How to Measure the Value of Corporate Communications Activities

November 05, 2019

Contributor: Jordan Bryan

Communications leaders should take a business outcome approach.

Measurement is a recurring source of frustration for communications leaders. Not only is it difficult to collect metrics, but it’s even more difficult to understand how those metrics apply to the business. Despite the difficulty, measurement of communication activities remains an essential way to demonstrate value provided to the organization.

Although it is a valuable activity, it is often misdirected. Measuring individual communication activities is not reflective of the function’s value. These measures are not insightful taken by themselves, but ultimately, it is valuable for communicators to demonstrate the specific business outcome achieved.

“An outcome-focused approach to measurement enables communication leaders to tie communication activities to business outcomes,” says Edouard Cranwell-Ward, senior advisory analyst at Gartner. “In order to demonstrate business impact, you must establish a link between the outcomes your business partners care about and the metrics available to you in communications.”

Measure the impact

The goal of communications activities must be to influence stakeholder behavior in a way that achieves business goals. Successful communicators collaborate with their internal business partners to identify the key behaviors that communications will target and then agree on the metrics related to those behaviors.

A particularly successful approach is to reverse-engineer communication metrics from the outcomes business partners care about. In doing so, the metrics become valuable because of the context in which they are used, not because of their inherent value. Effectively obtaining a measurement of the value of communications activities is a four-step process.

  1. Determine the business outcome you’re looking to influence.
  2. Identify the stakeholder behaviors and behavioral metrics related to that outcome (e.g., who needs to do what to achieve the business outcome).
  3. Uncover the barriers that prevent the desired behavior from happening (e.g., capability, social cues or individual attitudes).
  4. Decide which communications activities and metrics are worth pursuing. Measurement should not be proving the value of communications as a whole, but instead should ensure that communications decisions deliver value.

Are the benefits worth measuring the costs?

Before investing in a formal measurement program, communications leaders should make sure to weigh the benefits against costs for such endeavors. These projects may take staff time, effort, and attention to collect and analyze data from other possible projects. At the same time, organizations must account for respondent energy or fatigue with participation.

Gartner recommends leaders evaluate scenarios against three good-fit measurement criteria. These criteria can help inform decisions.

  1. High stakes. The communications initiative is clearly linked to an important organizational outcome.
  2. Low existing knowledge. Uncertainty exists as to how the target audience will respond to communications tactics.
  3. Multiple communication options. Numerous potential communication options seemingly could work.

Even well-considered measurement plans may not pan out as hoped, so communications leaders must be prepared to course-correct. If over a period of a communications initiatives a chosen tactic doesn’t result in the desired behavior or business outcome, it may be time to agree on new communications activities. At the same time, if communications activities are working and behavior change is notable but metrics aren’t reflecting this, then it’s time to consider new metrics.

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