social media viewpointsHave you used social media strategies to support your public relations efforts? Are you struggling to show whether social made a difference?

This post will focus on six metrics you can use to measure the impact of social media on public relations (PR).

Why social media and PR?

As news outlets continue to boost their online presence, public relations professionals have a tremendous opportunity to leverage social media outlets to enhance their outreach efforts.

Social media networks like Twitter provide a new level of access to reporters that open dialogue in new and exciting ways. As social media sites become the “source” for news and breaking stories, marketers are seeing media coverage spread more rapidly than ever before.

But the big question is, how can you quantify the impact that social media has on your public relations efforts?

hand in hand

Social media and public relations go hand in hand. Image:

The best way to show the impact is to look at how social media has affected the costs of marketing efforts.

This can be accomplished by utilizing a few standard public relations, online advertising, search engine optimization and website metrics that can be combined to show a holistic view of the true value social media is bringing to the table.

The following list of metrics can be used to evaluate public relations or they can be used across several marketing channels to show a cross-channel view of where social media is delivering.

#1: Cost per Impression

Social media helps to expand the reach of your message and has a tremendous impact on the number of impressions that are generated for PR stories. Therefore, when you show the change in the cost per impression with and without social media, you can make a compelling case for why social media efforts are crucial to your strategies.

Facebook Insights readily provides impression data, but it can be more difficult to measure on Twitter. TweetReach and Simply Measured both provide information on how far messages are traveling on Twitter.


TweetReach is a social analytics tool that provides detailed metrics on the impact of your Twitter conversations.

simply measured

Simply Measured takes a different approach to analytics. Rather than a rigid dashboard, they empower non-technical marketers and PR professionals to become data rockstars.

You want to collect the total number of “eyeballs” that could have seen your post and divide it by the amount spent for the outreach to determine the cost per impression.

#2: Cost per Engagement

Engagement is the one thing at which social media continues to beat every other marketing platform, time and time again. It’s almost unfair to compare social media engagement against other channels, because other marketing channels simply do not have as many opportunities to generate engagement.

Aggregate how people engaged with the content and divide it by the cost to determine the cost per engagement.

Types of engagement include shares, clicks, comments, likes and mentions. The key to understanding if an action should be measured as engagement is to ask, “Did the user physically do something in order for the action to be complete?” Action is what separates an impression from engagement.

#3: Cost per Click

Public relations can drive users to click on links that are shared through social media channels. It can be difficult to figure out the number of clicks generated from links shared by third parties, but you can calculate the number of clicks that were generated through your own messaging by using the stats from your URL shortener.

Many times, articles will contain a link that goes to your corporate website that will add another layer of clicks to the mix. You can also request the number of page views of the article from the publication that had a social media site’s referring URL.

Take the total number of clicks and divide them by the cost of the outreach to determine the cost per click. Typically, if you compare the results to other advertising channels that use a cost-per-click metric, such as online advertising, you will see that social media delivers inexpensive clicks on public relations messages.


Social media decreases the cost of public relations impact. Image:

#4: Cost per Site Visitor

Due to the nature of online sharing, it is common to see a spike in website traffic that surrounds PR outreach. Considering that companies pay a lot for online advertising to get visitors to their site, not measuring the cost per site visitor across channels is a missed opportunity to show a positive social media impact.

To calculate the cost per site visitor, take the total number of website visits generated and divide it by the total cost of the outreach. Then, compare the results to online advertising and search engine optimization costs.

#5: Cost per Inbound Link

While more companies strive to improve their search engine rankings, more public relations professionals are being asked to request “backlinks” in media articles. These backlinks drive traffic to the corporate website.

Therefore, another good metric to compare is the cost per inbound link. To calculate this metric take the total number of inbound links the article generated and divide it by the total cost of the outreach. Then, compare the results to search engine optimization costs.

