Data Is the Future of PR: Why We Built the ‘Listening Post’ Influencer Analytics Platform

Hotwire PR

Today we bring you a guest post courtesy of Leslie Campisi, managing director for global communications consultancy Hotwire PR. Like every PR agency around the world, Hotwire wanted to use the best available tools to connect its clients to the most influential individuals in their respective fields. But the Hotwire team found that the available technology didn’t meet their needs as directly as they would like, so they did what any truly enterprising business would do: they made their own!

Hotwire PR I wish I could take credit for Listening Post, Hotwire’s new influencer analytics platform, but it was in development long before I arrived. What I can do is to draw a line under why it’s so important to our business here in the US and what I think it says about our agency.

Data has a big role to play in PR.

There are lots of influencer management tools already available to communications pros. It’s easy to dismiss the proliferation of dashboards, scores, and workflow tools by the sheer number of them that are on the market. (And, in some cases, by their complexity, price point, and lack of understanding about how PR people actually do their jobs.)

But a booming market for influencer management software is testament to just how unwieldy the challenges of effectively managing important relationships have become. The volume of data contained in the social graph, and where it intersects with proprietary client–and agency–information is too rich to be ignored by PR folks. In many cases, it contains the very proof that we’re doing our jobs effectively. Who’d want to ignore that?

I can see how one might bah-humbug an agency’s quest to crunch data in the fashion that suits their business (looking at you, Katie Paine!). But if you believe data has a big role to play in the future of PR – and Hotwire absolutely does – why would you be satisfied with letting others crack the nut? It’s exciting to be a part of the dialogue about how the PR industry leverages data to the benefit of clients.

If you can’t find it, create it.

It’s one thing to do PR for tech entrepreneurs and quite another to take your own idea from concept to code. That’s exactly what happened with Listening Post. I know I’ve been in meetings where a lot of “If only there were a…” musings have gone unanswered. In Listening Post’s case, the question was answered with a real live product:

“If only there were a social media management tool that allowed you to start with a core group of influencers but also revealed the hidden connections and ‘upstream’ relationships that influenced them in a really easy-to-understand data visualization…”

“Yeah, and then what if you could monitor the activity of just those people, plus some topic, frequency and sentiment analysis? Can we add on really sick Twitter search features and bring in the best personal scoring APIs? In real time?!”

What sounds simple just didn’t exist–until we made it. And by “we” I don’t mean the royal “We,” but Hotwire and 33 Digital employees around the world helping to create the spec, test the beta version, quietly roll it out across accounts, and create enough test cases until we felt confident it was something that we could announce publicly. Skunkworks in a PR agency? Absolutely.

For us, by us.

For me, a big part of the Listening Post value proposition is that we do not intend to sell the software to clients. I understand what a big temptation this must have been to Listening Post’s earliest product managers–and how a different agency might have made a different choice. (Have a drink with any agency executive, and we’ll yammer on about the professional services “scalability” problem.)

But our feeling is that clients don’t want a login to yet another outside service. They want us to pick the tools we believe in and use them so that they can expect real results to follow. That’s why Listening Post is a platform that “powers” many of our key services.

We want our clients to understand Listening Post, because its workings help illustrate the many ways we can use it to make our work even better. But, ultimately, it’s our job to master the software while continually feeding into its product road map and prove its value by using it to do great work for our clients.

The team at Hotwire in the US has run influencer relations, event relations and crisis communications programs powered by Listening Post. But we’re also getting in the habit of using it to gut-check, and speed up, many of the day-to-day responsibilities of a PR person. Like many data tools, it’s situation-agnostic and just awaits the query that means most to the user, at any given time. And like many data tools, as this week’s New York Times story on algorithms points out, it requires some good old-fashioned human interaction to achieve its best results.

What do we think? Have any other firms created their own custom platforms?