A key ingredient in any successful communications initiative is the development of relevant, timely messages. Those messages enable third parties, including the media, to elevate visibility and awareness of your company, brand or cause among your target audiences, prompting them to action.
Message analysis is an important tool for measuring the effectiveness of your efforts, providing a snapshot of their reach in terms of audience and message penetration. Additionally it can be used to measure the presence of conflicting messages which may be diluting your voice.
At times, identifying messages within an article or blog can be a tricky proposition. The writer may use an entirely different set of words than the ones used in your “official” message, while still getting across the same idea to their readers. Or perhaps a message you expected to be expressed as a single discreet statement appears in an unexpectedly disjointed fashion, appearing bit by bit throughout the course of several paragraphs. Perhaps the writer uses some of the same words but somehow manages to distort your intended meaning (”He said what?!”). Perhaps only part of a message is delivered or, as you delve deeper into the coverage, you identify recurring messages that are not part of your tracking protocol (”Where did that come from?!”).
Almost anything can happen, so it helps to be prepared.
An initial review of existing coverage in your area of interest – before you develop your messages – may be warranted, especially if you want to use such an analysis as a benchmark for future comparison, after your program has concluded. The “before and after” picture can be compelling in showing how your program’s messages are impacting the media landscape.
A coding protocol is another useful tool to create before you begin your review – this is the critical action that ensures a sound methodology and replicable results. The protocol reviews the key data points tracked for each article, outlines the key messages tracked in your review, and provides guidelines for assessing the tone of an article or the prominence of a topic within an article. Think of it as a living document which can be revisited and changed as necessary. Use it to record variants in messages or new messages encountered in your review. They may appear so often as to warrant inclusion in your final report, but even if not, it’s always a good idea to keep track of them in case questions of interpretation arise with the client once you’ve presented your findings. Also helpful is a flexible message tracker – to which additional columns can be added with ease to capture the variations as they are encountered, reducing the need to revisit the coverage.
The tools described above, while not being able to answer all questions clients may ask regarding the findings of an analysis, will nevertheless pave the way for understanding the lay of the land before you begin your coding, as well as provide a common ground for discussion and a clear rationale for the decisions made during the coding process.