September 18, 2018

Advancing communications measurement and evaluation

Generational Shifts Will Change More Than the PR Workplace—They’ll Change Measurement Too

A great deal has been written about how millennials in the workforce are changing our offices. Everything from the use of email to flattened org charts to even when and how we work are being challenged by the generation that now comprises the bulk of the workforce.

That the workplace would change in the wake of a large generation entering really isn’t too much of a surprise. But how could it change measurement?

News consumption habits

It’s fairly well established that our media consumption habits change as we get older. A Pew research report from January shows that across 20 countries, those aged 50 and older are more likely to consume local news than those ages 18-29.

It’s important to look beyond the type of news consumed to the formats in which younger generations are consuming their news.

Both the type and the format are significant when we look to measurement practices.

Currently, our measurement efforts remain fairly focused on traditional outlets in a variety of formats. Tracking how a story flows from breaking news on a traditional cable outlet to its spread on social is standard. Although shifts have happened from print to online, the big outlets still, by and large, are the ones driving the narrative, particularly on national and international news.

As millennials grow older, if their news consumption habits shift to local as have previous generations, to whom will they turn for that news?

One of the biggest changes in the media landscape over the last decade has been the demise—decimation even—of the local newsroom. Is it possible that millennials could revive local news in some format?

If the demand is there, product typically follows, and how this local news is created and finds its way to news consumers will change how and what communicators measure.

Video streaming

The success of “streaming-only” TV shows on platforms such as Hulu and Netflix is having an effect on service purchasing. The number of millennials and Gen Xers “cutting the cord” and going without standard cable or satellite providers is growing.

Although those who do watch traditional television remains a very large audience—no one should make the mistake of ignoring its influence—the success of alternatives is making a difference.

Disney, one of the larger entertainment content creators out there, announced it was pulling its content from Netflix and will be launching its own streaming service.

If Disney succeeds at this effort, we can expect other content creators to follow suit. So, what happens to measurement when content shifts to wholly owned channels?

Transparency with the data will be incredibly important to marketers and advertisers if these dedicated streaming services use advertising. It can be difficult to verify information that exists behind the curtains of an owned channel.

Platform shift

Communicators have become somewhat comfortable with existing shared channels. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, and Instagram routinely show up as the standard five shared channels, along with LinkedIn for certain programs.

This is where we need to talk about Gen Z.

Generation Z, defined as those born between 1995 to 2010, are the first true digital natives. Although millennials grew up around computers, it’s this next generation that is just now beginning to enter the workforce that has had a front-row seat to the ups and downs of social media.

And they are intensely aware of the downsides. The online bullying, the loss of a job over a tweet—they’ve watched it unfold, and they are now more likely than any other generation to either quit social media entirely or take extended breaks from it.

Where will this generation go? Some data indicates that they will continue to consume YouTube content, so not everything we are comfortable with will get thrown out the window.

But, it does demonstrate how fluid the media consumption landscape is, and likely will continue to be.

Caution for communicators

What communicators need to watch and prepare for are these types of shifts, because long-term metrics tend to get upended by shifts in the media landscape.

When we get too dedicated to a single metric—even something that seems as though it is universally applicable like sentiment—changes in media consumption habits can change our data in ways that can cause us to reach incorrect conclusions. For example, if you’re tracking sentiment change on earned media, it’s important to know if your target audience is there, or if they are drifting to social channels. If your target audience is shutting off social channels entirely for days or weeks at a time, you may need to alter strategy and tactics.

If you’re measuring and analyzing your data, you’ll be able to adjust accordingly.

Metrics have to adjust as audiences change—this has always been the case. With platform and channels shifting, it’s now just happening more quickly, and communicators will need to adjust with them.

In short: don’t get stuck by putting your measurement on auto-pilot. The next few years will likely see just as much change in the media landscape as we’ve seen in the last decade, maybe even more.

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips is the Director of Marketing Communications for CARMA. She is also the founder of 4L Strategies, and has worked in communications and public affairs for more than 20 years. Her background includes work in politics, government, lobbying, public affairs PR, content creation, digital and social communications, and media analysis.
Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips
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