Can you measure a relationship?

During a seminar on how to measure PR activities in social media, I got the classic question on whether or not you can measure relationships.

The answer is: Yes, you can.

You can put a price tag on anything. The fundamental question is if the number on that price tag is helping your business to move forward — or not. (You could, for instance, use my Internet Marketing Matrix and calculate how well your online community translates into revenue.)

But return on investment is a tricky beast.

Human decision-making is an irrational process

Anyone could decide on a specific online purchase, only to change his or her mind moments later. Maybe the phone rings or the weather changes — leading to new and unexpected trains of thought. While human decision-making is a well-studied phenomenon, it’s akin to chaos theory.

But you want to know, right?

A relationship is a complex phenomenon, but you sure can get a lot of value out of a good one. As a simple transaction model, we recognise that different individuals enter into relationships for different reasons. What seems invaluable or abundant at your end might be valuable or scarce at mine — and vice versa.

Therefore, we must view and measure relationships differently from other typical business objectives.

Example 1: The money-centric business

Most companies are managed via one single principle — money. It’s what defines their success, it’s what their dictates governance, it’s what functions as their prime motivator.

To gain access to as many human-controlled wallets as possible, money-centric businesses must tell people that they care about them as human beings. But here’s the thing with humans: We can see through smooth-talk like that from a mile away.

Being money-centric has many advantages in business, but not necessarily when it comes to authentic relationships. A business might see humans as walking-and-talking wallets, but few of us likes to be seen or treated that way.

By measuring everything from a perspective of money, chances are that fewer human beings will give you less of theirs.

Not everything that counts, can be counted. And not everything that can be counted, counts.
Albert Einstein

Example 2: The value-centric business

Steve Jobs has an interesting take on business at Apple:

Jobs is primarily focused on creating the best product the company can ever bring themselves to manifest. And it’s not “the best product” according to any customer surveys; it’s the best product according to what he himself holds to be true.

Being value-centric is not at odds with making money.

Value-centric businesses tend to do better in this digital first world of ours. Word-of-mouth is on steroids today — this puts human beings right at the center of any business model. We all care about money, businesses and people alike, but that’s not how we form trust and deep relationships.

If instead a company is primarily focused on making something awesome for the sake of making it, people will respond well to it. Such companies will often be just as business-savvy as money-centric businesses; not because they want your money, but because they need your money to make their vision come true.

Measure non-monetary value — and money will follow

Why is so crucial to understand the difference between a money-centric business and a value-centric business?

This is because a money-centric business can’t measure the value of a relationship in a way that leads to better and deeper relationships; they can just put a price tag on it. But a value-centric business can. They can:

  • Measure how objectively good your products or services are.
  • Measure how the brand is loved by customers the company respects.
  • Measure how the company lives up to its own values.
  • Measure how objectively awesome the company is to work for.
  • Measure what positive change the company is making in the world.

And so on.

Only measuring how to cram more money out of every relationship will have you treating your publics like wallets with legs. And that would be a shame, because human beings have so much more to give other than just their money.

And as the saying goes, “what gets measured, gets done.”

To understand the real value of public relations, what you decide to measure matters more to your business than your method of measuring it.

Photo by Farid Askerov on Unsplash.