Measuring the impact of communications campaigns is a challenge. How do you know if your content and messaging reached the intended audience and had the desired effect? Did the various pieces of your campaign fit together and create the result you and your team were hoping for?
These were the same questions Katie Cousins, an Air Force major and public affairs instructor in the Defense Information School at Fort Meade, asked of herself and her students. Her class had the opportunity to watch a live-streamed Presidential Medal of Honor Ceremony that memorialized an Air Force service member killed in the line of duty. She developed a reverse case study environment where she and the students would monitor social media platforms to measure public reaction and engagement while the event was happening. And thus, the Sight Model, which uses the reverse engineering concept to evaluate the impact of marketing and communications campaigns, was born.
The Sight Model consists of three main steps: Analyze, Build Backward, and Compare. To analyze, research and collect all posts and messages that appeared on a public platform: social media posts, media placements, blogs, photos, videos, etc. In addition to the traditional measures of likes, shares, retweets and comments, Cousins recommends examining the conversations that took place, both on owned media as well as external sites, to get a more comprehensive view of audience reaction. You will also want to study your media placements to see who was quoted and which talking points and messages were used, to determine whether your intended message came across.
To build backward, piece together all of your communications outputs chronologically and see if you achieved your goal. Look at the timeline, the talking points from your subject matter experts, and the messaging in your posts. This approach utilizes the reverse engineering concept to identify any missing messages or holes in your plan timeline. Cousins compares it to piecing a puzzle together: when the pieces of your communications plan are fit together, they will reveal an image. But is this the image you want, or are there any missing pieces?
The final step is to compare your intended plan to what actually unfolded. How close did your outcomes get to your goal? Look at the conversations and behavior of your intended audience. For example, if you shared a video, look at the average viewing time, not just the click-throughs. Cousins recommends creating a spreadsheet to record your data, along with topics of conversation surrounding each output.
“You don’t have to wait for the campaign to be finished,” advises Cousins. “The advantage to using the Sight Model is that you can apply it mid-campaign, to check your outcomes as the campaign progresses.”
The Sight Model can be an invaluable tool to evaluate the success of an event. Cousins employed the model to evaluate the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum’s recent “Go for the Moon” community event. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, the museum invited the public to the National Mall for a 17-minute video that showcased the historic moment. The video was shown six times over three evenings in July, with the hope that the viewing area would be filled to its 25,000-person capacity and leave people inspired by the achievement.
Cousins and her students conducted environmental scanning, analyzed public news platforms and social media pages, and reviewed a web page set up by the Smithsonian where people could post their thoughts on their experience of the historic event. Using the ABCs, students rebuilt what they believed was the Smithsonian’s communication campaign plan and derived their own feedback for the Smithsonian team. “We looked at qualitative in addition to quantitative data,” she says. Result: the event exceeded capacity and there was much engagement on the website and social media. Student feedback concluded that social media outreach could have been targeted better to specific demographic groups, based on the Smithsonian’s organizational goal for the event. “We don’t always have the perfect plan,” says Cousins. “But the Sight Model can help us identify what’s missing and improve our future planning.”
The same practice was applied during reverse case studies with the California National Guard, the Department of Defense and NASA. Each time, students learning communications for just eight weeks were able to provide valuable and immediately-applicable feedback to the organizations. “One of the greatest values for teams implementing the Sight Model is the ability to eliminate opinionated shaping of findings. It is a realistic look at progress, gaps and outcomes, and an opportunity to identify insight and foresight for future targeted planning,” says Cousins.
To hear more from Cousins on using the Sight Model, listen to her recent interview on the Flack Pack podcast.