This article was originally posted here.

Props to a good friend of mine and tech PR wizard, Karl O’Doherty for bringing this to my attention; the news that communications agency, the Atticism, has moved away from working with Influencers all together.

Firstly, I commend a business for making bold decisions against an industry trend – recognizing where strengths are and where there is the greatest value add (and presumably money to be made). Knowing your wheelhouse and where to double-down is tough, but at the end of the day, there isn’t a decision that can’t be unmade by another decision. A really interesting strategic move that seems to position the business in the middle of the PR heartland – I’m sure there are clients in need of “proper PR” flooding through the door. Well played.

There’s a “but” coming though isn’t there? There are several arguments cited in the PR Week piece, but the point that stood out to me was that when looking at time allocation “80 per cent was allocated to social media and only 20 per cent on traditional PR” and no client was ever happy with that. Another argument is that engagement rates with brand content dropped from 1.1% to 0.9% in July (citing a study from TrustInsights).

I pose two questions:

  1. Should the level of effort determine what we do for our clients?
  2. Engagement rates have dropped – so what?

Should the level of effort determine what we do for our clients?

There are many issues with the AVE, which has gladly seen its adoption tumble. Chief among them is that it is a measure of effort not outcome – here is what we saved by not investing in advertising. It says nothing for the impact on the business.

I would argue that time invested in social and Influencers is a similar metric. Naturally, I lack the wider business context with regard to the decision that has been made by our esteemed practitioners at the Atticism, but for any business to base a decision based on this alone would speak to a lack of effective measurement and understanding of the real business value derived from Influencer work in relation to “traditional” PR. If we spend 80% of our time on something, but it is the most demonstrably valuable activity, this is surely a win? If my client wasn’t happy with the amount of time being invested in a particular activity, my first question would be “why”? My hope would then be an open and robust discussion about how we can better evaluate the impact of our work, in line with the business’ objectives, and how we can use the data that is available to make better future-gazing decisions.

Engagement rates have dropped – so what?

I was recently asked the question “what would you pay for a like? Right now.” The answer is, I have absolutely no idea. Studies have shown that engagement with content does little more than to act as an indication as to whether someone liked that piece of content, at that time whilst in a mindset we will have little insight into. The relationship between engagement and self-reported brand favorability and purchase intent is loose at very best. Does this mean that we shouldn’t bother with using engagement as an evaluation metric at all? Not necessarily. It will still help us determine which content is most “entertaining” in the moment. What it won’t do, is act as a catch-all for effectiveness – what if our objective is to shift product, or drive site visits and time with content on site, or boost brand preference? Again, this requires the right set up and evaluation methods in line with the objective of the activity.

In summary

The art of good strategy is being able to make good choices. It sounds like our industry colleagues are reaping the rewards for changing course – more power to them! But reading the piece in PR week and drawing the conclusion that this action serves as a proxy for how to be successful as an agency or business? Not for me.

Good strategy is underpinned by good information. You can only arrive at good information by asking the right questions. Both strong goal-setting and a measurement and evaluation framework that allows you to measure what matters to either yours, or your client’s business are crucial.

If the outcome is commensurate with the effort, keep doing what you’re doing. If not, change tactics and test, or put it in the bin. I hear the phrase “test and learn” a lot – but without knowing what you are really testing or why, I’m not sure what you can learn.