Our January 2014 article The Social Media Metrics Debate – “Meaningless and Spurious Metrics?”

dealt with disagreement in the ICT industry on how to measure the effectiveness  of using social media big data and analytics for marketing/communications strategies. In that article, we  referred to the Barcelona Principles, a set of seven voluntary guidelines established by the public relations (PR) industry to measure the efficacy of PR campaigns.  The Barcelona Principles identify the need for outcome, instead of output, based measurement of PR campaigns and recognize the communications value of social media.

Now there is more recent research in other areas which suggests that the Barcelona Principles could be applied much more widely than the PR industry.

A Nov 26, 2014 LinkedIn post by Bernard Marr, Measuring The Wrong Things: A Big Challenge for Government Organizations  discusses “the large-scale target setting from central Governments that have become the norm in many countries over recent years. The belief is that strict targets and the reporting of performance is all that is needed to move the public sector organization toward heightened performance. This is both a dangerous and erroneous proposition!”

The LinkedIn post provides an edited extract from the book Doing More with Less: measuring, analyzing and improving performance in the government and not-for-profit sector, by Bernard Marr & James Creelman. The authors “make it very clear that Metrics are but one part of a larger performance management system: a system that must start with strategy. “ One of the recommendations is the move “From Outputs to Outcomes”. These recommendations are similar to the Barcelona Principles, which include

  • Goal setting and measurement are fundamental aspects of any public relations program;
  • Measuring the effects on outcomes is preferred to measuring outputs;
  • The effect on business results should be measured where possible

The authors also quote some significant findings from a 2013 public inquiry UK’s Stafford Hospital, noting “As a powerful and disturbing example, the 2010 report into appalling failings in patient care at the UK’s Stafford Hospital (where between 400 and 1200 more people died between 2005–2008 than would have been expected) found that amongst the reasons why patients were routinely neglected was that the management team had become preoccupied with cost-cutting and hitting predefined targets.”

In the UK Department of Health’s  Hard Truths The Journey to Putting Patients First, Volume One of the Government Response to the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Public,  the Executive Summary notes “The extent of the failure of the system shown in this report suggests that a fundamental culture change is needed’

The picture is not all gloomy. Authors Bernard Marr & James Creelman note that “we are beginning to witness a gradual shifting away from output to outcome-based performance management and measurement within the public sector” They give as one example, Central London Community Healthcare NHS Trust (CLCH), a case study in the book, noting that “CLCH result have included a common understanding of the overall aims of the organization together with better ways of measuring and reporting against those. Overall, it has helped to shift the culture from one that was focused on compliance and target delivery to one that is focused on performance improvement.”

Apart from the above article on The Social Media Metrics Debate, our January 2014 Issue also gave  a brief summary of a significant research paper by Jim Macnamara PhD, FAMI, CPM, FPRIA, FAMEC, Professor of Public Communication at the University of Technology,  ‘Toe bone to the head bone’ logic model An approach to connect PR and corporate communication to organization and business outcomes. This paper has now been updated by The development of international standards for measurement and evaluation of public relations and corporate communication:A review. In this review, Professor Macnamara notes  “As the industry reaches the 20th anniversary of the International Public Relations Association ‘Gold Paper on Evaluation’ published in 1994, it appears that progress is at last being made. This report welcomes and commends initiatives  taken, but presents a critical review that reveals continuing problematic issues and gaps to address in the latest efforts to measure the value of PR and a substantial gap between theory and practice.”

The Review provides specific advice both for the PR industry  and for PR academics. For the PR industry, the advice includes the need to “ Broaden its focus beyond media measurement and evaluation, which has been a preoccupation and near obsession of many PR practitioners, despite claims of building  relationships with key stakeholders and creating reputation

For PR academics, the advice includes the need to “Continue to focus on clarifying and standardizing definitions, metrics terminology and methods in relation to measurement and evaluation. While a single unified approach is not realistic and even unproductive, anomalies and inconsistencies should be addressed”

Again, it appears that this advice could be applied much more widely than the PR industry.