How to Find Actionable Intelligence in Your Measurement

PR professionals and communicators are spending more time developing measurement programs and mapping programs back to business goals. They are also tracking the outcomes of programs, rather than counting inputs—or, doing so in addition to counting inputs. This is significant progress for the field of communications.

What can be harder to uncover are things like insight and surfacing actionable intelligence from data. This is partially because those terms can be somewhat nebulous—is insight tied to some broader understanding of data, or is it simply a conclusion that can be reached because of data?

The answers may vary from situation to situation. Another reason is that “actionable” can mean everything from preemptively addressing an emerging issue so that it doesn’t develop into a full-blown crisis all the way down to moving a button on a website for a better user experience. Both are actions taken based on data, but in most people’s minds the first example is more likely to feel like actionable intelligence than the latter.


Looking at data

If you’re accustomed to pulling numbers for reports, you already know where to find your data—or at least some of it. Data can be frustratingly dense, fragmented across different channels, or sometimes it’s just so routinely generated it almost becomes background noise.

These are the enemies of insight, because insight requires some measure of creativity. For instance, if you’re accustomed to routinely reporting monthly numbers of website visits, sentiment analysis, and share of voice (SOV), it’s tough to spend time splicing and segmenting the data in different ways to see if there’s more information in there.

Data collection is being made easier all the time because of tool improvements and inexpensive storage. We’re collecting more information and storing it—but there’s no point in accumulating it if we aren’t looking at it frequently, and in new ways.


Take the long view…

One of the simplest ways to get more out of your data is to look at longer time stretches. There’s a monthly/quarterly/yearly reporting mentality that we often get stuck in—and that’s a mistake when it comes to uncovering bits of insight. The creativity comes into play when you select different data sets for the same time period and compare them. If you have website, sentiment, and SOV data for the past three years, compare them to see if anything stands out. Unless all three are completely flat, there are bound to be some spikes and valleys—and that’s where the fun begins.


…and then use the magnifying glass

I say it’s fun because for people who love numbers, this IS the fun part. If your SOV spikes and website visits climb along with an increase in positive sentiment, that’s a formula you want to repeat. So, investigate it. What might have caused the SOV spike? Sometimes it’s something obvious, like a positive earned media mention—which, if you have a measurement program in place, you’d already know what likely caused the increases. But what if it’s not a spike, but an upward slope that gradually climbed for five months before leveling off? It’s harder to pinpoint one thing or one effort that led to the increase. You might have to dig deeper into your Google Analytics: was there a specific source of the traffic that could account for the climb? What about the devices being used to access your site? The more you dig, the more likely you are to uncover a reason.


What is “Actionable”?

After digging through your data and finding some solid clues as to what might have led to a slow growth in traffic is the first step. The next step is taking action.

In a perfect world, your digging would uncover a clear reason or set of reasons for the gradual upward trend: maybe the right micro-influencer discovered and mentioned your product, and that led to some word-of-mouth that extended the trend. In this situation, the actionable item is fairly clear: reach out to the micro-influencer for a potential partnership (clearly disclosed, of course) to work on a more deliberate campaign to accelerate the curve.

However, it isn’t always that direct or easy to pinpoint. Maybe it’s a variety of factors—or tied to something unusual. In a situation like this if you have some idea of what might be happening, you have two choices: either do more digging, or if it’s possible, you can try testing your theories.

A cautionary note on testing theories: it usually takes time to get answers, and you need to test each idea separately.


The bottom line

When we talk about gathering insight and taking action, what we’re really discussing is how to get the most out of data by examining and searching out the “why” behind the data and then doing something with it. Surface reporting has its place—raw number reporting of sales, or mentions, or SOV, do provide information. It’s important to know if your mentions are increasing or decreasing, or if your sales are going up or down. Those are the markers that point to where you should be looking deeper.

Insight is different. Insight means that you are drawing an understanding of what is changing within your data, and then using that information to compel an effect or a result by taking action. It’s this process of taking action that will improve business results over time, and, you’ll learn more about your audience and what motivates them, which will help future planning.