Monday, July 1, 2013

Analytics Is Your Job

Posted by: Britt Ehrhardt, FCN 2013 Co-Chair, on July 1, 2013
Photo of the author of this post

You didn't like math in school... doesn't matter.

You studied journalism/communications/English because you were better with words than numbers... too bad.

You think the only important kind of federal communications is media relations, and there's no way to analyze your valuable interactions with journalists... get real.

You've never done analytics/metrics/evaluation, and you don't really want to learn... is that whining?

These days, every federal communicator has to be able to explain--often using numbers--what they do. In an era of declining budgets, do you really think your office is going to keep getting money if you can't measure your success against your agency's goals?

Analytics - what is that?

Analytics is a set of tools and processes to help you systematically measure the success of your work activities, often with numbers.

Evidence of success comes in two flavors: quantitative (numbers) or qualitative (stories/anecdotes/non-quantitative information gathered from people in interviews/focus groups/elevators).

There are many definitions of analytics, metrics, and related words like evaluation. People who really know these fields will insist they are distinct from each other, and will talk your ear off about how, but for most of us using these tools in our federal communications jobs, the distinctions don't much matter.

The key is just that you're measuring your work: gathering data and reporting the evidence of your success.

How do I incorporate analytics into my job as a federal communicator?

The first step is to define success for key activities by setting goals for them.

I know that you are currently performing activities for which goals have not been defined. We all are. Even if the activity is in progress, you or your team can still set a goal. And if you're starting a new activity (or if you're part of a team starting a new activity), press as hard as you can for a specific goal. What counts as success?

How to set a goal.

The goal has to be specific, a business goal that's linked to your office's (or your agency's) mission.

It's not enough to want people to visit your website. Why do you want them to do this? And, who specifically? Maybe you want to inform teachers, or educate nonprofit organizations about tax rules, or answer questions so that the volume at your call center is reduced.

And for you media relations or internal communications folks: Who do you want to reach? With what information? On what frequency? Are you aiming for some kind of change in volume, or in attitudes? What kind of change--more, less?--and exactly how much? What evidence do you have access to that might prove you achieved those goals? And how can you track that evidence systematically?

You might find the S.M.A.R.T methodology helpful. This system helps you set goals that are sufficiently specific. It's sort of like the old journalism saw--who, what, where, when, how, etc--but for numbers, not news stories.

What happens after goal setting? Systematic measurement and reporting on a set timetable.

Now implement your analytics. This means:
  • Systematically track your activities - on a regular schedule, count and record the things you or your team did relevant to the goals your set.
  • Measure your progress against your goals - on a regular schedule, analyze that collected information, evaluate how you compare to where your goal said you wanted to be, and share it with your team and others.
  • Improve your analytics - on a regular schedule, look at your goals and the ways you're measuring them to see if there are new methods of measurement that could better capture your work. Is your job now identical to your job 10 years ago? Probably not. So why are you still measuring your work exactly the same way? The same old might just be old.
Analytics sometimes requires basic statistics, sometimes not. It could be helpful to spend an hour or more refreshing your memory about stats concepts like measures of central tendency (average, median, mode, standard deviation, etc), rates of change, and comparing groups (or observations of the same group over time). If you don't know how to use Excel to make a chart or graph, learn that too.

There's lots of free training on analytics. Not knowing isn't much excuse when you can learn for free on the internet.

Avoid analytics at your own peril. You will regret it later, when you are not allowed to fill positions vacated by retiring or departing staff, and and when you lose out in budget meetings in which other offices brought data, while you brought a vague sense that you had done a pretty good job of doing what you always had done.

Do you have comments or other free analytics training resources that we all should know about? Let me know by commenting below.

This discussion is brought to you by the Federal Communicators Network. We have lots more on this topic. Check out Measure Campaign Effectiveness with Link Shortening and Internal Communications to Improve Employee Relations.