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Corporate Blogging ROI: Now We're Talking!

by Mario Sundar  |  
February 6, 2007

In the recent past, we bloggers at MarketingProfs have surely tried our best to evaluate the current state of the corporate blogosphere, with many a good post from fellow bloggers. CK started it all with her debut post where she outlined the 5 rules for social media: Connect, Share, Be Honest, Make Friends, Be Contrite....

I added my three cents to the corporate blogging question: (i) Blog Responsibly, (ii) Intangible Asset, and (iii) Let's talk ROI....
So, shall we talk Corporate Blogging ROI?
1. Let's quantify Blogging ROI:
Forrester's Charlene Li has published a paper that is a great first step in measuring ROI for corporate blogs. (See her chart, below.) Couldn't have come at a better time. Here are the components of her measurement metrics, and my take on them.
What's easy to measure:
(a) Press mentions - this is the greatest indicator of current value and is also the easiest to measure
(b) Search engine placement
(c) Word of mouth
What's not easy to measure (due to amorphous value considerations):
(a) Savings on customer insight - This is not exactly impossible, but may prove to be more time-consuming & nebulous than imagined; measuring the number of times blog comments provide useful business insight.
(b) Blog traffic - What are similar content channels to measure the impact of blog traffic? Is it advertising through RSS feeds?
(c) Increased sales efficiency - I believe an increased number of clients and prospects reading your blog will inevitably lead to increased sales but I wonder how it's measured.
2. Let's quantify Engagement:
The elusive "engagement" metric is definitely the most difficult to define. My friend and web strategist, Jeremiah Owyang answers Scoble's call for defining this metric. In a recent post, he initiates a conversation on measuring the engagement metric. Here's Jeremiah's evolving definition of Engagement:

Engagement indicates the level of authentic involvement, intensity, contribution, and ownership

Great definition. In my opinion, ownership is the definitive keyword. A perfect example would be popular videoblogger, Ze Frank. You'll notice that Ze stresses on the philosophy of letting go (a.k.a the 80% rule) of content once it's created so that the audience can mold it the way they imagine. T
he same holds good for all other engagement-intensive websites such as MySpace and Digg. The more democratic a website becomes, the more engaged the audience becomes... and there are no two ways about it. For e.g. Seth's blog would rate a 0 on engagement (no comment policy), while Scoble's blog (where he invites comments) would rate a 100.
Suitable methods of measuring engagement would be through variables such as number of comments (Ze Frank averages 500 comments per post!), instances of user-generated content, etc... So, how else do we measure ownership?
For handy reference, here is Charlene Li's chart:
As marketers from different corporate environments, do you believe the most recent Forrester report will give you enough ammo to win over your company to the blog side?
Feel free to comment.

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Mario Sundar has over five years experience in leadership roles both in Marketing as well as in Software Development. Mario currently works at LinkedIn, the World’s largest online professional network, as Community Evangelist. Prior to that, he helped develop & manage marketing initiatives for Fortune 50 high-tech brands. Mario is also on the board of the American Marketing Association (Silicon Valley Chapter).

In May 2006, Mario launched his marketing blog where he discusses customer evangelism, community marketing and social media strategy. Ranked as one of the fastest growing Wordpress blogs in July 06, “Marketing Nirvana” continues to expand its readership each week. The blog currently (as of 04/07) has a Technorati Rank of 7,113 and an Alexa Ranking of 142,830.

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  • by Mack Collier Tue Feb 6, 2007 via blog

    This is exactly the type of 'kick in the pants' that companies need to start blogging. Unfortunately, many don't respond well to the idea of blogging as being a tool to let them better understand and communicate with their customers and vice versa. But when you can start to show companies how their bottom line can be improved by blogging, that gets their attention. Great study by Charlene and Forrester!

