The Critical Role of Data in Communications
Benjamin L. Harris, CPA, CGMA, CVA

It used to be difficult to measure the success of communication efforts. Once upon a time, it was common to craft a communications strategy based on best guesses and past experience, throwing our efforts out there and hoping for the best. No more.

Today, we rigorously measure everything. For every tweet, press release, or newsletter article we write, we gather data. These data inform us and our clients by quantifying what we do. We transform the data compiled from our communication efforts into usable information to guide future efforts; therefore, if someone asks why we recommend a strategy, we can point to hard numbers based on past performance to demonstrate why we think it will work.

Twitter is a great example. Tweets can be tracked and enable us to measure audience numbers and characteristics, the reach of information, and clicks. These data help us determine what messaging works and when. The “when” is important. When is our target audience paying attention to our content—during lunch or late in the day? What tone gets the best response?

Software that can track outreach efforts also is useful in furthering our quest for actionable data. Suppose we engage in an outreach campaign for a client—sending e-mails, publishing press releases, and/or posting updates on social media sites. Each of these endeavors will get a unique tag through which we can gauge the impact of each strategy and can quantify its effect on the overall campaign.

We live in a data-driven world. Data are proof of the value that we can add to an outreach effort, or it can sometimes represent a demonstration that a new strategy needs to be considered.

Sometimes you’ll hear data analysts say that they don’t trust numbers ending in zero. You would never sign a credit card slip for “about a hundred bucks.” You’d expect your payment to be quoted exactly, down to the penny. In the National League last season, Dee Gordon hit .333, and Bryce Harper hit .330. Although Harper’s average was excellent, that last .003 made the difference between mere excellence and the batting average crown.

That’s why we create SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound) objectives to ensure that we can measure our communication efforts. We get the hard count, and more importantly, we get data informing us why the hard count matters. You can collect data until you’re “blue in the face,” but if you can’t interpret it, then it’s just a bunch of numbers. That’s where we really become a trusted advisor to and partner with our clients—the market intelligence that comes with interpreting data.