When describing the growth of new-media channels - from digital TV to networking sites such as You Tube -
commentators often use the word ‘explosion'. It is a cliché, but it aptly illustrates the pace of change.
Perhaps surprisingly, it could also be applied to the growth of traditional media. According to media directory Brad, the past decade has seen the number of TV channels treble and the number of radio stations double. And there has been a 28 per cent increase in the number of newspapers.
Although the supply of both ‘old' and ‘new' channels has increased, data shows people favouring the latter. Ofcom revealed in last year's ‘Communications Market' report that between 2005 and 2006, total TV reach had declined for the first time, as the UK public increasingly went online for their news. Meanwhile, the share of media consumption via digital means (broadband, cable and online) doubled to 10.5 per cent.
If this wasn't enough, the latest approximate blog count is 68 million.
A big problem
But all of these channels - and the consumption data that come with them - are causing a problem for media monitors. Many believe there is simply too much to monitor effectively.
George Hutchinson, director of external affairs at Tube Lines - the company responsible for rebuilding and maintaining London Underground's Piccadilly, Jubilee and Northern Lines - says coping with the number of channels is not his only problem. Worse is the impact on ‘keyword' research. For instance, if Hutchinson searches all media for the phrase ‘London Underground', the results yield too many passing mentions. So, instead of sifting through a selection of news articles, he is also presented with reams of material in which bloggers have simply mentioned the fact that, say, they met someone on the Tube last night.
Keir Fawcus, managing director of monitor Precise Media, describes the situation as the ‘Sunday papers syndrome'. He explains: ‘The Sunday papers have grown to include all our possible interests, but they have simply become too big and too unwieldy for most people to manage. Time constraints prevent people from reading everything and consequently we feel under-informed. The same principle applies to PROs and their clients when trying to choose what to monitor. The monitoring companies are having to deal with information overload.'
Jeremy Thompson, managing director of Durrants, says rapid media growth is leaving many PR practitioners concerned that they are ‘losing control of being able to see where their messages are'.
So, if PR professionals are worried, what are the monitoring companies doing about it?
According to Thompson, media monitors are responding to the problem by becoming more sophisticated in the way they track coverage - particularly in the way that they pinpoint the most relevant and influential media. He adds that monitoring companies are actively prioritising certain media, depending on their client, simply because it has become too time-consuming to analyse everything.
Durrants' solution is a five-strong team dedicated to updating media lists in order to, says Thompson, ‘ensure we are monitoring the right media'. Part of the team's remit is also to update circulation data and how it relates to different client briefs.
The area that is achieving the most attention from media monitors is, naturally enough, the blogosphere, where the expansion of sites has been phenomenal. In less than one year there has been a 20 per cent growth in the number of blog sites. With respect for their influence also on the up, monitors are now applying ‘stakeholder analysis' to selected blogs, similar to the way in which they approach print media.
Finding the influencers
One company that has adopted this technique is Market Sentinel. Not only does it scour the internet for all mentions of a particular brand or topic, but it then uses a process called ‘citation indexing'. Commonly used by academics, the indexing highlights the most influential sources of news - in this case, links on blogs.
When all the links are analysed according to the context of the topic, Market Sentinel says it can establish an ‘online network of influence'. PR practitioners are then able to target a campaign at specific sites, knowing it is likely that their message will be spread to many other portals read by the target audience.
According to Market Sentinel CEO Mark Rogers, methods such as these are now invaluable for ‘separating the wheat from the chaff'. He adds: ‘We track the sources of news and conversations to find out who people listen to on a subject and who is the most influential.'
The company recently did this for an anonymous publishing client that wanted to pinpoint influential bloggers on the issue of climate change, ahead of the launch of a book on the subject. Stakeholder analysis identified a number of key sites, including networking portal tribe.net, which features blogs from a number of Californian climate-change experts.
An alternative method is finding which sites are the most active (in terms of story mentions), tracking the story back to where the news first broke, and seeing how it spread.
Precise Media is one exponent of this approach - next month it is launching a suite of products aimed at tracking stories' progress through the World Wide Web.
What to evaluate?
One of the new products is an Online Report service. Precise says the service focuses on breaking news from a wide range of print, broadcast and digital channels, delivering analysis to clients either at specified times or in real time.
Also being readied is the summer launch of an ‘overnight evaluation report' on national press coverage, including details on the impact of regional, trade and online coverage.
In other sectors, PROs recognise that the influence of competing channels varies from week to week.
John McNamara, head of media and PR at the Nuclear Industry Association, says his focus remains on national print and broadcast media, but acknowledges the need to keep a watchful eye on online channels.
He adds: ‘The focus is traditional media but from time to time a story can break online and there are a lot of web experts out there who we need to monitor, such as those working at the Reuters and Dow Jones newswires and energy sector news service Platts. What they publish is often followed up by the mainstream media.'
Precise Media's Fawcus says this flexible approach to media monitoring, and awareness of the fact that a story could break on any number of channels, are vital to keeping track of coverage.
He cites Dell's laptop recall last summer as an example of how effective cross-channel monitoring can help to control the message. ‘This story broke on what we would call "low-reach blogs", which Dell monitored and engaged with before the story broke on "high-reach media" such as newspapers and TV bulletins,' he explains.
Madeleine Kernot, UK managing director of TNS Media Intelligence, reports a familiar problem - that of pinpointing which channels matter. ‘Take blogs,' she says. ‘I know there are several influential ones in France, but are they influential in the UK? The jury is still out on that one.'
The lure of the old
Of concern to others is the fact that although monitoring companies are striving to get on top of the situation, some PROs are still too obsessed with traditional media.
‘Online may be fashionable, but the majority of PR clients still want us to monitor the press,' says Durrants' Thompson. ‘It is still felt that regional and national press have greater influence than any individual blog or podcast.'