  • by CK Tue Feb 6, 2007 via blog

    Mario: Thanks for tackling the metric subject matter. The thing that I find about blogging--and quantifying based on sheer volume of traffic--is that not all traffic is created 'equal'. A value vs. volume argument, I guess. While many co's need to think on volume, not all do. For many blogs, having 100 of the right, highly engaged readers far outweighs 1000 users that are either not necessarily in their target audience, engaged or in the purchasing cycle. Say I was pitching social media to a provider of tech services in the Life Sciences sector and their focus was the top 20 pharma and biotechs. The volume of traffic would not matter as much as the value of getting traffic from decision-makers at those pharmas. So they may only hope for a readership of 100 that spread that message to another 100. That might not catapult their Technorati rankings but might land them 5 multi-million dollar, multi-year accounts. Because I mainly work the b2b side this is a pivotal part of my pitch to clients in getting them to focus on value of traffic (instead of volume). Make sense?

  • by Damon Billian Tue Feb 6, 2007 via blog

    I've always wondered why certain bloggers don't allow comments. While I understand the need to protect a board from spam, I believe that most of the comments are generally good (for example, I only moderate comments after they've been posted on the forums I work with). ***I am not sure if a blog can be a conversation without a two-way discussion.*** Note: Dave McClure also pointed out on Charlene's blog that you can reduce customer service contacts with a blog and/or forum.

  • by Gavin Heaton Tue Feb 6, 2007 via blog

    Thanks Mario ... ROI is a real challenge. As CK points out, the weighting of the different measures also need tweaking ... but these frameworks are a great place to start. Of course, once you have these frameworks in place, blogging can be a VERY low cost way of entering into conversation. And then, as traffic and content grows, the business case can be revisited.

  • by Stephen Denny Tue Feb 6, 2007 via blog

    Mario: this is a zen-like topic, I'm afraid. Sure, we can measure things like WOM, but WOM divided by X doesn't give you ROI. Blogs give you insights, answer questions some of your users never thought to ask, and take good care of your 1%-ers (and probably the next 10%-ers, too). I'm wondering if "the company blog" is going to become like "the company website" -- something we do in marketing that everyone agrees "we have to do" for lots of reasons we can't easily isolate or measure.

  • by Gavin Heaton Tue Feb 6, 2007 via blog

    Though I don't agree with a no-comment policy, considering the amount of authentic engagement and conversation that Seth Godin fascilitates (or at least popularises), I can't see that Seth would really end up with a zero score. Of course, it comes down to standards ... sites such as co-comment, buzzmetrics or technorati can go some of the way. I am sure the crew that crack this metrical model will make millions ;)

  • by Mario Sundar Wed Feb 7, 2007 via blog

    Hi Mack, I'm hopeful blog evangelists such as yourself can use this tool as a starting point to convince fellow marketers. Stephen, As for the measurement, I think this is the closest we've gotten to measuring an intangible such as brand impact. The above chart does a good job of quantifying INVESTMENT! However, you raise an interesting question - What is the RETURN on the investment? In this case, that may be hard to quantify since as CK points out it'd be increased sales efficiency! Any thoughts on how else we could "break the pinata"?

  • by Mario Sundar Wed Feb 7, 2007 via blog

    CK, As always, priceless comment. There definitely is the dilemma of weighted value with regards to blog comments and you're right in pointing that out. But irrespective of the return on the investment, I believe all blogs need to have a two-way conversation (as Damon points out) which then allows us to quantify the investment accurately enough. It's the RETURN on that investment that's a slippery slope. What do you think?

  • by Mario Sundar Wed Feb 7, 2007 via blog

    Gavin, I was just trying to define one end of the spectrum while zeroing in on Seth's blog! However, I do believe that if Seth doesn't wish to permit comments, he may as well just call it a website. Although, he's not factually incorrect calling it a blog, it's common knowledge that "the ability for readers to leave comments in an interactive format is an important part of many blogs." (Wikipedia definition of blogs). And to be honest with you, I don't see how one generates authentic engagement when no one's allowed to comment? Feel free to share examples of how Seth engages with his audience?

