Over the years, we have all seen markets respond to rapidly changing environments with a quick solution that solves the problem at hand, but not as completely as we’d like. More time is needed for a complete solution to be developed.

Shortly after 9/11, I recall waiting in long lines at the airport – sometimes upwards of 2 hours – so that the hastily-implemented extra TSA screeners could do their job.  We all saw a very real need (airline safety) being met by a quick solution (thorough screening) that was often frustrating and time-consuming.  It took years until the Trusted Traveler programs were put into place, new passenger queue areas were built, and agents were trained to be more effective and polite for the worst of the security delays to abate.

The PR Quick Fix

In public relations and communications, we faced our own major crisis when the Internet took over: anyone could instantly access any content from virtually any publication, any opinionated person could be a publisher via their own blog, and social media made the worst of those people into both critics and amplifiers of bad news.  We in the communications industry had to do something – fast – to get our arms around what was being said, and how our messages were resonating.  So what did we do?

We turned to our friend, “technology”, to solve the problem quickly.

Powerful software was developed to deliver automated content scraping via rich Boolean keyword searches.  Sentiment software extracted words that reflected opinions and emotions.  Coupled with beautiful graphs bolted on the front end, this approach gave us a glimpse into all that content whizzing by at the speed of electrons.  It was far from perfect, but it worked.

From Automated to Curated

But now there has been more time to understand the rich complexity and interaction of content, the Internet, and social communications.  Many senior communications professionals are finding that for their organization – particularly large, complex brands with broad coverage across many outlets – the automated tools can only go so far in addressing their needs.  They thirst for knowledge beyond the keywords.  They hunger for relevant, insightful media analytics from mass-volume, multi-channel coverage.

Automated PR software applications cannot accurately and comprehensively interpret; they will only do what you tell them to do in the most literal terms. Even with the best search terms, first-generation tools will pick up irrelevant content (false positives) or exclude important content (false negatives).  They struggle to determine comparative relevance.  And just forget about subtle things like sarcasm, double meanings, or context. For example, is “He is the Tiger Woods of X” a compliment or an insult?  For golf, that would very likely be a compliment, but used in the context of being a good husband? Probably not.

One approach that has been gaining increased acceptance is media analytics based on advanced technology, yet augmented by highly-trained, specialized human analysts that wield sophisticated analytics tools.

Many organizations are finding that a human deeply analyzing a statistically relevant subset of coverage from the most important outlets, social media influencers, and channels allows them unprecedented quantitative insight into what is working, what is not, and how they are performing versus their peers. Human discretion also accounts for those subtle nuances that software applications cannot reliably pick up.

Organizations are discovering that as they understand the problem – and their goals – better, they are employing solutions that achieve the original goals, yet do them more effectively, gracefully, and usefully.  Humans leveraging technology can understand and analyze content like no computer can, and they can be flexible as situations change quickly.  They solve the original problem, but in a better, easier way.

…just like a shorter security line at the airport – who wouldn’t like that?

Eric Koefoot is a Managing Partner at PublicRelay. 

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