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.

Dave Fleet
EVP Digital at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.