My nonprofit life began as a press officer for an international aid group. I was thrilled every time we earned a media mention, often referred to as hits. Even better when it was in an “elite” publication that my boss favored.
Later, I worked with a PR agency that translated my crude measurement of audience awareness into impressions. That was even more exciting as just one hit could be represented as millions of potential views!
Then when social media came along, I could see that my lame press release was getting likes, shares and comments. Finally, I felt all those nights and long weekends on press calls were worth it. My work was valuable, darn it.
Little did I know that I was getting pumped about mere vanity metrics.
Vanity: Thy name is impressions
The Content Marketing Institute argues that vanity metrics aren’t inherently bad, they’re just easy for marketers to obtain. The real danger is if your measurement consists entirely of vanity metrics.
Vanity metrics are rarely correlated to real outcomes, like increasing donations so you can provide more meals to people in need. Your nonprofit’s mission is why you exist. And everything you do, including PR, should contribute to that mission in some way.
The good news is that you can begin to view vanity metrics as “optimization metrics.” They can help indicate who your audience is, what kind of content they want, and how best to move them toward meaningful action for your nonprofit.
Today, that action often starts on your website. So, how do you know if your PR efforts are reaching the right people and driving them to the website?
Referrals: A source for actionable data
Free programs like Google Analytics will tell you the top page referrers, or sources of traffic to your priority web pages. The report looks like this:
If you see your target media outlets listed on the left, then you know those media hits led people to visit your website. If they’re missing, then you may want to rethink which media you’re pitching. You may be reaching the wrong audience.
This can be a tough pill to swallow for some nonprofits. We often want our audience to be the type of people who read The New York Times or The Economist. But the people who will sign an online petition or become monthly donors, may prefer obscure blogs, Buzzfeed, or Fox News.
That’s when you have to make a hard choice between vanity and achieving your mission.
Choose actionable metrics
Once you find your best media targets, you can set up specific goals like increasing petition signatures and monthly donors in Google Analytics. Then, run a report called “Outcomes by All Traffic Sources” to gauge how well PR and other tactics are driving people toward action.
Analytics expert Avinash Kaushik talks about focusing your efforts on the “critical few” metrics that actually matter to your mission. His litmus test is whether the insights you gain from the metric are actionable.
Media hits, likes and impressions may feel good, but they’re not actionable. Start looking at your referrer report to prove that PR really does move your mission forward.
Laura Ingalls Fuqua is co-founder of Abeja Solutions, a fundraising marketing firm in Phoenix, Arizona. A recovering journalist, Laura has worked over 20 years as a professional communicator in both the nonprofit and corporate sectors.