#6: Cost per Subscriber

When visitors make it to your website, it’s important to measure the actions they take. More and more companies are looking for ways to convert web traffic into “subscribers” who have provided their email address, allowing an additional opportunity for follow-up marketing efforts.

Therefore, consider comparing the cost per subscriber across all of your marketing channels to understand how public relations is performing in relation to your overall marketing spend.

To calculate the cost per subscriber, take the total number of new subscribers generated and divide it by the cost of the outreach.

Final Thoughts

You’ll notice that many of these metrics are not traditional “public relations” metrics, but rather they can be utilized to create a cross-channel dashboard which will show how social media and public relations efforts complement each other and deliver “inexpensive” results.

The results tend to be inexpensive because the incremental spend to capitalize on social media is usually very small. Remember, the goal is not to show that social media is “better” than other marketing channels, but rather that your other marketing channels are performing better and more cost-effectively when social media is in the mix.

What do you think? How have you shown a positive relationship between public relations and social media? What metrics do you use to tell the story? Please share your thoughts, stories and ideas in the comment box below.

Photos from iStockPhoto.
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  • DivineDiva2011

    It’s great to outline these because many people overlook the business opportunities that social media brings. I wish more corporations understood how much the different social media channels could help them with their PR! Great article. Thank you for sharing!

  • Nice post Nichole.  Nice to be reminded that our PR efforts have multiple measurable social metrics.

  • hi nichole (interesting spelling btw 🙂 )

    though i operate and support in an entirely different space that rarely utilises PR (at least in Australia – small business) it would be interesting to see if there is a metric to compare social media based on its content type.

    ie, small law firm, social media savy, with content sticking “to the rules” vs a small law firm, social media savy, but with boundary pushing content.

    i think with SM being more and more common place, this is where PR firms will need to focus their efforts in the future.  So you not only need to stand out in the traditional sense, but in the online sense also.  Everyone will eventually blog, have an FB page, g+, etc and the only thing that will see a stand out is the content.

    thanks again

  • Nichole_Kelly

    Thanks so much! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post.

  • Nichole_Kelly

    Thanks Veronica! I’m glad the post was useful. Thanks for commenting.

  • Nichole_Kelly

    Dexter – Great points…this goes to show that social media is not a “strategy.” How you use it to achieve business objectives is the strategy. You could definitely compare content types, but likely there are a lot of variables besides just content types that could impact results. Simple differences such as the way posts are distributed could also have a big difference. Thanks for sharing.

  • Thanks Nichole for this great post. I didn’t know TweetReach, until now. What’s your experience with it?

  • Nancy Cawley Jean

    Great post, Nichole!

  • ABoga

    Hi Nicole, thanks for the post, very interesting. I’m in PR and I think the biggest challenge when dealing with small-medium businesses is still to educate the clients about the different goals social media can help a company with, compared to traditional PR. However, from my experience, I see most companies just care about the number of “fans” or “followers”, limiting the objective to just impressions. I think PR professional should first educate their clients in approaching social media as a channel for two-way communications, rather than another platform to reach as many people as possible.

    Thanks for the round up of metrics.

  • Pedram Fardnia

    nice post . thanks

  • Thanks for providing some great Tips to evaluate public relations.  I’ll be using these tips for out company.

    Good job,

  • Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Cost per Click and how to track social media on PR

  • Sbrand1

    Nicole, it would be great to take this article and go in deeper on each of your 6 points each week with more detail and a step by step process on how these practices are performed. I.E. Step by Step process for calculating Facebook impresssions, Twitter, etc.

  • Interesting read Nichole. It appears the struggle is shifting from SEO/SEM to SMO/SMM.

  • Nichole_Kelly

    Juan – Thanks so much! I use TweetReach for general metrics on how far messages travel on Twitter. It’s helpful if you need those basic metrics, however if you are looking for something more comprehensive that includes mentions etcetera Simply Measured may be a good option. I hope this helped.

