Anecdotal feedback matters—make it a useful measurement tool

Sandra Stewart | June 24, 2014

Savvy PR teams know they need to measure communications effectiveness—and many can produce reams of reports showing numbers of conversion rates, captured leads, downloads, page hits, email opens, and so on. But many overlook the value of ungraphable, untidy anecdotal feedback.

Numbers never tell the whole story, especially about communications designed to build the brand (a thought leadership article, for example) rather than to produce specific, immediate results (such as online sales). You can track how many people download a report, but the numbers won’t tell you what they think about it.

That’s where anecdotal feedback comes in—it can provide color to numbers, help solve mysteries (like why you got many downloads but few actions), and give you a sense of how people feel about your brand. The key to getting useful anecdotal feedback is to actively collect it and properly value it. These strategies will put you on the right path.

Write down comments you receive—solicited or not

This is the minimum level of collecting anecdotal evidence: all it takes is attentiveness and a commitment to recording. Don’t rely on mentally noting comments for consideration with your next iteration of the project—you’re likely to lose the original meaning. And most of us don’t need to indulge in our tendency to remember only what we want to hear.

Ask directly

Reaching out to a few people who are representative of your audience is the simplest way to actively gather anecdotal feedback. Just remember: if you want evidence, anecdotal or otherwise, you have to ask the people you’re targeting. If you’re asking colleagues for feedback, you’re getting a second opinion. (And if you do want a second opinion, tell people what you’re trying to achieve—otherwise, all you’ll gain is insight into your colleagues’ personal tastes.)

Don’t just ask, “What do you think?”

The responses you get will be exactly as thoughtful—and useful—as the question. Ask focused questions, such as “Did that X we sent you fill you in on our latest Y?” or “Did the projects we featured in X help you understand what we do?” Construct questions so that they’re not subtly leading people to positive responses.

Consider a survey

You can reach more people this way, and they won’t hold back as they might in a one-on-one conversation (though you won’t be able to ask for clarification). Keep it short, and make sure it includes open-ended questions—multiple-choice answers often don’t capture the most valuable feedback. Use this method judiciously—you’ll annoy people if you’re constantly surveying them.

Keep feedback in context

Consider where comments are coming from (your target audience or others), the volume of feedback (one comment could just be an idiosyncratic response), and how well it jibes with quantitative measurements. If numbers and anecdotes seem at odds, that’s worth exploring, but may or may not be worth acting on.

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