Machines Or Humans? The False Choice In Content Analysis
Content analysis is the process by which many public relations professionals gauge the performance of their media programs. Key indicators include volume of coverage, presence of key messages and tone of coverage. Practitioners use media analysis to benchmark and improve performance versus objectives, competitors and past performance.
Within this demimonde of research and analysis, opinions split between the need for “real-time automated” and the necessity for “accurate human-coded.” Unfortunately, each comes with drawbacks: automated analysis sacrifices accuracy and insight for speed and an open-spigot of content. Hand-coded analysis sacrifices speed and breadth of coverage for precision and insight. The conventional wisdom is to choose one or the other.
Like so much conventional wisdom, the basis for choice is a myth. In truth, the balance for speed, accuracy and insight should be predicated on the pace of decision-making inside your organization and your needs within a given situation. For social media engagement via Twitter, for example, the speed/accuracy/insight ratio requirement might be 65/30/5. For intricate strategic matters, the speed/accuracy/insight ratio might be 20/35/45.
The ideal solution is the flexible system, one which makes no sacrifice. Universal systems exist which are fast when speed is required; accurate when the stakes are high; and insightful when the issues are complex. Plus, the gaps between “speed,” ‘”accuracy” and “insight” are shrinking with the ascent of “technologically enabled” human coding where accurate data are updated and analyzed daily.
Using this approach, a PR department may access a web portal to analyze human-coded data, prepare do-it-yourself charts and graphs, and deliver an executive-quality report. The same portal may push automated social media feeds and analytics in real-time.
The traditional monthly or quarterly “deep-dive” report emphasizes interpretive analysis and strategic guidance. And thorough comparisons reveal that a single-source solution often costs less than the other options in aggregate.
How did public relations succumb to the false dichotomy between automated and human-coding? Like most myths, this counterfeit choice is propagated by those with a vested interest in one position or the other.
Automated systems are highly scalable and more profitable than human-based alternatives; an approach which is attractive to investors and helps to explain the recent appearance of more than 300 automated content analysis providers.
For service providers entrenched in human-coding, automated system can be very expensive to develop and maintain; an approach which deters firms with a human-coding legacy. Neither business model speaks for the client’s need for flexibility.
The most important considerations for investing in media content analysis are the situations you are likely to encounter and the decision-making process within your organization. Speed? Accuracy? Insight? Why choose when you can have it all.
Mark Weiner is CEO of PRIME Research-Americas, a global research-based PR consulting firm.