This article originally appeared in the January 25, 2016 issue of PR News.

Frequently I am asked about PR dashboards. Typically I answer the question with another one: Do you want an online real-time dashboard or do you prefer data visualization on a slide or two in your monthly reports?

That question needs to be asked because PR pros seem to use the word dashboard loosely. So the question: What is a PR dashboard?

The deliverables—and the cost—for these options are quite different.

An Online Dashboard: Frequently positioned as “anytime, anywhere,” it provides the bells and whistles to showcase your brand’s media success in real time. The best let you slice and dice data to your heart’s content.

In an instant, you can see how you stack up against competitors, find out if your coverage is trending positive, or learn who owns a topic in the media. You can discover the most up-to-date list of influencers in conversations that are important to you, determine which words are most frequently associated with your brand, and view content in different media channels.

In some cases, with just a click you can review results in various geographies and languages.

With a couple of keyboard strokes, you can open your online dashboard on your computer, phone or tablet. Or you might want to have large projections on the walls in your command center to immediately see reactions to breaking news, or just to track trends during a meeting.

ONLINE DASHBOARD: On the wall, often it's used as a critical function of a PR command center or war room. Photo Credit: Brandwatch

"On the wall, it’s often used as a critical function of a PR command center or war room.”

Users love these shiny toys. But online dashboards can range from $2,000–$25,000/month, depending on features and pricing structures.

The high cost makes an online dashboard truly valuable when PR pros spend time viewing and analyzing data regularly, discovering things that can drive strategy and improve outcomes.

Data Visualized in a Monthly Report: More frequently, when people ask for a dashboard they simply want one slide in the executive summary of their monthly reports to visualize PR results.

DATA VISUALIZED: Slides in monthly reports are far less costly.

The content of that slide depends on your communications and business goals, and what constitutes success for your brand.

For example, you might want the first slide to be a visual of winning metrics—those that demonstrate your best media achievements that month. Or you might want to display charts with business metrics and high-level insights to share with senior leadership, instead of sending a lengthy, time-consuming report to read. You could also show charts with your data on one slide and competitive intelligence on another.

The cost of a dashboard slide or two is typically included in monthly reporting fees, and as a static visualization, it is considerably less expensive than an interactive online version. However, this type of dashboard won’t help you evaluate trends in real time and lacks the anywhere, anytime capabilities.

Making a Choice: As you can see, these dashboards are dissimilar and serve very different needs. The best way to determine which dashboard will be most valuable to you is to answer the following questions: What is the purpose of a dashboard? Real-time view of data regardless of the time of day or your location, or monthly analysis of performance success? Do you have a command center? Are you involved in crisis communications? What is your budget? What are your business and communications goals? What represents PR success to you?

With either choice, your dashboard should help assess the influence of your PR programs on your brand awareness and reputation. By connecting actions to outcomes, your dashboard should indicate trends and PR successes while identifying opportunities to drive future strategic decisions.

Margot Savell, SVP, Head of Global Measurement, Research+Data Insights. Margot also serves as the North America Co-Chair of the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication

This article originally appeared in the December 7, 2015 issue of PR News.

The magnitude and reach of social media conversations can make analytics overwhelming, complex and expensive. But it doesn’t have to be.

Instead of trying to analyze every person’s posts, in every community, on every media channel, focus your measurement on the influential but mighty few.

Evaluating influencers is not only more effective than tracking the universe of social media, but also less time-consuming and less costly.

Influencers are those coveted people who have the reputation and power of persuasion to sway others with their opinions. They represent opportunities to shape perceptions about your corporate and brand reputation, along with your products and solutions.

This approach underlines the old saying, “It’s quality, not quantity that counts.” Often phrases become adages for a reason—they remain true over time.

Finding All The Right People In All The Right Places

Pitching quality influencers has long been in the PR toolkit. A major tenet of media relations always has been to target influential print and broadcast journalists, analysts, newsmakers, subject-matter experts, academics and other thought leaders. So it’s not surprising that the same best practice applies to the additional influencers in social media.

But first, you have to find them.

Start with research to learn where your key audiences are engaging in social media. If you already know this, you are one step ahead.

Next, determine who are the influencers leading conversations about your key topics in these channels. Analyze competitive brands to determine their influencers and the subjects discussed. Not surprisingly, areas of expertise are more important than demographics or geographies in social media.

Keep in mind that influence is more than the size of someone’s social footprint. The subjects of conversation and the frequency and engagement of those discussions also factor into the identification process. Finding influencers who have the most significant voice, and are passionate about your brand or your industry, is ideal.

There are many tools that can help you: identification tools such as Traackr and Appinions, or listening platforms such as Brandwatch, NetBase, Radian6, Sysomos, Visible Technologies and Zignal, to name a few.

Harnessing The Power Of Influencers

Once you’ve identified influencers, the next step is to get to know them. There are some key steps to take.

1. Listen to Their Conversations: Don’t just jump in and pitch. Spend time observing their opinions about topics that are important to them.

2. Participate in Discussions: Share your views on their topics before telling them about the topics that are important to you.

3. Reply: Engage with people who talk about those subjects.

A huge part of social media is spreading content to others [see the book Spreadable Media by Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford and Joshua Green]. Share influencers’ relevant content with your audiences.

One way to approach initial engagement with influencers is to act in the same way that you do with strangers at a networking event. When you see an animated group of people whom you don’t know but would like to, you proceed with caution. You usually avoid jumping right into the conversation and giving your opinion. You wait, listen and eventually provide anecdotes and insight. The same holds true for influencer engagement.

Or think of social media as a corporate cocktail party. Your influential guests will stay only if the conversation is valuable and interesting.

Analyzing Influencer Conversations

At the same time you are building rapport with these influencers, conduct a media analysis of their conversations, and use the baseline findings as a benchmark to measure results over time.

After you have cultivated strong relationships, it’s time to evaluate their social conversations again. Develop a measurement program to capture what they are saying about your company, your brand and its products, in addition to their opinions about your competitors.

Create a consistent plan of monthly measurement, so you can analyze results and outcomes, and use these findings to adjust your messages, craft content, refine your strategies and engage further with them.

An ongoing influencer measurement program follows the same ten steps as any other measurement program [please see my column of October 26, 2015]. The only difference is that you are analyzing a smaller group of influencers instead of what could be an overwhelming and complicated universe of social media conversations.

Influencer analysis provides a strategic road map to the media landscape, but beware, directions might change frequently. New influencers enter the scene, existing influencers move in other directions and topics of interest shift. Ongoing measurement helps you stay current with these changes; you also should update your influencer lists every quarter, if not more often.

In summary, the volume of posts and tweets to measure and analyze need not be complex, time-consuming or overwhelming. A successful solution is to measure the impact of your social media effort with the few but mighty influencers in your industry.

Margot Savell, SVP, Head of Global Measurement, Research+Data Insights. Margot also serves as the North America Co-Chair of the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication