When Measurement isn’t Measurement

So today was the big physical fitness test for my Army Reserve unit. We all gathered for the semi-annual assessment of our fitness by doing push-ups, sit-ups and a two-mile run. It’s always a nerve-racking event full of troops either trying to push for a good score so they can get promoted or just trying to pass so they can retire. Splendid fun.

We used a new course for our two-mile run this time, which is fine, but at this random point along the course one of the graders started calling out the time that had elapsed. “4:26, 4:27, 4:28…” he yelled out (yes, it’s common for graders to call out every passing second). So I asked him how far along on the course we were. He said he didn’t know.


And since I find myself so often trying to compare life experiences to my career, I started thinking about measurement in public relations and social media. I try to read up on what people are talking about as far as new methods to measure communication efforts (and there’s a lot to read) and one thing I haven’t seen much of is the importance of having something to measure against. It’s great to have a lot of followers or to have a lot of people visiting your site or to see a lot of comments on your blog. But if you haven’t set a goal for yourself or your organization, or if you aren’t benchmarking against competitors in your industry, what exactly are you measuring?

I did just fine on my PT test, but that dude calling out a random time at a random point along the run didn’t help. Had I known I was about a third of the way through the course, I could have stepped it up and really beaten my goal — just like how you can use your communication metrics at a given time to compare against your goals. That way, you can change course or step up your effort if you find yourself lagging. Without goals, you don’t know if what you’re doing is working or not.

The bottom line is that without having some sort of definition of success, measurement is just a waste of time.