Practice: PR Measurement

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In this guide, we’ll share how PR professionals can quantify PR efforts and:

  • How to track your organization’s reputation, easily
  • Quick wins for PR tracking online
  • Real case studies from brands who have used online PR to measure success

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Public Relations (PR) has become an increasingly important strategic discipline in the marketing mix. We are in a content-heavy era. As consumers, we are bombarded with images, video, audio and other forms of messaging from brands and organizations. Networked and peerto-peer communications has exploded with the mass adoption of social media.

In this era, ‘earned attention’ is as important and as valued as paid message placement or interruptive marketing. But, that earned attention in the media and social media has to enhance reputations rather than destroy them. Data breaches, tax avoidance and ethical/environmental issues and messages can certainly reach people and affect their perception, but they can also bring companies down.

PR professionals are ‘earned attention’ and reputation specialists. They have the skills to understand which content and messaging earns attention and how to orchestrate the different elements of brand or organizational reputation. They also understand influence and how to work the networks in which brand messages spread and get amplified.

The Charted Institute of Public Relations defines Public Relations as:

  • Public Relations is about reputation - the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you.
  • Public Relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behavior.
  • It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organization and its publics.

In this guide, we’ll be looking at how PR professionals can now quantify PR efforts in a whole new way, using examples, case studies and showing you tips and tricks.

Understanding PR Measurement

What’s The Value Of Reputation?

Organizations understand that everything they or their employees, customers and stakeholders do or say, across every single channel, has implications for their perception and reputation.

A positive reputation is arguably the most valuable intangible asset that a firm can possess. Firms with favorable reputations are more attractive to investors, customers, suppliers, exchange partners and employees; this attractiveness yields price, cost, and selection advantages, and it often persists over time

Reuber, R. and Fischer, Eileen, 2007:54, Rotman Magazine

Although an organization or brand’s reputation can’t really have a monetary price attached to it, it does have a value. That value comes into sharp focus in times of reputational crisis. The link between a good reputation as an intangible asset and strong financial performance is understood by business leaders.

Measuring reputation and understanding the reasons for positive or negative change amongst different audiences is now a central piece of management information in many organizations. This guide highlights the importance of tracking reputation and provides some helpful guidance.

How To Define The Value Of Reputation

At its most basic, PR is about an organization’s reputation. But, crucially, it’s actually about that organization’s reputation amongst specific groups of people. Some organizations may focus on how they’re perceived by politicians, but others might pay more attention to their reputation amongst potential customers or clients.

Some PR programs talk almost exclusively to financial audience, while others focus exclusively on parenting media and bloggers. It follows that to effectively track PR, you need to find ways of tracking reputation, across and within any number of tightly-defined groups of people.

The Barcelona Principles

Before digital tracking and evaluation tools existed, the PR industry struggled to find a set of metrics to track reputation and adequately demonstrate the value of a sustained positive reputation. Many tried to present the value of PR in a context and framework defined by the cost of advertising. For many years Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE) was the ‘go to’ definition for valuing PR.

If a campaign generated a half page of coverage in a national newspaper, the advertising value equivalent would be defined as the rate card cost of a half page advertisement in that newspaper, multiplied by a factor to account for editorial ‘having more credibility’ than advertising. This one-size-fits-all value of coverage was sometimes further weighted to reflect other variables, including favorability, use of a spokesperson, reflection of a brand’s key messages etc. It remained a very blunt metric which never really measured ‘reputation’. Rather, it valued and pitched PR coverage against advertising.

In 2013, representatives from the PR industry globally gathered in Barcelona to agree the following principles:

  • Goal setting and measurement are important
  • Media measurement requires quantity and quality
  • AVEs are not the value of public relations
  • Social media can and should be measured
  • Measuring outcomes is preferred to measuring media results (outputs)
  • Organizational results and outcomes should be measured whenever possible
  • Transparency and replicability are paramount to sound measurement.

These ‘Barcelona Principles’ now underpin best-practice approach for measuring PR both online and offline.

How To Measure PR

By blending the definitions of PR and the Barcelona Principles, it’s possible to build a strong framework to use to evaluate virtually any PR activity. The starting point for such a framework is to differentiate between output, out-take and outcome measures.


PR Outputs can measure what an organization does, e.g. send out 4 press releases, create 2 customer testimonial videos, present at 4 conferences, attend 2 tradeshows, write 4 blog posts per month, upload 10 Instagram videos/photos per month.