Yet in November 2005, TNS Media Intelligence launched Broadcast Eye - a broadcast monitoring service that took information from more than 200 TV and radio stations. It reported on tone of coverage, share of voice by region, and other useful statistics.
It could also reveal whether the share of coverage on radio and TV had changed over specified periods. Last year, however, the service was withdrawn due to lack of demand, and broadcast has remained a difficult channel to monitor.
A ‘perfect opportunity'
Returning to the theme of ‘explosion', Market Sentinel's Rogers says the key to successfully monitoring the ever-changing media landscape is to view growth positively. He says it is a ‘perfect opportunity for brands to see what they are doing well and find out what people are saying about them'.
However, he warns that despite advances in monitoring techniques, there is a limit to what companies such as his can deliver. ‘We can highlight the most important media, but it is up to PR professionals to use that information wisely and ensure they are engaging with those media.'
As well as more traditional media monitoring by channel type, technology sector researcher Apollo lets clients monitor coverage by journalist.
PROs can source this through Apollo's online Journalist Profiler, where users can search the most popular topics by named UK national and regional writers, or search by topic and see which journalists write most about it. It claims to include more than 1,500 journalists, all of whom can be themed according to the topics or companies they most frequently write about.
According to Apollo director Will Arnold, this gives PR professionals a greater insight into which journalists cover which sectors and companies, helping PR people to better target journalists and see which ones have the closest links with rival brands.
Arnold says: ‘We saw this as a gap in the market and it is designed to be complementary to other forms of monitoring research. What this offers is an insight into which titles and journalists are the most important in terms of a particular sector or subject.'
He adds that although the journalists profiled tend to work for traditional media, Apollo is currently looking at how to better include bloggers.
‘It's very early days but a picture is emerging as to which blogs are the most important for a particular sector, and the other sites they are linked to,' Arnold explains.
A sister service is the monthly Europe Apollo survey, which analyses more than 25,000 technology stories a month.
This can produce tailor-made information for clients according to subject or company name, and highlight ‘coverage gaps' in the media targeted.
It is also used to create the Apollo 500, which names the top technology firms according to their UK press coverage.
GROWTH OF CHANNELS
Number of stations in 1993 29
Number of stations in 2006 233
Number of stations in 1999 238
Number of stations in 2006 300
The monitoring problem Durrants MD Jeremy Thompson says: ‘Monitoring radio can still be a time-consuming business, which is why it can often be more expensive than other forms of media monitoring. However, while the emergence of digital radio has increased the number of channels, it has actually made monitoring in this area a great deal easier. With analogue radio, if you wanted to monitor BBC Radio Cumbria, for instance, you would have to be in that area to hear it. Not any more.'
Number of titles in 1993 2,085
Number of titles in 2006 3,445
The monitoring problem Barry Sheen, production manager at The Paperclip Partnership, says: ‘The challenge is that keyword searches still miss out some coverage in consumer press. What we do is offer a more detailed service for our fashion clients to involve staff who know the brands well to look through the coverage themselves. You often have to do this for consumer press as things can get missed.'
Number of titles in 1993 1,847
Number of titles in 2006 2,723
The monitoring problem Madeleine Kernot, TNS Media intelligence UK managing director, says: ‘A lot of the newspapers are supplied to us electronically, which makes them much easier to monitor. I stress that these are electronic versions of the newspapers, not the online versions, which are monitored separately. As they come to us electronically we can not only look for mentions of the client but use keyword recognition to look at specific areas such as message tone.'
Number of blogs in 2003 Ten million
Number of blogs in 2007 68 million
(Source: Durrants and Technorati)
The monitoring problem Mark Rogers, chief executive of Market Sentinel, says: ‘It is often not the blogger who is influential, but bloggers are good at getting information out there where it can be accessed by influential people, such as specialist journalists. The crucial thing is to monitor the blogs but then use that information to better understand them and then engage with them.'
WATCHING THE BLOGOSPHERE
Tim Houghton (pictured, above), managing director of New Media Intelligence, says: ‘The technology is out there to check everything, but because there are more than 60 million blogs, it doesn't serve any purpose checking them all. Instead we find out which are the most important and the most read.'
The online media monitoring specialist seeks to pinpoint the most relevant websites and blogs to monitor by discovering user numbers as a way of determining influence.
To predict influence the firm looks at three variables: the number of links between sites, which sites mention other sites the most, and which sites carry stories that have already been highlighted as being influential. This search for influence will often involve the client, because it is they, says Houghton, ‘who know the sector best, and what phrases we should be tapping into'.
He adds: ‘It also forces them to widen their keyword phrases and think more broadly about how writers might be describing them.'
An example of how New Media Intelligence has used this approach to focus on the most read and most influential sites is its work for defence firm Thales. New Media Intelligence monitors a handpicked shortlist of around 20 to 25 sites for Thales. Houghton says: ‘These are the key sites that we have identified as being influential and the most read in the aerospace industry. They include sites that the client specifically wants us to target.'
Houghton says that although pinpointing the most influential sites is a relatively easy process, he concedes that determining the most read sites can be more difficult, as independently audited data are often hard to come by. This also hampers efforts to take monitoring of online content to another level and monitor by demographic.
‘I would love to offer my clients the chance to do this and search by demographic but there is just too little information at the moment, so it is more something for the future, but I'm sure it will happen,' Houghton adds.
Another form of monitoring that Houghton would like to offer is the ability not just to highlight influential blogs, but to predict which will be influential in the future. He says: ‘Once again I would love to offer that, and as more information becomes available to track the rapid growth of individual blogs then I'm sure it will happen.'
|Click here to listen to Keir Fawcus talk more about modern media monitoring in this week's PRWeek/CTN podcast |