Public relations professionals are the creators and curators of narratives that engage audiences and shape public perceptions of companies, brands, and issues.
In today's complex and rapidly evolving media environment, protecting the integrity of carefully crafted narratives as they are reshaped, repackaged, and retold by others through myriad social media channels is central to the PR function. As more engagement with brands and the conversations about them shift from traditional to social channels, social media monitoring and analytics need to be seen as important to all aspects of the PR process – from winning business, to planning and execution, to demonstrating PR value and business impact.
In an economic environment that is increasingly defined by uncertainty and risk aversion, there is security in numbers. As the battle wages on over which marketing discipline is best suited to own social media, PR agencies must use social media analytics to position PR as the discipline best able to start and influence the conversations that engage communities and drive business results. Social media analytics are also increasingly vital to effective storytelling and brand stewardship.
Social media offers an almost limitless source of data and insights into what matters to people and the types of stories that will not only move them to act, but move them to act differently. Social media analytics are also analogous to a canary in a coal mine, alerting agencies and their clients in real-time to immediate and potential dangers ahead. This sort of insight can dramatically improve agencies' ability to help clients manage and mitigate crises. For these reasons, PR agencies must be intimately tuned-in to the communities where client-relevant conversations are taking place and mining those communities for intelligence.
Finally, there is the role that social media analytics play, or should play, in PR program evaluation and measurement. The pressure to demonstrate business results and the demand for PR measurement have never been greater. As the industry shifts away from measuring outputs to measuring outcomes, PR's ability to engage audiences, shape opinions, and drive behaviors is often quantifiable and trackable in social media. Thus, the wealth of behavioral and attitudinal data available through these channels will become increasingly important to how agencies monitor campaign performance and how clients measure success.
It is no longer a question of whether PR agencies should provide social media analytics to clients, but rather how and how frequently these analytics should be provided to inform strategy, shape stories, and demonstrate results.
Allyson Hugley is EVP for measurement and analytics at Weber Shandwick.