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Measuring communication impact the right way

Can you imagine sales without sales analysis? Imagine production lines running without measurement? Finance without appraisal of volumes and spend? Quantitive and qualitative analysis is common place and integral across the enterprise but despite the high spend within communication functions, measuring is a nascent science.

Why do we communicate at all?

Before we look at measurement, we need to look at the point of the communications. Why do we communicate?

To connect: Decades of research in social psychology have shown that people communicate with others to form and strengthen social bonds. At a corporate level, we communicate to connect and engage with employees, customers or stakeholders

To influence: We communicate to change opinions, behaviours, actions or emotions.

To help: In the early days of mankind, communication was about helping people survive. It was all about staying alive – avoiding predators, finding food, keeping warm and staying healthy. Coincidently, some employee communications are about these things now as companies look to improve the collective physical health of colleagues, but we’re more likely to communicate simply to be helpful and improve efficiencies.

We’re not measuring the right things

Digital Communications — my core discipline — often leads the way on communication analysis due to the prevalence of numbers and the ease of study. From intranets to social media, nearly all digital channels have numbers that allow us to understand the impact of our communication routines, but all too often we measure the wrong things.

Too often we measure the outputs of our communications as these numbers are readily available and give an indication of impact. Typical examples I’ve seen would include page views on websites, followers on social channels or social shares such a retweets.

These numbers though do not talk to the reasons why we communicate or reflect upon the efficacy of the communication itself. We need to measure the outcomes.

Imagine a change communication email designed to switch your clients from process A to process B. Typical measurements might include how many times that email was opened or about the percentage of key audience it reached. These are output measures: casually interesting, but pointless in measuring communication impact.

Better is to look at the outcome. How many more people are using process B? What is the timeline for the switch and at current levels, when might we be able to retire process A? The point of our communication was to switch the process that folks use so that should be our measure of success.

There is no doubt that these numbers are significantly harder to assess but if we believe in our communication prowess, we should measure ourselves against the statistics that really matter.

We’re not measuring in the right way

We’re working in a matrix communication world, often deploying several different channels to ensure that the message hits. Take this blog post for example. I’ll post on the site and subscribers will read; I’ll share via Twitter and also via LinkedIn. This matrix approach means that if my audience misses the message once, they may well catch it via another.

However, as communicators, we often measure in the vertical, analysing email, Twitter, our .com in isolation from each other, mostly because of the rather singular view that the reporting tools provide.

We need to measure horizontally across the communication matrix. Measure the outcomes of your communication as one horizon in each of the channels you deployed to really understand the impact and gain useful insights into audience behaviours.

Summary

Let’s state the obvious: there’s much we can learn from good measurement that demonstrates the impact of our communication in the present, but also to shape future comms. Take the time to analyse and learn.

There is an obvious space for a communication analyst role to process these complicated data sources in the future. Digital channels generate volumes of data points but without talented expert eyes on them, the numbers are hollow.

Let me know if your team have such an analyst role. What are you or your team doing to measure communication impact through outcomes rather than outputs?