Friday, October 16, 2009

Modern Day PR Monitoring and Evaluation

Practitioners have monitored the environment affecting their clients forever. It’s what we do. Today we have more to monitor and we have to do it faster.

Most know how much of a challenge monitoring this is. Most have their ‘Google Alerts’, their blog and Twitter monitors and the daily updates from Linkedin groups. These are augmented with online media (web based publications) and media online (print publications with online content) and subscriptions to all manner of news services to supplement the daily John Humphreys pre-breakfast fest, newspaper, magazine, radio, TV and press clips.

The internet stream of consciousness seems endlessly oppressive because the practitioner needs to follow all the conversations while the users only follow one or two. It is, all too often, unmanageable and is, mostly, not very comprehensive.

Even with Tweetdeck and Feedreader going full blast, professional communication and relationship advisors are blithely ignorant of all but a fraction of web pages that mention their clients. Does, for example, PR Week see all of the citations that are published about it online at the rate of one every 90 seconds 24/7?

The truth is that after the news, blog, twitter, social networks and discussion list citations, the string of website references, comment in new channels and machine generated content is mostly factors larger. The client’s online web cloud grows every day. It is a competitive asset and creates a footprint for all to follow and affects the algorithms of search engines that make organisations searchable and famous. Klea Labs which is a new interest of mine has interesting capabilities such as its Web to IM service which provides real time monitoring of 'everything'.

For most organisations, more than half of online content appearing each day online is not monitored, measured or evaluated. In addition in an era of Real Time web, Twitter, is the nearest most organisations get to following the movers and shakers of internet reputation in real time.

Too much Too much, I can hear a whole profession cry. Yes, we do have to bring order to all this stuff and this is where there can be a happy marriage between PR and technology. All the content can be sorted into the different generics such that your Facebook content is not confused with your tweets.

Even when some practitioners get this information, is it enough in a digital age?

Far from it. In fact such a view of client publics would probably be misleading. The impression would be, as Colin Farrington once described it “ill-informed, rambling descriptions of the tedious details of life or half-baked comments on political, sporting or professional issues. They read like a mixture of the ramblings of the eponymous Pub Landlord and the first draft of a second rate newspaper column.”

But this is to take and overview of all the conversations of all the Pub Landlords and all columnists. Out of context they do seem banal. But once you are immersed in the community where these comments are made, they make sense and are about real people and the issues in their lives.

This means that monitoring is only part of the story. The content we read needs to be evaluated and evaluated in context.

As long ago as 2007, Read Write Web was discussing the importance of semantics to Google. It is semantics that allows us to make sense of content in context. For ten years I have been involved in semantic developments which provided the technology behind the relationship management research presented at the Bledcom PR conference this year. In PR, semantic analysis is a boon. It provides ways in which computers can mimic human needs. It is not able to completely second guess human understanding but it takes a lot of the hard work out of gaining actionable insights.

We have now come a long way from monitoring online content using tools like Google Alerts and RSS feeds to monitoring all web content in near real time then evaluating for actionable insights in context.

In 1995 it was quite hard to speak to a public relations audience to get understanding that the internet was going to change PR practice. Not many in the industry waited with bated breath for the findings of the CIPR/PRCA internet Commission in 2000. Few practitioners believed the world wide web was more than a fad. Only a minority agreed these developments would change our profession forever. Fourteen years and three online PR books later it still remains challenging.

Asking readers of PRWeek to move to a point where you can begin to believe that technologies will mediate in PR practice is a big ask but that is where I believe we are going.