“I was never strong in math.”
This ‘non-numbers mentality’ doesn’t serve PR and social media pros like us well. Especially when it means our seats at the proverbial C-suite table are empty.
Randall Bolten views numbers and measurement in a different light.
Bolten is the author of Painting with Numbers: Presenting Financials and Other Numbers So People Will Understand You. I recently interviewed him want to share his insights with you. By the way, Bolten is CEO of Lucidity, a consultancy that specializes in financial management and information presentation. He has spent 30 years working in Silicon Valley.
Ready? It’s time to get past your fear of social media metrics.
SY: PR practitioners have always been pressured to show tangible results and return on investment. Clients and employers are looking for the impact PR —and now social media —has on the bottom line. They don’t particularly care about the number of media impressions or page opens. They want specific numbers and proof of how business is impacted. When communicators fail to provide this information, they aren’t included in high level meetings.
RB: Presenting numbers is a communication skill. It is not a math skill; it’s not an aptitude that is accessible only by the ‘numbers guys.’ It’s simply a communication skill.
It’s very similar to best practices in grammar, sentence structure, vocabulary, paragraph organization and all those other skills that you spend years learning in an effort to become a good writer or speaker. Strunk and White didn’t tell you how to articulate a political position more effectively; they tell you how to articulate anything more effectively.
SY: Why are so many communicators intimidated by numbers?
RB: The ability to understand mathematics is not the same as the ability to communicate information that has numbers. The good news about the skill of presenting numbers is that it’s no harder or no easier than the ability to stand up and be articulate with words and speaking or to write a clear effective business memo or position paper.
SY: You say that the C-suite and clients don’t expect us to be mathematicians. That removes a lot of pressure.
RB: You really can present numbers. Is anyone asking you to calculate the square root of revenues or take the first derivative of the expense trend or something like that? No. All they want you to do is to look at a bunch of numbers as if they were a bunch of words and ask yourself: Are they more or less than I suspected, or are they more or less than last year, how does it compare to the completion, etc. There’s relatively little real mathematics involved.
SY: As social media continues to enthrall many (and confuse some), communicators often have to answer executive naysayers wanting to know why seven employees spent 40 hours dealing with an online complaint. When you struggle to explain soft communication skills in hard numbers, the gap (and respect) between communicators and senior execs widens. How can PR and digital staffers address this?
RB: This is not a new problem, Susan. Numbers and financial information are the language of business communication. When radio and TV were new, you had to explain how many people were listening to the commercials. Then you had to provide back-up information on how many people who heard the ads actually went into the store. Then research was conducted to determine who bought the product and where they heard about it in the first place. Eventually the message got across that radio and TV advertising worked.
The success has always lied in demonstrating that the marketing department understands the underlying business problem. This is not easy, but the only way to get across that threshold is to find a metric that your audience can relate to. The comparisons may not be exact, but we’re still talking about getting people’s attention. Whatever metrics get widely used to validate other marketing programs, like traditional advertising or trade shows, can be used for social metrics. At least you’ll be using language the C-level executives already understand and base decisions on.
SY: Final thoughts?
RB: One of the challenges that you face when marketing social media is to figure out what is the quantifiable result you can point to where the C-level executives actually understand that that result does lead to more business or more profitable business.
SY: Thank you, Randall. It’s been a pleasure.