“The problem with communication is that it is too ‘squishy’ to be measured. It’s just easier to focus on technical efforts with project plans.”

This is an actual comment from a client about the challenge of security awareness and broader communication supporting technical projects. The irony is that at the time of the comment, the technical project was hitting delays and at risk of failure – due to poor and ineffective communication.

Time to put another myth to bed.

The myth: communication is a “soft skill” that cannot be measured

The Reality: effective communication is a reflective process; carefully selected benchmarks ground all aspects of communication, including: creation, delivery, navigation to mutual understanding, and even (or especially) outcomes

Why the myth?

I once asked a potential client how he measured success of security awareness. After a long pause, he calmly answered that he “didn’t waste his time measuring. He figured it was a waste of time, and preferred to cherry pick some stories to make sure his boss was happy.”

Unsatisfied, I pressed deeper. He revealed his concern that measuring actual results might demonstrate he wasn’t doing a good job. It was easier to manipulate the outcomes (and budget) with carefully timed stories.

This is similar to the often-accepted myth that it is not possible to teach or learn effective communication. Smashing that myth explored some of the ways in which communication is written off as “inborn and untouchable”, fostering perception that improvement is impossible.

With this way of thinking, it’s easy to dismiss the process of measuring and reflecting on communication as not being worth the trouble.

The assumptions are not true.

Although something may seem challenging doesn’t mean it is impossible; it often requires a different approach or set of tools.

It is possible to measure communication; in fact, it is essential to effective communication. Here are three important aspects of measuring communication:

  • Baseline: in order to measure the outcome and demonstrate results, it is necessary to have a baseline; further, determining the baseline helps solidify the measurement plan (and sometimes even the essential elements outlined below)
  • Periodic feedback: a key component of effectively communicating value, periodic feedback yields insights that inform the overall process; as a result of these measurements, it is possible to adapt and modify messages in a variety of ways to produce more successful outcomes
  • Reporting: ECV is outcome-oriented, which naturally begs the question of success. The reporting measurement details the final breakdown of the messaging and if it was successful or not – and why.


Three essential questions to measure value

Measuring communication draws on a variety of fields and skills, as well as tools. The most important aspect is to clearly define three essential concepts:

What does it mean to be successful?

The first step is to clearly define the expected outcome of the communication. Without this definition in place, measurement is elusive and often left to subjective judgment (and the ability to tell a good story using anecdotal evidence).

What is the value?

Value varies based on audience, context, timing and a few other key factors. To effectively communicate value requires exploring, distilling, documenting the significance of the message – in the context of success (defined above) to the audience.

How to measure what matters?

The key is measuring what matters. What matters is defined by the success criteria and the determination of value. From those, it is possible to use a variety of direct and indirect measurements and metrics to determine the baseline, periodic reporting intervals and final reporting process.

The purpose is to use available resources and opportunities to measure outcomes based on success in the context of value. All three work together.

Quick aside: measurement and metrics are related, but not the same. Measurement is action, the art and science of determining what and how to measure, including interpretation. Metrics are the gathered observations and collected elements often used for subsequent analysis.

Advanced Measurement of Communication

With the right structure in place – including a defined process for creating, delivering and managing content (and messaging) – it is possible to discretely measure the cost and value of specific messages, correlated to outcomes. It is possible to measure costs, efficacy and value of elements like:

  • Creation of content
  • Delivery of content
  • Consumption of content
  • Management of content
  • Engagement and outcomes

This means it is possible to develop an accurate understanding of how to best reach different audiences and outcomes for specific budgets and timeframes. Over time, this leads to less waste and a renewed focus on what works.

About the Author Michael Santarcangelo

The founder of Security Catalyst, Michael develops exceptional leaders and powerful communicators with the security mindset for success.

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