The Influencer Marketing Measurement Enigma

Public relations has always been a challenge to measure. However, now that public relations is overlapping with marketing, you’d think demonstrating a return on investment (ROI) would be getting easier.

If there’s anything marketing has a lot of, then it’s metrics. With the rise of influencer marketing as a paid PR tactic, there’s a myriad of metrics that can be reported to demonstrate campaign value from our old friend, impressions (how many eyeballs saw it) to engagement rates and high-value actions (clicks, shares, etc). And then, there’s earned media value (EMV) — a metric that is both coveted and enigmatic.

What is EMV anyway?

Definitions of EMV vary but, broadly, it means the value of earned publicity in unpaid third-party channels such as traditional media, social media and blogs. However, most recently, EMV is used to evaluate ROI for influencer marketing campaigns. In this context, EMV is a calculation to determine the ad spend that would have been required for paid social media to achieve the same results as influencer posts.

We used to calculate the value of earned media placements according to advertising value equivalency (AVE), based on the cost of a print media ad and the publication in which it appeared. Our industry has come to despise AVEs because it doesn’t reflect the true value of a high-impact, earned-media placement.

For example, being included on Oprah Winfrey’s “favorite things” list can make a company.

A case in point is the brand S’well. In 2011, Oprah included the first batch of S’well’s elegantly designed, insulated water bottles on her list of favorite things. This enormously impactful earned media placement became the tipping point for the company’s sales and momentum. Today, a S’well water bottle has practically become a fashion accessory. It’s unlikely that any amount of paid advertising would have built the same value for the brand.

EMV is starting to sound like a reincarnation of AVEs. EMV is a limited metric because it does not weigh the broader but less-tangible impact that traditional media, prominent social media personalities, celebrity influencers or popular blogs might have beyond what they communicate in the PR placement itself.

EMV also doesn’t measure when social media users take screenshots of PR-campaign posts, which they can refer to and act upon later.

EMV is a mysterious metric.

Most PR and marketing metrics are straightforward, relatively standardized equations that can be seen for free in social media analytics, Google Analytics for your website, etc. Such measurements include click-through rates, engagement rates, average engagement times, locations, etc. However, EMV baselines fluctuate like the stock market.

In 2017, when influencer marketing was a growing industry, the media company, Ayzenberg Group launched a proprietary, artificial intelligence platform for marketing called It’s this platform that underpins the Earned Media Value Index (EMVI), which Ayzenberg introduced to appraise social media and influencer marketing campaigns with dollar-specific valuations.

How assigns values is a mystery, but influencer marketing platforms such as Julius, Unmetric and Klear began to integrate the EMVI into their web applications so customers could assess the value of their third-party marketing campaigns.

We know that earned media values fluctuate and are different depending on the social media platform. For example, saves are not valued, despite being a proxy for the social media user’s interest or intent to buy.

How can cumulative metrics work if values fluctuate, making campaign ROI look like gold one month and a total failure the next? One solution is to measure the same values from the first report on all reports, so you’re measuring apples to apples. However, this could only work for manual calculations, since tools that attempt to measure EMV report in real-time and fluctuate.

Does EMV even matter?

Of course, the holy grail is to measure a PR and marketing campaign’s direct effect on sales. But unless it’s a consumer product and an influencer’s post leads directly to the purchase, it’s generally hard to track.

With pharmaceuticals for instance, patients might talk to doctors months later about a treatment they had seen in an earned media placement. And with other PR and marketing tactics in the mix, it’s difficult to attribute sales to one approach or the other.

Having earned media posts link or include a website address for a landing page may help isolate the data that demonstrate consumer interests. But EMV is currently our only way to put a dollar amount on the ROI from a PR campaign.

That said, as with all PR tactics, when it’s working, you know it. For most companies and brands, a higher share of voice generally correlates with higher market share.

Shalon Kerr (née Roth) is an award-winning author and has contributed to several PR trade publications. In 2018, she founded PR-it, a global collective of independent health care communications, PR and creative experts, curated into virtual flash teams to deliver projects.

[Photo credit: parradee]

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