So AVE’s are officially being placed on the banned list. But there’s a bunch of other metrics we need to be a little wary of too…
by Darren Caveney
You may have spotted that the CIPR have said they plan to ban AVEs outright. Well done the CIPR. It’s great that they haven’t accepted AVEs (advertising value equivalents) in award submissions for some time now and should be applauded for it.
In truth, though, I don’t know of a single comms and pr person who uses AVEs. For my own part I have never used them. The only time I came into contact with them was in the evaluation metrics provided by the odd external agency that were providing PR support to my organisation. We’re talking the very early 2000s. I don’t remember ever valuing them.
But this got me to thinking about the other types of evaluation metrics which we’re using right now. I am deliberately talking outputs not outcomes here (we all know outcomes are the big prize)
But outputs are important – they can tell their own story and provide a running commentary on where a live campaign is working or where it needs to be tweaked.
If I’m honest I’m worried about the kind of metrics we’re using
It’s a fact that we’ve never had access to more metrics and analytics than we now have and this is a really good thing. The amount of data I access for free when reviewing communications teams and their work is indeed very helpful.
But how credible is all of this data?
It’s really important to work out which is the relevant and useful data. Not all of it is. We’re in the era when three seconds counts as a video view on some social platforms. Three. That’s a nonsense.
Now if you’re Nike launching a new multi-million pound advertising campaign for a new football boot and you’ve bought media space across every channel on the face of the earth then a three second video view adds to that all important ‘awareness and recognition’ within the wider campaign. Here it could add to the cumulative effect that a huge, multi-layered marketing campaign can provide.
But if that three second view IS your campaign then you could be in a trouble.
Let’s not forget that Facebook has admitted that it has told porkies eight times on some of its own data. This raises big credibility issues for us. Is that the end of the Facebook data issue, or the tip of the iceberg? Time will tell.
And then there are algorithms…
Oh algorithms. Just when you thought you’d nailed how to use a platform the algorithm gets mashed up.
Big users of Instagram are reporting huge drops in the amount of engagement and likes they’re receiving since the Facebook-style algorithm changes took a hold. I know of a user with 30k plus Instagram followers who used to regularly get 1k-plus likes for every post but who has seen this plummet to the very low hundreds in the past few months. Nothing has changed – she has, in fact, more followers now, she posts the same kind of content. But there’s a very definite drop in the love her posts receive.
It’s down to the algorithm and we’ve been here before.
I call it the ‘drug dealer strategy’: Your first one’s free, after that you pay up.
Targeted advertising on social media
Of course it’s a pretty clear business strategy for many social media owners to push us towards paid-for ads. Used in the right way, I have seen first-hand paid-for ads having success here. It’s not, though, a free pass to unlimited marketing success.
Some of the political paid for ads by a political party appearing in my Twitter and Instagram feeds of late make me question the precision of their targeting (I’m not saying who it is but they’re using some pretty duff data if they think they’re in with a chance of nabbing my vote on 8 June)
And then we have claimed local newspaper web traffic
So the printed local newspaper has gone for a burton pretty much universally. But we’re told that our local papers are now getting enormous levels of web traffic.
But are they? How robust is this data? What counts as a view or a visit on a local newspaper website?
If you’re anything like me, you’ve followed click bait headline many times. You know the kind of thing: "10 most dangerous streets in *insert town or city* Do you live on or near one?” And you land on the newspaper’s website where you’re subsequently bombarded with a barrage of ads and terrible videos before you get anywhere near the content you’d clicked to.
How often is that content useful to me? Pretty much never. I’m gone in a split second in reality as I don’t have time to hang around there but I’m counted as a visitor. I’ve since stopped clicking on these links and I’m sure I’m not alone.
Your local newspaper may claim, and indeed have, big traffic numbers but I’d love to see a really thorough and deeper study of this traffic to understand how much of it has real value to organisations and to communications people. I have a definite hunch, but it needs interrogation by impartial and skilled research professionals. I’d be fascinated to know what the actual dwell times are for these sites, where there are proven outcomes, transactions, bookings and genuine engagement. I don’t doubt there will be examples but I am becoming increasingly sceptical about some of the visitor figure claims.
So what’s the answer?
Truth is I think we’re all making sense of the continued shifts in the data that is being thrown our way but I sense that some of us need to ask more questions and look beneath the surface more often. Vanity metrics on digital are something to watch for – and I say that as someone who has used them just as much as the next person.
We mustn’t just trust the data without question and assume that everything we see is rosy and the real picture.
For me and my world AVEs are a non-issue. What we do need to do is be the smart kids and ensure that we’re employing some good old fashioned marketing and research discipline to our work. And make sure that we don’t recreate an AVE-type problem all of our own with our digital metrics.
Darren Caveney is creator of comms2point0 and owner of creative communicators ltd
image via the State Archive of North Carolina