Real-time vs. Benchmarking: Which Measurement Style is Right for You?

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Business colleagues, man pointing and woman writing on sidewalkMeasurement, measurement, measurement. It’s all we can talk about lately, right? With all the discussions about complex metrics and the ever elusive ROI, some of the more basic concepts of PR measurement have been drowned out.

Once you’ve come to terms with the idea that you absolutely must be measuring, where do you start? One of the first questions you should answer is whether you want to measure in real-time or whether you want to focus on measuring against a benchmark. Both satisfy rather different needs, but they could be paired to create a more robust measurement program as well. There is also some unavoidable overlap because, after all, measurement is measurement.

Real-time measurement

First of all, real-time is more aptly described as monitoring, though there can be some more quantitative aspects involved. The focus here is to gain an understanding of what is being said, where and about what right now.


  • Immediacy. Especially with social media, time is of the essence. If someone is bashing your brand or singing your praises anywhere online, there is a greater opportunity to quell concerns or leverage the enthusiasm if you can reach out to the speaker immediately.
  • Detailed insights. When you monitor in real-time, you have a greater opportunity to see incredibly detailed insights. You can watch tweets and Facebook posts go by in real-time, and there is no better way to understand exactly what consumers are saying and how they are talking about you or your brand.
  • Engagement. Obviously one of the biggest advantages to real-time monitoring is being able to respond in real-time as well. Waiting until the end of the month to analyze social media coverage can leave you in the dust because many conversations will already be long dead and forgotten.


  • Insights in a vacuum. If you’re tracking conversations in real-time, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. It may seem great that your tweet got retweeted 35 times today, but in the grand scheme of things, would that even be a blip on the radar? Putting metrics and numbers in perspective can be incredibly important.
  • Time suck. I don’t know about you, but I have a tendency to get addicted to things like Twitter, Facebook and Radian6. If I can keep hitting refresh to see new content, I have a tendency to get sucked in, and after a certain point, spending more time on monitoring may not be worth your while.

Benchmark measurement

Measuring against a benchmark can be far less time-consuming since you only have to do it once every month or so, but it can still provide some incredibly valuable and actionable insights. The goal of benchmarking is to gain an understanding of how conservations are changing over time.


  • Trends over time. The obvious and biggest advantage to benchmarking is to be able to understand how conversations fit into context. You can not only track topics and messages discussed over time, but you can monitor sentiment month-over-month or year-over-year.
  • Possible correlations. When you have the opportunity to look at a month’s worth of social media data in combination with sales data or Web analytics, there is an ability to find correlations that can then drive future business decisions or strategy.
  • Time savings. Analyzing a lot of data at once may seem daunting, but using sample sets and other statistical methods can help save you time without affecting the accuracy of your insights. If you’re strapped for time or resources, this may be one way to cut down on monitoring costs.


  • Time delay. If all you do is benchmark at the end of the month, there is a big risk that you will miss key opportunities to engage and possibly correct misinformation. High-level insights can only give you so much if you’ve missed all the best chances to engage.
  • Loss of detail. While benchmarking can provide a wealth of information, often the details are lost. You may know that folks are saying positive things about you, but what language are they using? What else do they talk about when they talk about you or your brand?

Overall, real-time monitoring and benchmarking are best when combined or used in tandem. What are you thoughts? Do you prefer one to the other? Why?

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