  • Nichole_Kelly

    Thanks Nancy!

  • Nichole_Kelly

    Great perspective. I have run into the same challenges, it can be more difficult to get companies to understand the value of the engagement and two-way communications because there isn’t a standard metric of success that they are familiar with, hence the focus on things like fans and followers. However, if you can show them these type of baseline metrics that have a history and understanding in the organization it starts to round out the story. Cost metrics are wonderful because cost savings goes right to the bottom line. Thanks for commenting!

  • Nichole_Kelly

    Pedram – Thanks so much. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post.

  • Nichole_Kelly

    Steve – You’re welcome. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  • Nichole_Kelly

    Interesting…that would be a good topic. I’ll work on covering those steps over on my blog at Keep a look out.

  • Nichole_Kelly

    Yes, it is interesting though, because the metrics go hand in hand, but many aren’t recognizing the relationship. Hopefully this post will help to connect the dots. 🙂 Thanks for commenting.

  • Thanks again Nichole. Really helpful. Will check out Simply Measured.

  • Lori

    I liked your article. Perhaps you could speak about how the impact is important to EdgeRank. Afterall, the number of fans you have won’t matter if your message never reaches them or doesn’t reach them in a timely manner.

  • Finally, PR are in the SpotLight.

  • armentisteve

    Nice post Nichole, I especially liked #2 Cost per Engagement. You’re right in that no other marketing channel can produce engagement like SM. But I feel like with the different levels of engagement (comments, shares, likes, mentions, RT’s, etc) that metric alone can be expanded into a much greater topic. Also taking into consideration EDGE rank and the new Facebook algorithm, it will be more and more important for brands to share interesting content and decide what kind of engagement they are trying to achieve and measure.

  • Jerrod

    Nichole, thank you so much for your insight. I found the information you have shared very useful. I have recently launched a new business venture with my father in law. The new venture is a website that is based on bringing all clearance pages together on one site in order to make it faster and easier for shoppers. Which the social media methods is somthing new to him, therefore your information is of great help. If you are interested the new site is  Thank you for the information and look forward to future insights.

  • Hello Nichole, thank you, excellent article. I would like to review with you the ratios proposed at the end of each index. For example when you write: “You want to collect the total number
    of “eyeballs” that could have seen your post and divide it by the
    amount spent for the outreach to determine the cost
    per impression.” 

    Shouldn’t it be the opposite ?, meaning: The amount spent in the outreach divided by the total number of eyeballs. In this way cost per impression = amount spent($) / total number eyeballs (count). This would give you the “dollars per impression”. The way you propose the ratio would be ” impressions per dollar”.

    In general, in all these type of indexes we want to know ” how many dollars per…impression, click, visitors, etc”, therefore the ratios should be calculated by taking the amount spent ($) divided by ” the parameter we are counting ( impressions, clicks, visitors, etc). Always in the following fashion: amount spent($) / parameter we are counting.

    My intention is to contribute with this post to the article for I find it useful, nevertheless it caught my attention the way the final ratio at each key metric or index was explained. If I am right in my observation It would be advisable to simply correct it and explain all readers. No harm done.

    Again, thank you Nichole I enjoyed your article very much.

    Jacobo Gheller ( Jake)  

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  • Seajay

    It has always been about the content…from the early days of print. A lousy ad or release is made worse by the numbers reading/engaging. Traditional media outlets have always leveraged the numbers and cost per impression but, as McLuhan said, the ‘media is the message’. He didn’t say the media is the measurement. Yet here you are trying to emulate the traditional media buyers tools and jargon. Probably a good thing for media buyers trying to justify their existence to use…not so good for the ultimate individual consumer of the message.

    Too bad you got the equations upside down, as Jake pointed out. Let me remind you of another axiom of communication marketing: What you do speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you say!

