If you’re managing communications for your organization, you’ve no doubt already heard about, or dabbled in, analytics. Even so, a lot of traditional wisdom is that it’s all about email open stats and correlating responses from that annual survey. Communications analytics can and should go much, much further.
Diving into data analysis can seem intimidating at first, especially to those who dedicate their time to thinking about mission, outreach and crafting the best messaging to engage and motivate people. Collecting and crunching a bunch of numbers can seem like a real drag compared to focusing on creative. But most likely, you already have a lot of meaningful data at your disposal, and a simple shift in your mindset can be the first step to approaching analytics as an essential and helpful tool to measure and improve the important work you’re already doing.
What is “analytics”?
An often-quoted definition from Wikipedia says analytics is the discovery, interpretation, and communication of meaningful patterns in data. However, when talking about communications analytics, we like the definition on Dictionary.com better: the patterns and other meaningful information gathered from the analysis of data.
The key in both of these definitions is “meaningful.” Communications can be seen as somewhat abstract, especially by the C-suite. And, although the disciplines of internal communications and marketing are well-defined, a lot of folks tasked with communications aren’t formally trained. (This is especially true with digital signage managers.) Oftentimes, messages are pushed out without any clear call to action, so there’s no data collected, so no meaningful analysis can happen.
It’s been a longstanding challenge for organizations to quantify if they are communicating well. Are we connecting with the right audience(s)? Are we communicating at the right time, with the right medium? Are we communicating often enough? Are our messages received and understood? Are our communications reinforcing our mission and other messaging? Are we working efficiently?
Communications analytics can help answer these questions. By defining what you want to measure, collecting good data and understanding how to analyze that information, you can finetune your strategy and workflows for more impact.
Why you need communications analytics
We go on about the importance of measuring success and ROI a lot – and I mean, A LOT. Why do we keep authoring articles about it, doing podcasts on the subject, creating white papers and on and on? Because we keep talking to people who aren’t doing it.
Without communications analytics, you don’t know if what you’re doing is working. It’s that simple. Simple, but not effortless. It takes planning and continuous data collection, analysis and adjustment. That’s usually the reason people don’t do it. They either don’t know how to get started, or they don’t believe they have the time for it.
The disconnect here is that communications analytics aren’t looked at in the same light as other business metrics. And they should be. Would you pay a sales rep without measuring their sales? Would you run advertising campaigns and never look at whether or not they worked? Would you pay for a website and never look to see how many people visit?
Communications analytics are as important a metric as any other. Maybe more so, since it’s about engaging and motivating people you rely on for your business, whether that’s employees, customers, students or visitors. It’s been proven time and again that effective communication leads to more satisfied employees and clients, higher productivity and retention, and a better audience experience.
An article on Forbes from Martyn Etherington sums it up nicely: “At its very core, data tells us what we need to do next. Data exposes inefficiencies and disadvantages. It reveals truths about our habits and what we might do next. It opens windows into opportunity, while offering a glimpse into the future. Data shines a light on what’s possible and has the power to make it a reality. But only if you use it in the right way.”
Diving into your communications data can help you identify the strengths and weaknesses of your workflows and messaging. It will show you trends you can adapt to and reveal opportunities you can exploit for higher engagement.
- Measure the effectiveness of individual messages and campaigns
- Learn which platforms are most successful
- See which copywriting and designs work best
- Streamline workflows by working from a baseline
- Justify effort and expense with real-world results
Basically, if you don’t know where you are, how can you get where you’re going? If you’re publishing messages on any medium, you can’t make informed decisions or optimize your communications without proper analytics. The good news is that digital platforms usually give you at least basic metrics you can track over time.
What to measure
First off, the collection of meaningful information has to happen. As we’ve said before, you care about what you measure. Meaning, if you measure the number of emails delivered, that’s what you’ll work toward – delivering more emails. But do any of those emails get opened, read or clicked? That’s what you really want to know.
The first step for your communications analytics is deciding what you care about so you can measure that. Qualitative data is less common than quantitative data in most digital platforms’ analytics, so this can take some workshopping. It’s important to look at what data you can easily collect as you outline your goals. You don’t want to come up with a wish list that means your small business will have to buy $100K of custom software to track data.
In a lot of cases, you may already have the data collection in place, but just aren’t using it. For example, if you have Google Analytics set up for your website or intranet, and you prompt people to go to a webpage in one of your communications, you can see traffic to the page in the Google Analytics dashboard. If you use a URL maker, a lot of them can give you stats on clickthroughs. You don’t want to let the various platforms you use dictate what you measure, but look over what’s available before you go reinventing the wheel.
Another great quote is from Peter Drucker who once said, “what gets measured, gets managed.” Tracking workflows and workloads often gets overlooked, so be sure to set measurement objectives for how efficient your teams, processes and platforms are performing.
There are lots of great articles with examples of communications metrics you can review to get some ideas.
Analytics for digital signage
Digital signage is just one subset of communications, but it’s one of the most common areas where measurement and analytics get ignored. It suffers from a “set it and forget it” mentality, with event schedules and weather showing up on screens alongside the occasional announcement and no one tracking whether or not people are actually engaging with the screens.
Just like any other messaging platform, you want to track what’s being shown on your screens, who’s contributing and how effective those messages are.
Our AxisTV Signage Suite software has cloud-based analytics to help our clients easily answer key deployment management questions:
- How many times did a message play over a certain time period?
- Who are my power users based on content submissions?
- Who might need more training based on lack of submissions? (My power users can likely help.)
- Where is our digital signage being utilized the most, based on playlist submissions?
- What playlists need more content?
- Are we responding quick enough to content that’s been submitted for approval?
- Is most of the content getting approved instead of disapproved?
With the built-in analytics, you can work to train your software users and streamline workflows. You can also track playback, which is especially important in a retail setting or if you need to report back to other departments about their onscreen campaigns.
We have lots of advice on our site for how to measure the success of your content, but we recommend you start with this podcast.
What to do with the data
Once you’ve defined what you’re going to measure and have collected data, it’s time to crunch some numbers. Look for patterns, compare performance to previous time periods and find any outliers that might point to surges or dips in engagement.
It will likely take a bit of time to refine your data and how you collate it to measure success against goals. And you’ll need a few months of data before you can see any meaningful trends. But once you get a baseline, you can build up data over time to see what’s working and what isn’t.
The key will be to adjust versus overhaul. Always be sure to make one change at a time so you can link that action to any changes that show up in your analytics. If you change too many things at once, you won’t know what caused a deviation in your data.
Once you’re all set, share your communications analytics with your team, your C-suite and your employees. For too long, managers have hoarded data as top-secret information only they should have access to. In many cases, they’re afraid that other stakeholders can’t parse the stats or don’t have enough context to understand the findings. That’s true of raw data, so find a way to present progress and trends that’s engaging and informative. Use visuals and graphs with trendlines. Give the context. Celebrate successes and explain what you’re doing to address any shortfalls. Transparency is extremely important to today’s workforce, students and customers, so find a way to present your data it in a way that everyone can understand and be excited about.
Meaningful information: that’s what communication is all about and that’s what communications analytics will give you. And as technology advances, so will the ways we’re able to measure interactions and engagement with our messaging. But until we have an AI to do all of this for us, getting your goals and stats set up in a framework that gives you actionable intelligence is just as important as any other business process. Get started today.