PR out-takes measure how people think differently about a business or brand after exposure to any PR activity. This can be measured by association of a brand or organization with key attributes, for example, ‘Innovative’ or ‘Reliable’. It can also be measured by a change in sentiment towards a brand or organization – usually quantified as positive, negative or neutral, e.g. “Customer service at my bank branch used to be great. It’s now consistently dire.” Or “their mobile banking app is so much easier to use now.”


In our increasingly data-rich and digital world, the key metric that many organizations want to report on is outcomes – what people actually do differently as a result of exposure to communications. These can be measurable actions such as attending an event, donating to charity or buying a product in store or online. They can also be changes in behavior such as actively quitting smoking or using public transport more frequently.

Like all the best evaluation frameworks, the right metrics to track depend entirely on the business objectives, which, if they follow the SMART framework will be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Timebound

An organization might have any number of PR objectives and target audiences at any one stage, so they may have many different PR tracking dashboards running concurrently.

We look in much more detail at applying SMART objectives to campaign evaluation in our Campaign Measurement guide. The Campaign Measurement guide looks at evaluating a broad range of online communications activities, ranging from improved customer service to lead-generation.

The ‘Quick Wins’ For Tracking Pr Online

Less than a decade ago, PR professionals used to read and summarize every piece of print media and employ monitoring agencies to track TV and radio coverage. They would identify mentions or ‘coverage’ of their product/brand/service or named senior executives which could impact their business.

It was a resource-heavy and expensive process. Smaller businesses simply could not afford the monitoring agencies, PR tracking tools or the time it took to create the reports. Organizations with sizeable budgets would use PR and media monitoring to contextualize their business. They would undertake competitor and gap analysis to identify opportunities and threats.

Reputation couldn’t be tracked explicitly. By looking at the volume of coverage, whether a brand’s key-messages were included as well as the type of media where the mention took place, e.g. trade media vs national newspaper, PR practitioners would create reports which showed a company’s reputation, albeit through the prism of journalism. Those dashboards tended to focus on:

  • Volume of coverage of pre-defined of keywords and key messages
  • Sentiment associated with those keywords – whether the mentions were positive, negative or neutral
  • Momentum associated to those keywords – how quickly either volume or sentiment changes over time

Today’s PR tracking dashboards tend to be based on those same key areas, but the improvements of social media and online monitoring and analytics technology has improved the PR tracking landscape in three distinct ways:

1. Volume of Data

There is simply a staggering amount of content and platforms to analyze. The days of focusing on a media list of 50 or even 100 publications are over. Every individual is now a publisher. The data set is massive.

2. Speed of Automation

Much more of what can be monitored can now be automated, and results delivered analyzed and ‘cut’ in real-time. The dashboards can be extremely complicated as a result but can enable PR professionals to quickly accumulate enough intelligence to make informed decisions.

3. More detailed audiences and audience groups

Individuals or groups of people who influence an organization’s reputation, can be tracked and at scale, rather than just media outlets, journalists and analysts.

Improvement to tracking and analytics technology has been revolutionary for the Public Relations and Communications industry.

More detailed reputational -tracking dashboards can now be applied across niche audiences and individual influencers, as well as the journalist -led media, which defined much of PR for the last 50+ years.

The reputation of an organization can now be tracked amongst groups of people including analysts, employees, bloggers, celebrities, legislators, people living nearby, potential purchasers, or even ‘people who like our competitors’.

And it’s possible to overlay factors like geo-locations, monthly visitors, sentiment, impact, site ranking and other traffic data.

Tracking public relations and reputation online still involves tracking the volume of keywords and the sentiment/momentum associated with them. But the challenge is to identify the right keywords and groups of keywords, the right audiences to track - and then apply the right analytics tools.

There’s also the challenge of demonstrating whether a change in reputation leads to a change in behavior – but we’ll cover this a little later.

Grouping Reputation Themes And Defining Audiences

Most companies already know the areas or issues that they will want to track their reputation against.

They will also be clear about their areas of strength and weakness, perhaps in relation to their competitors, and may have created a hierarchy of reputation themes to track. Social listening tools make it relatively easy to set up strings of keywords to track and then associate with specific themes.

For example, an insurance company might be interested in their how they are perceived by different groups of customers for a number of specific themes – e.g. price, value for money, customer service, or innovation.

