Public relations measurement: fact or fake

Every action online leaves an audit trail. Scrutiny of online activity is enabling the public relations profession to bring rigour to planning and evaluation.

It is enabling the industry to shift from a craft to a science but in its enthusiasm to modernise our profession may be measuring the wrong things.

The AMEC meeting in Barcelona in June 2010 drew up valid metrics guidelines for measurement.

AMEC’s vision is to shift the industry away from proxies as a metric for success to business outcomes. Its adoption by the industry is a work in progress. Change is coming but it is slow.

The objectives of a public relations campaign should be aligned as closely as possible to the objectives of an organisation. Measurement should be tied to evaluating outcomes wherever possible.

The challenge with digital is that it’s possible to count so many things and present rising numbers as a success. Followers, likes, re-tweets, re-pins and web traffic are the new Opportunity To See (OTS). It’s a short step from Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE).

The challenge with counting social media indicators and even web traffic as a measure of a campaign’s success is that they are only ever potential indicators of engagement with an audience and are easily manipulated or even worse faked.

Speaking at the PR Moment Analytics conference last month Spectrum Insight’s Mark Westaby said that fake traffic was an issue that the public relations industry hadn’t tackled. After Westaby’s speech I dug around the web to find out how easily and cheaply it is possible to buy followers or traffic.

$500 goes a long way. I’ve cited examples below that I turned up via Google. These are generated using a variety of means ranging from automated software to low-cost labour. The result is always bogus.

50,000 Web visits, VisitBooster $129
100,000 Youtube views, AuthenticViews $230

500 Facebook friends, MoreFansForYou $29.95
50,000 Twitter followers, BuyTwitterFollowersCheapest $250

30 backlinks, BuyPR4Backlinks $180

150 Pinterest repins, PinternetBacklinks $15
1,000 Facebook likes, RealLikes £59

Social bookmarks
400 social bookmarks, crock.com $29
500 reddit upvotes, buyredditvotes.com $325

When it comes to measuring the results of public relations campaigns make sure you know what you’re counting. Build your measurement around business outcomes and not metrics that may literally be meaningless or fake.

Photo by Sterlic via Flickr reused with thanks.

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Stephen Waddington

Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University.


  1. Thanks for this post Wadds. Very interesting.

    Just wanted to highlight that your prices are a rip-off though. You should search out fiverr.com where you can get bazillions of likes, followers, views or even someone to design you a nice shiny new brand logo all for – surprisingly – a $5!

    In all seriousness though, measurement is the age old PR issue but some practitioners continue to attach airy fairy metrics which don’t mean anything in real life. I tend to find that happens when they really aren’t sure about the actual business objectives of a strategy or campaign. The fact that the digital world continues to allow them to so is tragic in my opinion and devalues a lot of the good work that the industry does.

    I have a feeling that this is an evolution of AVE but you’re right in highlighting how easy it is to fake results and that is a concern. Perhaps the industry needs to educate clients and partners on tell-tale signs and how to avoid people who partake in such activities?

  2. I completely agree with the sentiment of this. I would add to points.

    Firstly, that there is a lot of good work going on from the likes of AMEC (as you point out), Katie Paine, et al to standardise definitions in PR/social media measurement – it’s an evolving space and the capability and ease of measuring it better will only increase.

    Secondly, there are ways of mitigating the false gamers – Google will police this themselves and ban anyone buying traffic or links and tools like “Fake Follower Check” immediately tell you the validity of anyone’s Twitter followers.

    So with a little bit of due diligence, quality can be checked.

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