I was 17 years old, enjoying the fall semester of my senior year in high school when my advisor unexpectedly asked to see me. With a concerned expression, she told me that my math grade was not up to par. (This was not a surprise to me.
The good news? The powers-that-be decided that I could simply drop the class and let my GPA soar upwards. There was a beat of silence, but my advisor didn’t have to wait to gauge my reaction. My relief and elation were written all over my face. I honestly thought I’d never have to deal with math again.
Wrong. (Perhaps not the first or last time a teenager has incorrectly assumed she knew exactly what the future would hold for her. But I digress.) Sneaky arithmetic is, of course, part of my daily life as a wife, homeowner, parent and business partner.
More importantly, for many years, math has been a critical part of the thought leadership we develop for clients. Our firm has created hundreds of studies and surveys. Some quantitative ability is necessary in order to interpret the findings. But since I love identifying story ideas, these kinds of “numbers” were never too much of a hardship for me.
However, there is a “new math” on the horizon for every one of us in the PR profession…one that I suspect most of us have not embraced. In the midst of all the hype around social media, there is surprisingly little talk around a critical emerging skill: mastery of website analytics. Wikipedia’s definition:
Simply put, we need to be able to understand the math of online behavior. Why is it so important? Because our job as counselors is changing rapidly:
- Used to be…”press releases,” now it’s…”social media news releases.”
- Used to be…”media pitches,” now it’s…”influencer programs.”
- Used to be…”collateral materials,”…now it’s “SEO copywriting.”
- Used to be…”media tours,”…now it’s “Facebook Call-to-Actions”
- Used to be…”pitch letters,”…now it’s “DMs”
- Used to be…”trade show booth,”…now it’s “bounce rate”
- Used to be…”placements,”…now it’s “posts.”
What do all of these new tasks have in common? Clicks and keystrokes. Our work is shifting to the internet. And as our job evolves, our behavior will need to change right along with it. And if you don’t have the ability to add up the clicks and deduce what it means, you are in trouble. Serious trouble.
I worry that when I say the name Avinash Kaushik to other PR folks, I get a blank stare. It pains me that when I interview recent graduates, they’re unlikely to have ever been taught about why unique visitors might matter in their first campaign. And I am anxious when I find co-workers who haven’t yet had a chance to start assessing how Google Analytics milestones could impact their communications strategies.
The problem is that most of us are just like me. We’re a little afraid of math. We were English Literature and Journalism majors in college. But I’ve realized that it’s time to change and I want you to change, too.
Here’s my challenge to you. In the next 60 days:
- Start reading blogs and books by Avinash, Katie Paine, ZoomMetrix, Olivier Blanchard, Justin Cutroni, etc.
- Ask your most receptive client to share their Google Analytics with you. Look for spikes in activity that may tie to your work.
- Take a deep dive into your company’s own analytics. Cheerfully work (at night, if necessary) to distill three trends the firm needs to watch in the next quarter. Now think about what activity and content could leverage that trend.
- Accept that Search Engine Optimization is inextricably linked to this activity. Start building a case for a small budget to explore what keywords bring people to your site now vs. what keywords you’ll need to grow traffic in the future.
- Understand that math becomes 10,000 times more interesting when you can tie it to your professional growth and client counseling ability.
Instead of fearing math, I’m beginning to embrace it. It’s just too promising to avoid. We have a huge opportunity as a profession. All this data allows us to finally offer tangible, factual and credible proof that our hard work directly benefits our clients.
Somewhere, my old math teacher is smiling.
If you’ve already started down the analytics path, will you share some best practices with us? And if you are still scared of the analytic unknowns, will you tell us what’s holding you back?
Elizabeth develops communications strategies for large clients in financial and professional services, with a particular emphasis on the legal, insurance, marketing services and consulting industries. She leads BlissPR’s Digital activities, including blogger outreach, influencer engagement, SEO benchmarking, email strategy and social network analytics. Elizabeth is the incoming Chair of the Digital Practice for Worldcom’s Board of Directors in the Americas region.
Note: Photo courtesy of akirsa via FlickR Creative Commons.