An oil or gas company might want to benchmark their reputation over time amongst a very different group of stakeholders including MPs or Congressmen, journalists, councilors, and residents of an area that they plan to survey. It also will wish to compete for global talent and to be seen as a potential employment choice for specific people at different stages of their career or for those completing their education.

It would also set up groups of keywords to track, including their company, brand and variants of keywords including: graduate scheme, mentorship, diversity and inclusion etc.

By cross-referring the number of times their specific keywords were used and the sentiment associated with them, across the different stakeholder groups over a distinct period of time, both companies could learn which topics were of most interest to which groups of stakeholders.

They then should use this intelligent data to review their communications efforts to target specific stakeholders. For reputation specialists the ability to drill down into data is a powerful thing. Geo-location, sentiment, impact, monthly visitors, site ranking and other traffic data can help inform the communications strategy.

Reputation-tracking still isn’t an exact science, however the more time spent setting up effective searches amongst tightly defined audiences at the start of a project, the more useful the results will be.

Many tools currently rely on keyword-matching to sift through millions of pieces of data every day. But image-matching isn’t too far behind – and this will add a whole other level of information and intelligence to PR tracking. It does take time to set up keywords and groups accurately. The data-set is so large that results can be skewed if they’re not set up with thought and care.

When it comes to measuring sentiment, it’s particularly hard to create effective systems, but the science behind it is evolving all the time. Computers do find it hard to understand the subtleties and nuances of language, but it’s also true that at the boundaries, different people will also disagree about the strength of sentiment attached to a particular phrase. Sentiment can only rarely be described in absolutes – it is a sliding scale.

It is often more insightful, and certainly more simple, to focus on what people are saying at the extremes, rather than in the middle of the spectrum. This sometimes translates into objectives to raise the amount of very positive sentiment and/or minimize the very negative.

Crisis And Issues Tracking

Many organizations also use social listening to identify any potential issues that could develop into crises. Tracking keywords or phrases that brands don’t wish to be associated with can be just as illuminating and important as searching for phrases that they want to track.

If a clothing retailer or technology company is associated with “child labor” or “sweatshop conditions” then the sooner they’re aware of these associations, the sooner they can take action to understand and address the criticism. We’ve also written a helpful guide on the topic for further reading.

Influencing Opinion And Behavior

So far we’ve focused on measuring awareness and opinion (outputs and out-takes), but where possible, organizations should define the effectiveness of their PR by the outcomes it generates – what people do differently, as well as what they say or think differently.

Clearly, different organizations want to prompt people to do different things and many of these can be tracked on and offline, in a way that they couldn’t be tracked 10 years ago. These actions will include website or store visits and other sales-funnel activity, which could be measured by combining Brandwatch and web or sales analytics data. It could also include more campaign-based, behavioral outcomes. We’ll look at some examples now.

Case Study: The UK Energy Industry Carbon Monoxide PR Campaign

In 2012/13 The UK Energy Industry wanted to raise awareness about the safety benefits of fitting a carbon monoxide alarm in homes across the UK. They developed a PR and social media campaign ‘Carbon Monoxide – Be Alarmed!’, to communicate the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning, encouraging homeowners to be aware of the risks and to take preventative action.

The campaign was run by the Energy Trust – the UK trade association for energy providers. They couldn’t accurately track sales of alarms – these would have been purchased from a number of different retailers, websites and stores nationwide. However, they could track online interest in the campaign, and specifically, two of the key messages they wanted people to understand and take action around, i.e. how to find out more about the dangers of carbon monoxide and where to buy a carbon monoxide alarm.

Not only did the campaign succeed in generating traditional and online media coverage nationwide and an increase in positive sentiment, but it also generated a spike in web searches for ‘carbon monoxide alarms’ in the UK at launch and for some time beyond. People were clearly doing something different as a result of the PR campaign - the media coverage and social media amplification were encouraging people to take action, search for the symptoms and the specific alarms (outcomes).

When Washington State voters passed Initiative 502 in November 2012 legalizing adult possession and recreational use of marijuana, the Seattle Police Department realized they had a huge Public Relations task on their hands – to explain the law and educate the public to help ensure compliance with the new regulations.

Using a mix of communications channels, and adopting a humorous tone, the Seattle Police Department delivered the award-winning communications campaign, ‘Marijiwhatnow?’ The campaign delivered tangible results.

In terms of outputs, some of their highlights included a blog post which received more than 450,000 pageviews. Their #operationorangefingers Doritos sampling and public message communications achieved more than 59 million impressions.

