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

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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  • Anonymous

    Rebecca, you hit it on the head with working the two in tandem. One thing that also has to be kept in mind is that the goals can vary campaign to campaign and company to company as there is no silver bullet or one-sized-fits-all glass slipper for companies.

  • Great thoughts all around, Rebecca. Honestly, this is a post that should be read by every first-year PR associates, as it provides an excellent primer for the basics of measurement, particularly as a blended method of traditional PR (which would typically call for measurement on a monthly basis as part of a client report) and the necessity for real-time measurement and analyzing based off the realities of the 24/7 content/news cycle that social media continues to predicate.

    Ultimately, as you note, measurement in today’s PR world requires a blend of real-time and benchmarking, and it’s one that I don’t think we should ever have a hard-and-fast rule one way or the other, but instead, should consider in terms of client needs and desires, the realities and market concerns of certain industries and how detailed we want to be with our reporting. As with many things in any business, it requires a good deal of trial and error to find the right mix, but the tips you have laid out above help to put this discussion in context.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for writing this post – and I disagree slightly with Keith that only first year PR associates should read this. I’ve seen seasoned vets that have no idea where to even start when it comes to measurement, and that includes those that are telling their clients what to do. Its imperative to know which questions to ask right off the bat when it comes to measurement, and you provide some great insight on reporting, benchmarks and detail.

    I also liked that you broke it into real-time and benchmark measurement. This is a distinction that most don’t think about, but brands need to think on how they will approach both right from the start. Thanks for some great reminders – this is why research/analytics depts are needed in most agencies – and for mentioning us!

    Lauren Fernandez, Radian6

  • You need to to real time monitoring as well as monthly monitoring to ensure that you are achieving the goals of your Marketing Strategy. If you need Social Media Monitoring. Try out Actionly -Social Media Monitoring dashboard and listening platform. Offer a FREE account too!

  • I very much agree with you on that! There should never be a monitoring/measurement template this is the end-all for anything. Everything needs to be tweaked and customized for each client and often for each campaign!

  • Wow! Thank you, Keith! That means a lot coming from you.

    I absolutely agree that ultimately the perfect fit will be a combination of the two, and I also love that you mention trial and error. Often it’s easy to stick with what you know and keep the set-up or method laid out at the start, but you have to be willing to change your methods and grow!

  • I absolutely agree, both are necessary to get a complete picture. Thank you for the advice on Actionly, I will have to check it out!

  • I really appreciate your comment, Lauren! I am so flattered to hear that from you, lady!

    It still seems strange to me how measurement isn’t always integrated into PR. My very first PR class taught measurement as an essential part of the PR process, so I always assumed that’s just the way the world works. I hope that even the seasoned vets will be willing to learn and grow to really integrate measurement and monitoring more and more over the coming years.

    I’ve always categorized the two types of measurement for some reason, it just helps me to simplify the process in my own head! Ha ha. And you know I love R6, so I’m happy to talk it up anytime I can!

  • This is a great post Rebecca. You’ve done a fantastic job of breaking each style of measurement down.
    The only part I don’t agree with is why it needs to be an either or situation. I think that both should be done. I know you said that at the end of the post, but it’s not as apparent as it should be. The best efforts will be a combination of both.
    Benchmarking is great for indicating and showing change over time, while real-time is great for quick acting and can also help to change what the long term results are. If you can do them both together properly you can easily adjust what isn’t working to make it work or to focus more on what is working helping to show your benchmarking results.
    Otherwise this post is chalked full of great info for people to read.


    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

  • Sheldon, after re-reading, I definitely agree. I do believe strongly in a combination of both real-time and benchmarking, but I did not emphasize that nearly enough in this post. I love you perspective, you say very succinctly what I tried to say in 500+ words!

    Thank you for your comment. Definitely going to watch out next time I write about this!

  • Anonymous

    Hi Rebecca,
    I’d also have to say that depending on the moment, companies can choose one or the other, or a mix of the two. There doesn’t have to be so much a either-or approach as an idea of the continuum of social media monitoring that can exist. Some of our clients want daily reports, for example, while others want trimesterly reports. Still others want an analysis of a certain marketing or communications actions and others want crisis monitoring or an audit of their online image.

    In either case (monitoring or measuring), there should be a long-term view which is a challenge for companies when the average “life-span” of a marketing director is a year and a half. It can help keep conversations in perspective, however.

    Nice to find you here, Rebecca 🙂 And looking forward to “seeing” you other places online in the future.

    Michelle @Synthesio (intl web monitoring 😉 )

  • Michelle! So good to “see” you here as well! I loved your tweet from last night, I am feeling much better today. 🙂

    I’m glad you mention the difference between daily reports and longer-term reports. That’s an incredibly important distinction as well beyond just real-time vs. benchmarking. And of course crisis monitoring is a whole new ball game. The focus on long-term is incredibly important, and I think even real-time monitoring needs to be related back to long-term goals.

    Thank you so much for your comment! Can’t wait to hear more from you!