Advancing communications measurement and evaluation

Your Communications Measurement Reading List for May 2018

Over the last couple of months, we’ve looked at the universe of data available to communicators, the usefulness of primary research data, and how to derive insight that informs action by using data. The collection, creation, and use of data are incredibly important to the practices of PR and communications measurement.

This brings us to this month’s theme: Data and Doubt. You can collect all the information that you need from a campaign or comms effort, but if there are problems with your data, the conclusions you reach—not to mention the actions you take—may be flawed. Or, perhaps the practice of data collection itself can present an issue. We’ve all been watching the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal unfold, and wondering how changes will affect users and brands. Perhaps it’s the data reporting that we have doubts over: are analytics provided by platforms as informative as we need them to be? Can we trust the results of data that we can’t see the raw numbers behind?

There’s a lot to mull over in data and doubt–here’s a selection of articles to get you started.

Doubts Over Data Privacy

In the midst of Apple’s proposed acquisition of Shazam, an app used to identify songs, experts are beginning to wonder how much data is too much. If approved for the acquisition, Apple would gain access to all of Shazam’s data, including information on their competitors like Spotify. European officials argue that data should be a factor, in addition to product and service prices, to consider in antitrust cases. The New York Times explores how data has become a digital currency and why this matters.

Data makes marketers smarter and more efficient, but what do people gain for sharing their information? As more and more consumer data becomes accessible to brands, people must consider how much privacy they’re willing to surrender for convenience, personalization, and prediction. AdWeek explores the potential value to be gained from consumer data by both the consumer and brands.

Despite the outcry over the Cambridge Analytica scandal over data privacy, the #deleteFacebook movement hasn’t taken off the way one would expect. Why? A longform read on The Verge zeros in on an interesting point: Facebook has replaced the labor behind social ties. Those of us who entered the workforce before email was standard should stop and think for a moment: remember address books? What about rolodexes? Maintaining the ties that led to business deals, new job opportunities, or even just expanded social circles used to take a LOT of time and effort. Facebook has replaced all of that, and manually replicating the data and spending the time on maintaining connections seems ever more arduous now that we’ve come to rely on social platforms to do that work for us.

Just in case the article from The Verge didn’t drive home the point solidly enough, Dean Essner, the editorial assistant for PRSA’s publications, makes many of the same arguments in his piece titled “Why Millennials Won’t Unplug From Facebook.” The fact that Facebook has managed to wend its way through so many aspects of our lives would be upsetting…if it weren’t so darn convenient. An interesting nugget in this piece is the highlighting of data that find only 4 percent of millennials trust social platforms with safeguarding their data…but they don’t worry about it either.

Speaking of data privacy, it’s here: the month that GDPR goes into effect. If you send, or work with clients who send marketing emails, you probably have heard of this by now—and, if you’re on any social platforms, you’ve likely recently been inundated with emails with subject lines like: “Important—Our Privacy Terms Are Changing.” What’s all the fuss? The General Data Protection Regulation makes more stringent the rules around email marketing and the use and storage of data. An older primer from last October is a great place to start if you want an idea of how marketers will be affected, along with more recent pieces that are out there too.

Businesses collect tons of data about their customers, including their contact information, web browsing activity, and credit card information. As concerns over data privacy grow, it can be difficult for businesses to navigate the handling of this information. It remains important for companies to protect the consumer data they have, especially sensitive personal and financial information. Buzzfeed outlines six tips to ensure the protection of your customers’ data.  

When done correctly and ethically, personality marketing can provide consumers with products and services that more accurately fit their needs. Despite the potential for this style of marketing and communications to deliver better experiences to consumers, the execution often fails to live up to its potential. Additionally, the recent Cambridge Analytica and Facebook scandal causes more concerns about data privacy and usage among consumers. Harvard Business Review defines this marketing and communications practice, explains the science, and discusses the advantages and ethics behind it.

Data Analysis and Doubt

Does more data mean more answers? Not according to professors from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. Instead, qualitative and quantitative data can provide the insight needed to answer key questions for organizations. Kellogg Insights explains the differences between these two types of information and how they can be used to answer the “what” and “why” questions that trouble organizations.

Social media has become a breeding ground for false information and unverified facts. It can be especially difficult to verify facts shared in videos, as there is no easy way to search videos and Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram do not provide a list of viral, trending videos. Another concerning trend in social media videos? Deepfake videos. These videos use AI technology to superimpose celebrities’ faces onto others’ bodies and modify their faces and voice to give the appearance they’re saying things that the actual person never said. Jordan Peele teamed up with Buzzfeed to create a deepfake video of President Obama, warning people to be aware of the false information communicated in these videos. Poynter provides a list of 10 tips for verifying the facts presented in viral social media videos.

PR and communications professionals are so inundated with information, it’s understandable if they haven’t spent much time delving into details about blockchain. After all, it’s largely associated with cryptocurrency, and unless you’re working with a client who deals in that somewhat arcane field, it might not have registered as important. What communicators need to pay attention to is how blockchain technology secures privacy and protects against data breaches—and now, the link to PR pros might be more apparent. Data breaches and privacy violations have caused more than a few crises recently. Venturebeat details how blockchain will improve AI while preserving an individual’s privacy and covers how photographers stand to benefit from the incorporation of blockchain into stock photography.

More about blockchain and data security: if you need a good primer on why blockchain might be relevant to you beyond finances, this piece from QZ is a must-read. The most basic thing communicators should know and think about when considering the applicability of blockchain for their work is its ability to provide a high level of security. As it becomes ever easier to spoof or alter video, for example, blockchain could be how we can ensure what we are seeing is, well, really real.

Nielsen has long been the biggest- and only- name associated with measurement of television viewership. Although they rule TV measurement, the increase of people quitting cable in favor of streaming services has hurt the company. The Drum discusses the steps Nielsen is taking to adapt, as well as the competitors emerging to challenge Nielsen and deliver more reliable data to advertisers.

And one for the road…

This piece on Poynter isn’t about data or doubt–it’s about writing. Long-form writing, to be exact. As communicators, we’re taught to cut to the chase and be efficient with our prose. This piece quite ably argues that we shouldn’t let the long story disappear, because some stories need the time to develop. It’s a piece worth reading (in full!), even though it doesn’t concern data or doubt.

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