The Canadian Public Relations Society

Evaluating the Importance of Social Media

In public relations, Social Media on May 28, 2010 at 9:23 pm

With social media changing the public relations and communications landscape, many public relations practitioners are asking, “how can we evaluate the importance of social media?”

Before evaluating the importance of social media, it is essential to determine why an organization has decided to join a social networking site. If the answer is, “because everybody else is doing it,” it’s time to revisit the objectives, risks, threats and opportunities of social media for your organization. Social media is not for every organization and should not be implemented to “keep up with the Jones’.”

Before entering an online community, an organization should ask the following questions: Are there already web communities that talk about the company, product or industry? How does the social media plan reach out to these communities and how will they react? What does the organization know about the audience online?

After meeting each question with a meaningful and strategic answer, objectives and goals for a social media plan can be set.

Many organizations make the mistake of having an objective such as receiving 100 fans on Facebook by July 1, 2010. Unfortunately, this will not be effective because it is unclear whether the target audience is engaged in discussion or what the level of feedback is. If the company achieves the above objective, it does not mean that the audience is responding to messaging or is active in conversation. As a result, the public relations method of outcome over output must be applied to measure the overall impact of the social media strategy.

For example, if the user or company has 100 fans on Facebook, it is important to determine what the outcome is of having these fans. It then becomes important to monitor the number of hits to a link, the number of posts that the audience responds to, the number of events that are created and the number of photos that are uploaded (depending on the outlet).

Ultimately, by being involved in social media, the impact and level of engagement can be measured by the call to action, meaning determining what the users did as a result of the involvement of social media. Internally, the organization can and should create its own objectives to measure the success of the social media involvement. However, it is extremely important to also monitor and measure the overall impact, outcome and level of engagement of the users. The user and company can also measure the outcome by asking, “were we able to participate in a discussion with our target audience and learn more about them?” If company is able to answer yes to the question, and the call to actions and feedback is monitored, the organization is able to evaluate the impact and importance of social media.

So the next time someone asks why your company is or isn’t online, be sure to have a meaningful answer. With the changing public relations landscape, be a leader and not a follower.

Jill Lesser is a recent graduate of the public relations program at Mount Royal University and an active user of social media.

  1. I have heard many say ask the question “WHY”, not “WHAT” (followers etc.). It is the WHY – the goals – that will determine why a person or a company should be online and what they will be doing online, it is strategic.

    • Great point Shannon. “Why” should always proceed the “what.”

      And while I think every professional communicator should understand social media, it is clear to me that not every organization should be using it. “Where is the your audience? (or target market, if we’re speaking in marketing lingo) and “how do you best reach that audience?” are two additional strategic questions to ask before selecting any medium.

  2. […] found an article with interesting insight on the matter of PR and social media in the Canadian Public Relations […]

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