  • by Debbie Weil Wed Feb 7, 2007 via blog

    I've been as fascinated as anyone by the ROI of blogging question. I devote a chapter to it in my book (The Corporate Blogging Book - chapter 6). I call it ROB (Return on Blog). Charlene Li's attempt to quantify the ROI is commendable. It's straightforward, relatively simple and pragmatic. Trouble is, even Forrester admits that "calculating the ROI of blogging has limitations" and "the exact benefits of blogging are impossible to measure" (I'm quoting from Forrester's Jan. 24, 2007 Best Practices report.) So where does that leave us? Pretty much back where we started, wouldn't you say? Corporate blogging is valuable because: - it creates (or can create) a conversation - you can learn a lot from the conversation - it can lead to mentions in mainstream press (so PR value) - it gives a company higher Google search results, etc. Now here's my addition to this conversation (tx Mario for inviting us to participate!): I'm currently running an informal survey on corporate & CEO blogging and the use of social media tools. The answer to the question: Does corporate blogging need to be tied to the bottom line (i.e. does a dollar value need to be tied to its success)? 60% say NO. 26% say YES. (Doesn't add up to 100 as not everyone answered this question. Over 300 respondents to the survey so far.) Interesting, huh?! You can take the survey here:

  • by Easton Ellsworth Wed Feb 7, 2007 via blog

    A corporate blog can be started so cheaply and easily that it's almost always worth the ol' college try. Okay, so yes - the blog may just fall flat on its face. But if the stories or conversation or news or whatever it houses are *compelling* - and so much in that case depends on who's doing the blogging - then the blog should succeed and then some. One way for a company to make it easier to measure the value of its blog is to clarify the blog's purpose. Is it simply to address customer questions and concerns? Is it primarily to spread the word about new products? Is it to invite suggestions on where to take the business? The better defined the purpose, the more easily measured the ROI(ROB).

  • by Gavin Heaton Thu Feb 8, 2007 via blog

    Interesting Mario ... I actually had not really thought about your question about how Seth engages with his audience! You know, I am certainly not defending Seth or his policy on commenting ... but I was viewing engagement the other way around. While Seth may not engage his audience, his audience is certainly engaged/activated by him ... and similarly, this post has been discussed around my office today yet I am the only one commenting here. Hmmm ... you really have my mind ticking over now -- need to think on it some more -- thanks!

  • by Mario Sundar Thu Feb 8, 2007 via blog

    Hi Debbie, Thanks for your comments. I just participated in your survey. Interesting... As idealistic as I am, I'd definitely beg to differ with the mainstream thought process of your survey takers as to not tying corporate blogging to the bottom line. Charlene's research is definitely a great way to quantify a blog's success(despite its limitations). Having seen and made attempts to convince executives to blog, I can assure you that without proving ROI, blogging may not get adopted widely by corporate America. What are your thoughts on the topic, Debbie?

  • by Mario Sundar Thu Feb 8, 2007 via blog

    Easton, You've made a great point there... We definitely need to measure RETURN depending on the GOAL, set for the blog. Interestingly, I don't see that on Charlene's outline. Which of the factors do you think correspond to a goal based ROI or ROB?

  • by Mario Sundar Thu Feb 8, 2007 via blog

    Hi Gavin, I understand your point-of-view, but I believe engagement is different from being a fire-starter. Yes! Seth, definitely has interesting ideas that spread like fire among "believers", but he doesn't engage with his audience. It's more like Seth's a brand and the brand followers discuss the brand amongst themselves. Let me know what your colleagues think. Feel free to ask them to participate on this thread. Would love to know what they think?

  • by Chris Parente Thu Feb 8, 2007 via blog

    Really interesting discussion. Re Forrester, I shared my take last week in Lewis's post on this topic -- it's a creative approach but basically the old PR/Ad Equivalency exercise dressed up in new clothing. But that doesn't mean I think it SHOULDN'T be tied to the bottom line. I'm really surprised by the 60% number in the survey -- hello Debbie by the way, I just gave you another reply!

  • by Mario Sundar Thu Feb 8, 2007 via blog

    Hi Chris, Great observation! Here's another thought process on why that may not work: Having said that; I'd have to revert to my "However, this is the best system we have for measuring ROB". It also is the only system that corporate marketing teams can understand. Do you know of any other methods for measuring ROI/ROB?

  • by Terinea Tech Tips Mon Mar 12, 2007 via blog

    Mario, excellent! I'll be mentioning this post next time I speak to a client who doesn't need or want a blog, or so they tell me!

  • by Mario Sundar Thu Mar 22, 2007 via blog

    Thanks, Terinea That's the best compliment anyone could give a blog post :)

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