Avoiding Social Media’s Own “Ad Equivalency Value”

For years, the PR profession has struggled with effective measurement of its earned media activities.

The uncontrollable nature of earned media means that, for example, you can’t guarantee that your URL, your key messages or even the overall theme of your pitch will be included in a story. We balance that out with the increased credibility provided by editorial content, along with the relatively low cost of earned media compared to advertising (a full-page Globe and Mail ad can cost the equivalent of several months of public relations activity).

Using Search for Social Media Value

On Monday, Jason Falls wrote a thought-provoking piece on using search to prove social media’s value. In essence, his thought was that for your “owned media” properties, you could take the search terms for which your property ranks highly, determine what those keywords are worth per visitor and multiply that value  by the number of visitors using those keywords to determine the value of traffic coming to your site.

Now, a few points up-front:

  • I have a huge amount of respect for Jason. As far back as 2007, I wrote about how much I liked his site and that admiration has only grown since then.
  • Jason deserves kudos for pushing this conversation forward and searching for concrete ways to measure the value of social media. This kind of post is a good thing as it makes us think.
  • Jason’s post acknowledges that this method isn’t the end game – it’s a work in progress – and that it compares apples to oranges.

With that said, after numerous conversations with folks around our office yesterday, I have some concerns with this method of measurement.

Essentially, Jason suggests using advertising equivalency value for social media.

Advertising Equivalency Value and MRRP

For a long time, the public relations industry resorted to measuring ad equivalency value which, simply put, was an attempt to estimate how much your editorial coverage would cost if it were ads instead of earned media. However, it had many drawbacks, for example:

  • AEV compares apples to oranges – it takes one form of media and tries to equate it to another
  • AEV ignores the credibility that third-party coverage of a story provides
  • AEV ignores the tone of coverage – a smaller, highly positive story can be worth far more than a large negative story. In fact, it assumes value for stories which you may have actually been working to keep out of the media

Fortunately (for the Canadian industry, at least), the Canadian PR associations (CPRSIABCCCPRF) agreed that this was a problem and devised an alternative to AEV – the Media Relations Rating Points system.

MRRP is a tailored system in which coverage is rated on a variety of criteria, determined at the outset of the program according to the program’s objectives. It’s not perfect by any means (it still measures outputs rather than outcomes) but it does mean that the (literally) hated ad equivalency value is a thing of the past for many of us.

I think Jason’s suggested approach suffers from the same shortcomings as AEV does with mainstream media. While I give him great credit for pushing the discussion on this forward, I think to adopt this kind of approach would be to fail to learn from the lessons the PR industry experienced over the past few years.

I would hate to see social media fall into the same measurement trap as PR did in the past.

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  • Hey Dave,

    Intersting points about AEV and finding value in search.

    While I think your point is valid, when it comes to search, Google already assigns value– taking a variety of factors into account when judging the value of link. The more reputable the source linking to your story or mention, the greater the increase on your search rankings.

    Granted, Google doesn’t take positive or negative tone into its search results, but it takes reputation and relevance extremely seriously.

    In this way, isn’t search, or at the very least Google search, closer to the MRRP system than the AEV one?

    • Hi Danny – not really. I get your point about reputation and relevance and I agree that’s an important point, but I don’t think this system is close to MRRP.

      What MRRP doesn’t do is assign a dollar value to coverage. It does give a cost per impression, but that’s very different as it doesn’t attribute a certain value to coverage. What it does do is provide a customized set of criteria, based on the program, against which an MRRP “score” is given. Rather than a generic measurement, it produces one which (while not perfect) is tailored for specific circumstances and takes into account more of these factors.

      Does that make sense?

      • That definitely makes sense. Looking forward to thinking more about how we can continue to improve social media measurement. Thanks so much for your insight and response.

  • Chalk it up to my not being a student of public relations, so can you help explain to me how social media and earned media are different? They’re both describing media…

    • Hi Ari – by “earned media” I’m talking about editorial placement in mainstream media – TV, print, radio.

  • Dave, you know I’d agree with everything you’ve said here, and what Jason is advocating really troubles me, but I’m going to sleep on this and maybe even go for a run before I actually write something. If you read all the caveats and comments on Jason’s posting, there may be a way to do it that might work.

    • Hi Katie! It’s possible… once again, Jason’s done a great job of getting us to think around the subject. What’s more, he’s very clear that this isn’t meant to be the final product and very strongly calls for feedback. Curious to get your take once you’ve noodled it around for a while.

  • Great talk here, Dave, and I don’t disagree with you. You’re right that earned vs. paid comparisons in search is the Internet’s version of ad equivalency in PR, a measurement I’ve never been in favor of. However, until or unless someone can come up with a value measure of earned media, it’s kinda what we have. Doesn’t mean it’s best or even all that accurate. If you read into my how-to, you’ll see that I offer that the equivalency I’m talking about is a minimal value because there’s no way to measure how much more valuable an organic result is vs. a paid result. Yet paid results are the ones we can reasonably know the value of.

    It’s muddy water, just like ad equivalency, but if it helps a social media professional illustrate some measure of success, it helps.

    I’m all for devising something better, new, different and so on. I’m even spearheading a hybrid approach on SME … when a sponsor asks to advertise, I force them to provide relevant content to my audience. It’s a paid opportunity, but disclosed and positioned as earned media because I write about something they’ve provided my audience that is relevant and of value. With appropriate affiliate tagging/linking, the sponsor can know the exact value of that placement. I’m hoping to report back on that first experiment (with Postrank) soon.

    Thanks for continuing the discussion here. And no worries about offending me. I’m often wrong. Heh.

    • Thanks Jason. You’re right – it’s slim pickings when it comes to dollar-related metrics for social media activities right now, and your approach does provide a search-oriented counterpart to the approach of measuring conversions from click-through traffic (a necessary one as people often don’t just click straight through when they read something, but rather come back later).

      Looking forward to reading about the results of your pilot test. I’m a fan of the Postrank guys (and gals), and hope the experiment went well.

  • I think brand metrics are more applicable for SM.

    • Thanks… would you like to expand on that?

  • I have a great respect for the Jason because of this site. He has done a fabulous job. People should know about the latest news and issues and should be up to date.

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