The sentiment for the campaign was almost universally positive. But the Seattle PD are justifiably just as pleased with the outcomes of their PR campaign – most of which can’t be measured online. Although there were local concerns that implementing Initiative 502 might cause marijuana-related offenses to increase, internal crime data showed that residents had largely complied with the law. The communications campaign had achieved its objectives.

Of course, it’s incredibly hard to attribute specific actions and outcomes to specific campaigns only, but using a social listening tool alongside other analytics - particularly when only two or three communications channels are being used at any one time - can be particularly illuminating.

A study which records a one-time increase in sentiment amongst a specific niche audience, e.g. fashion vloggers, followed by an increase in sales amongst the target audience, might not indicate a causal link, but such correlations could be tested and used to influence future communications campaigns. In this instance the company might consider trialing a larger sampling campaign amongst fashion vloggers rather than spending a similar budget on an advertising campaign.

Case Study: President Obama, Selfie-Sticks and PR Tracking

Dan Pfeiffer was the Senior Advisor to President Obama for Strategy and Communications. In an interview on about the changing role of communications/social media in White House Communications he highlighted a number of the reputational improvements amongst certain demographics after taking President Obama, and some of his initiatives, onto new platforms.

When asked about tracking, evaluation and metrics, he said:

We were able to track the people who clicked from the link at the end of the “Between Two Ferns” video [on Funny or Die with Galifianakis], and it led to a huge spike in people actually filling out applications to sign up for healthcare. On the Buzzfeed video we had a massive increase in Facebook referrals to”

How To Present Reputation To Clients Or Colleagues

Reputation is nebulous concept. It’s not like money, or weight. And because different aspects of an organization’s reputation are more or less important depending on which audience you’re talking to, reputation can’t be measured on one simple index like the Dow Jones or FTSE can.

Different organizations have tried to develop simple proxy scores over the years to make it easier to provide a read-across for colleagues in different disciplines, but there is no onesize fits all approach. No single metric for reputation. For that reason, different organizations use different dashboards to present their findings internally. As we mentioned earlier, these may include tracking of specific keywords and audience groups associating a brand or organization with specific attributes, e.g. ‘Innovative’ or ‘Reliable’.

And by presenting consistent, simple metrics on a regular basis, it is possible to track and then account for changes in reputation, and possibly also to impute a value for PR. When Brandwatch analyzed the clothing retailer H&M’s generic reputation in 2013 across UK, Germany and Mexico, the reputation findings fell under three categories:

  • Service perception
  • Brand reputation
  • Purchase motivation

This type of dashboard, particularly if it is repeated on a regular basis to illustrate change is a good template on which to track reputation. Clearly, the audience chosen for this analysis were all consumers across these three markets. But the template could be applied to and presented to track smaller and more specific audiences and more detailed, actionable insights.

For example, when we drilled down to understand some of the other reputational issues which affected the brand, we found that many consumers - particularly in Mexico - didn’t trust their sizing compared to other suppliers.

The future for measuring and tracking PR and reputation

The PR industry struggled for many years to demonstrate its impact and value. Other marketing disciplines have developed their own measurement methodologies which have become both trusted and accepted by the C-suite.

It’s only really with the advent of online tracking and the imposition of the Barcelona Principles, that the tools are really available to produce PR ‘reputation’ frameworks and dashboards. As we’ve stated, there is no one-size-fits-all methodology for defining reputation. And there probably never will be. An organization’s reputation depends on too many factors – many of which are purely subjective.

But, by defining keywords and clear audience groups, it is certainly now possible to put together campaign and ongoing PR measurement dashboards that monitor and measure an organization’s reputation over time with the stakeholders that matter most. Using Brandwatch’s analytics tools, often in combination with other proprietary data and analytics tools, can also help draw inferences and conclusions based on outcomes and actions, rather than just outputs.

The next phase of tracking and evaluating reputation and PR may well be to try and understand the interplay between ‘paid-for’ and ‘earned’ attention/coverage to learn the optimum mix for different organizations wishing to improve their reputation and increase reach and sales.

Understanding reputation and how people express sentiment differently through images and emojis in social media is also high on the agenda when it comes to developing a broader understanding of an organization’s reputation. The subtle differences in the implied meaning of these symbols, colors and icons from culture to culture is complex and challenging for global brands.

But for now, for organizations wishing to understand how they can track PR and reputation online should take advantage of the technology available and get testing on a campaign at the very least. We hope this guide has shown you how.

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