    CJ Waverley

  • Larry

    The post was interesting, but I still have a problem with Facebook and Twitter. I can see how you can measure the number of views, posts, clicks etc., but how do you measure the effectiveness of those metrics. I watch electronic ads on television. I do research and I usually purchase from an Internet store. I read the reviews but put little stock in them because many are written by the same people, who have nothing better to do. My main issue is that you have to get the customer to go to the Facebook Page and you have to have him sign up for a Twitter Account. You are making the customer come to you instead of you going to the customer. The local newspapers, television and even magazines should not be discounted. Some high profile web activity, such as the Obama fund raising effort before his election draw a lot of media attention and therefore consumer attention. I am still not convinced that having a Facebook page is more important than having a web page that is interactive and as you noted causes the person to join by leaving an e-mail address. I am an old timer and have seen lots of advertising and PR fads over the years. I would incorporate Facebook and Twitter into a PR campaign, but they would not be the foundation of it.

  • Lori – I’ve just started digging into EdgeRank recently. So far I like what I’m seeing. They are using engagement metrics to determine their rankings, so likely a good EdgeRank score would correlate to lower cost per engagement. I hope this helps!

  • Steve – As always, fantastic points! I agree, engagement is where social media really starts to shine. There are so many forms of engagement within social that it’s almost unfair to compare it to other media channels, but that’s why social is so great to align with PR! Thanks for sharing.

  • Jake – The actual formula is budget/impressions = cost per impression. Written out in text it can get confusing, but I’m pretty sure we are saying the same thing. 🙂 Thanks for commenting.

  • CJ – Thanks so much for commenting. These measurements are intended for marketers who are trying to justify their existence as you pointed out. 🙂

  • Larry – I agree with you. Social media is a wonderful tool to integrate with other existing marketing channels such as your web page, advertising and PR outreach. But it can also provide legs for a campaign that doesn’t have a large PR budget. It isn’t about getting your potential customers to come to you, rather it is about participating where they already are and many companies are finding their customers are on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • That’a really great post! Great tips, applicable and to the point!

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  • Thanks so much! I’m thrilled you found the post valuable and took the time to let me know! 🙂

  • Larry Wall

    I will agree with you, if Facebook and Twitter are all you can afford, then by all means they should be used and I will also agree that in some cases they will be effective. But, based on my experience, the consumer wants the message to come to him and he does not want to go searching for the message. There are exceptions. Companies pay outrageous sums to have commercials on the Superbowl and someone does a preview of the commercials. In that case some people are more interested in the commercials than the game. The Obama fund raising effort prior to his election got a lot of free media coverage, which let the customers to the message. No one element will do the job today. It takes a combination of tools and I believe the direct marketing approach via e-mail will be a tool that we use for a long, long time.

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  • business logo design

    Your post really helped me to understand the 6 Ways to Track the Impact of Social Media on Public Relations. It has great details and yet it is easy to understand.
    That’s what i was looking for. I will definately share it with others.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • business logo design

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  • business logo design

    After reading your post i have a better understanding of what6 Ways to Track the Impact of Social Media on Public Relations really is.
    Your post have the information that is helpfull and very informative. I would like you to keep up the good work.
    You know how to make your post understandable for most of the people.

    Thumbs up and Thanks.


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  • Kelly_perker

    Quoted this in my university paper, really helpful! 

  • Connor

    What I appreciate most about this article is that not only
    is the importance of social media broken down nicely, but how to further precede
    in introducing social media techniques into businesses is also broken down. In
    my experience, many people look at social media at a basic level, and do not
    truly understand the full capabilities (myself included, unfortunately) of
    these valuable tools. Having said that, it is nice that this article breaks
    down how businesses can improve simply by incorporating social media into their
    business plan. Surely social media will have an even larger impact then it has
    already had on the market, and I look forward to seeing where social media
    takes us!

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  • Great stuff @twitter-36664331:disqus ! 
    All of these are super easy for people to track, record and understand and they all show the value of social media to a company.

    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

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