Communicators today are in the fortunate position where data is more abundant than ever; from reputation surveys to campaign measurement tools, business intelligence to employee feedback systems, and from media analysis to owned platform insights. The options for data collection and analytics are endless. However, making sense of this data and consolidating it into a useful system, where insights can be quickly drawn and communicated to leaders throughout the organisation is a daunting task.
A variety of data sources are used by communicators today, each providing different inputs to overall reputation measurement and management programmes.
Each of these data sources has a specific purpose within the communications environment. Social and traditional media analytics can help to determine how messages resonate and can provide intelligence regarding overall tone, sentiment, topics, and issues covered for a company versus its competitive set. Whereas issues monitoring can help a company keep abreast of regulatory issues that may impact the business environment. Reputation metrics and key stakeholder feedback can provide more detailed data about a company’s reputational strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, as well as a deeper understanding of what attributes will have the greatest impact on reputation.
“Rather than looking back and only analysing what we have done, using it to inform what we could do or should do.”
The use of these various data sources runs the spectrum from not being utilized at all to integrated systems providing real-time intelligence for reputation monitoring and crisis management.
“We talk about data informed decision making, not data driven, and that is an important distinction. PR people have traded on their gut feel forever, “It feels like the right thing to do” or “It doesn’t feel like the right thing to do” and that gut instinct is really important and we shouldn’t lose that but we can’t trade on it anymore, we do have to have the data to inform the decision. It is how we interpret that data and the experience we bring to looking at that data and the gut feel that is critical. So that is why we say data informed.”
“We have information spread in the organization. We are not ready to take advantage of all we have [due to a] lack of tools and resources.”
“The team uses a lot of media listening, we are just starting social media listening and if you call it a data source, our monitoring, our media monitoring of ourselves and others.”
“We have more data than we think, and we do not use it enough.”
“Live tracking of social media. I think what is critical is not to be too led by real-time data. Watch your trends but don’t watch for immediate [changes].”
“We look at data to see what the best route is of telling a particular story. We’re looking to see at what’s cutting through. What topics of a particular campaign worked or didn’t. We measure corporate reputation in 12 markets and report it quarterly.”
“When we look at research, we look at things in the immediate, mid-term, the long-term, and then the agile step in between. To start with immediate, we look at leading impressions and an understanding of where we are and how we’re playing. Sentiment is an important part of that. In crisis management, we’re not just looking at the value of the conversation but the velocity of the conversation.”
“The other thing is reputation tracking is important for us. We’re looking at [specific stakeholders] and understanding what drives reputation for them.”
With so many sources in use, how do communicators ensure they are utilizing the right data mix and taking a holistic picture into account when planning communications strategies, developing messaging, navigating today’s regulatory environment, or determining whether an issue is likely to turn into a full-blown crisis?
The key is successful data integration to merge data sets and create a system that allows for easy exploration of key topics, issues, trends and reputation metrics. Robust data integration platforms have the ability to bring together real-time social media data, online and traditional media, broadcast and video content, legislative and regulatory updates, and survey data into a common platform allowing for ease of data exploration and insight identification. The days of Boolean search strings to monitor static topics have given way to machine learning and topic modelling to identify related topics and issues in real-time data streams. Alerts can identify meaningful shifts in volume or sentiment on critical topics to provide an early-warning system to alert communicators of potential issues requiring attention. When paired with frequent survey data, an integrated data system doesn’t just display data side-by-side, but it instead is designed to track the key issues and attributes that have the greatest potential to impact reputation, as identified by deep survey exploration and using these as the basis for ongoing social and online media tracking.
The most sophisticated systems can utilize always-on survey data paired with real-time digital intelligence feeds to generate predictive analytics that help determine whether media stories or social content will have a meaningful impact on reputational metrics.
The takeaway from our Reputation Council members is that integrated data streams are becoming a more critical tool, allowing more timely, informed decisions on how to proactively manage reputation, navigate the issues environment, and monitor emerging crises. However, today, many communicators feel they have a long way to go before they truly have integrated data available. When asked how they would rate themselves on a 10-point scale, most put themselves somewhere in the middle – not completely siloed, but not very well integrated.
“It’s a manual process really…through people getting together and sharing [their data].”
“In comms it is still very siloed at the moment. We have a data analytics team, a data science team who are pulling all data together from all our products and looking at it from an operational maintenance point of view, but from a comms point of view we are still a long way off.”
“We have a good dashboard, but we really lack this type of data integration.”
“We’re using AI and data lakes rather than trying to get a standard system in which everything goes into but actually has spiders that are able to crawl through. We’re looking into the extent to which we can predict how a story will impact our reputation.”
While data integration can take time and care to execute in a way that will be most beneficial to each organisation and comms team using it, data is not enough on its own. It’s critical that communicators have the expertise and resources available to extract insights, identify issues and trends, and be able to translate the data into a narrative that supports their objectives. Strong partnerships with market insights and analytics and working collaboratively with data analysts to be sure they understand the mission and objectives of the communications team will help to ensure these tools are utilized to the best of their ability.
“As a business we are still learning how to use data and what does it mean. Data is useless without the analytics.”
“Honestly, the function isn’t run by people who tend to be very good at data.”
“Data is the fundamental piece of information that [our internal stakeholders] are going to respond to and make a decision on. But you still need to tell a story and have a narrative.”
The data integration and analytics journey is one many communicators are just beginning to embark on, but one thing is certain – those who are able to harness the power of today’s data streams and analytical capabilities will be able to make smarter, faster decisions that allow them to separate true crises from turbulence, to capitalise on unique opportunities, and to design more effective strategies that result in positive reputational impact.
“This is one of our biggest opportunities – looking at how to bring all the sources together to draw intelligence and insights. [It’s a] huge opportunity on our priority list and we haven’t gotten to it yet.”
“The biggest growth area in corporate relations is your ability to analyze data effectively and make the right decisions. This will eventually be a part of each team within the corporate affairs team.”
“ONLY 19% OF COUNCIL MEMBERS FEEL THEY HAVE INTEGRATED DATA IN THEIR COMMUNICATIONS”
01. The proliferation of data sources has put more information at communicators’ fingertips, but most communicators have not fully integrated their data sources, limiting the ability to develop fully-informed strategies.
02. Social media analytics and feedback from key stakeholders are the primary data sources used in corporate communications, but may lack the comprehensive insights needed to enable the best decision-making.
03. Reputation Council members desire greater data integration, but most are uncertain of the best methods to do so.