When Stakeholders Are in Charge, Clients Count on Data and Analytics


Today we bring you a guest post by Juan-Carlos Molleda, Chair of the Department of Public Relations at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications.

This article is part of a series from the school’s “Captivate” project, which presents insights from thought leaders inside and outside the PR industry on new strategies for audience engagement.

Public relations and communication management professionals are juggling with the reality that their stakeholders are taking charge of cyberspace’s conversations and creating their own communities.  They are influencing each other.

At the same time, they seem to choose when and how to engage with brands, causes, and movements.  (Millennials, fortunately, appear to have a more cordial cyber-cohabitation with brands).

Organizations, in turn, are losing control over digital communication exchanges and are being forced to engage with stakeholders on their own terms and spaces.

Empowered stakeholders are setting their own issue agendas.

Organizations’ control over interactions and exchanges, however, could reach a balance through the effective use of data analytics that are translated into insights to inform decisions and actions.  This requires constant assessment of stakeholders and consumers and a relevant and authentic voice that would likely be heard.  It also requires that organizations become active actors in fluid conversations and communities.  At the same time, organizations must be true to themselves.

Data without insights are irrelevant.  Significantly, translating data into insights is becoming a critical challenge for public relations and communication professionals.  This is also true for marketers.  Forbes Insights explained, “The holy grail is to be able to understand how to act on this data, how to make the metrics predictive for future business growth.”  Business and organizational growth and legitimacy depends on effective stakeholder and consumer engagement and acceptance.  Growth, like success, should be precisely targeted through performance indicators and metrics.

Managing the decision-making process solely based on intuition and experience is considered suspicious today.  Therefore, training professionals is needed because data amplification is here to stay and data application is something they must master.  As Capgemini CEO Paul Thorley explained:  “With more data important to an organization’s activities being generated – and not necessarily in structured form – outside an organization, these organizations have started to take an interest in big data.”  This phenomenon gets more complex when client organizations are demanding not only “likes,” “fans” with insightful comments, and “retweets”, but also measurable results as evidence of the effectiveness of their communication investment.

Public relations and communication professionals should move from counting “likes,” “retweets,” and conducting glorified content analyses of comments, conversations, blogs, and media coverage, to assess strategic outcomes and results.  The meaning of success would have to constantly be redefined as communities of stakeholders and consumers form and change.

University of Oklahoma Associate Professor Michael L. Kent and University of North Carolina Assistant Professor Adam Saffer, in a 2014 study, stated that “The relevance of public relations is threatened, as communication professionals become minions of new technology, rather than masters.  They concluded, “[s]ocial media research needs to move beyond simply counting tweets, and examining blog posts and move into prediction understanding what our communication tools can tell us about strategy decision making.”

Social media and web analytics join organizational data and primary research to provide a holistic picture of stakeholders’ concerns, expectations, priorities, and drivers that activate them.  This requires an understanding of data analytics and, most importantly, the identification of insights that inform decision making and actions.  Moreover, the decisions and actions should be aligned to stakeholders’ expectations and acceptance levels.

Ongoing training is essential to deal with big data, analytics, insights, and informed actions.  Matt Shaw, director of communications at the Council of Public Relations Firms, in summarizing the views of agency professionals, said that the industry requires employees who “must know the client’s business, be able to mentally visualize the meaning of sets of data, be able to manipulate data, and be able to tell the story of the data.”  Creative and consistent storytelling across all platforms would allow organizations to be “social” and embrace stakeholders in their own turfs.

The communication industry needs a roadmap for effective use of data and analytics in communication; that is, an overview that summarizes trends in public relations use of data analytics and how it is likely to evolve.  Data analytics is a subset of business intelligence, and public relations and communication professionals must use that data to make business and communication decisions.  How do they draw insights from data? How do they transform data into decisions and actions? How do they predict stakeholders’ reactions? Finally, how they learn to be a relevant and distinctive community member should be on top of the priority list.

Juan CarlosJuan-Carlos Molleda is a professor and chair of the Department of Public Relations and director of the online master’s “Global Strategic Communication” in the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida (UF).  He is also an affiliate faculty of the UF Center for Latin American Studies and a Fulbright Senior Specialist. He currently acts as member of the board of trustees of the Institute for Public Relations and a founding member of its Commission on Global Public Relations Research. 

He also acts as Latin American liaison of the Public Relations Society of America’s Certification in Education for Public Relations (CEPR).

Follow him on Twitter at @GlobalPRMolleda.