Measuring ROI in the Blogosphere: Harnessing an Unregulated Space


To say the blogosphere has been growing at a locomotive rate the past few years is to make an excessive understatement. Consider these statistics culled from a March 2008 study conducted by Universal McCann: 77% of all Internet users read blogs; Almost half (45%) of all Internet users have started their own blogs; Almost 30% of blog readers spend most of their time reading news/current affairs blogs; Almost 25% of blog readers spend most of the their time reading opinions on products and brands; 36% of Internet users think more positively about companies that use blogs; and 32% of Internet users trust bloggers' opinions on products and services. Based on these findings, it is clear why the blogosphere is so important to marketers and PR professionals. It wields great power when it comes to influencing consumers. But the question is: How do you measure messaging and ROI in a space as largely unregulated as the blogosphere? Further, how do you draft a strategic plan that can protect your brand's reputation while providing C-suite execs with the results that will keep them happy? *First, you must make a concerted effort to understand the blogosphere itself. Knowledge is power, and if you are loath to acquire this power, you won't be able to proceed. *Find the popular, relevant and active blogs. "The readers themselves will decide what is important and they will rise to the top," says Michael Smith, president of Michael Smith Business Development Inc. To find out which blogs are key to your client's category, check out resources such as: 1. http://topsites.blogflux.com 2. http://blogs.botw.org/ 3. Google blog search and search engines (i.e. Technorati, Ice Rocket) 4. Read the print media to discover what's hot in the blogosphere. *Next, it's important to link your social media analysis to business objectives. What exactly are your priorities for your clients when it comes to measuring results in the blogosphere? What specifically do they--and you, representing them--want to know? When strategizing with your client, it's integral to note these elements: Know who the client's community is. Know what platforms and channels they like and what is relevant to the client. Know what words and images they associate with the organization. Do they want it to be free or paid? If it's the latter, can they afford it? Do they really need it? Following these steps is critical, particularly if you don't want to spend a fortune--a criterion that is invariably make or break for management. Set up a clear measurement process that includes: *Measurable objectives: "Know the values of an organization because it's those values that are part of the conversation," says David Phillips, CEO of Internet Reputation Inc. "Once we do that, it's easier to start measuring." *Outputs: What kind of messaging is the client putting out there? *Outtakes: Who is talking about your client? What search engines are consumers using that will link them to these relevant blogs? *Outcomes: Are you meeting objectives and ROI for the client? What's Good for One May Not Work for Another For Paula Berg, manager of emerging media for Southwest Airlines, the whole notion of monitoring and measuring messaging and ROI in the blogosphere is an ongoing process. One of the driving forces behind the much-heralded Nuts about Southwest blog (http://www.blogsouthwest.com), which engages staffers and customers to share their opinions about Southwest Airlines, Berg freely admits that her knowledge of social media metrics is not encyclopedic by any means. Rather, she is learning as she goes along, and that lack of immediate information has informed the decisions she's made when it comes to measurement. "I was thrown into this world three years when we launched this blog," she relates. "I've seen a ton of blog measurement products; it's truly an evolving science. There's no one way to do it." Tackling the measurement dilemma while adhering to a shoestring budget, Berg has created a systematic approach whereby she and her team scrutinize the impact of their company's messaging using a specific timetable. According to her, all this is done for the purpose of "improving performance and persuading management," particularly when the latter is making key decisions affecting the airlines as a whole. "On a daily basis, we monitor more than 100 travel and airline industry blogs," explains Berg. "We look at them, seeing what are they linking to, and we also network with these bloggers. I also use Google Reader every day to search for Southwest terms or any other terms that are popular." For weekly reporting, Berg says she has a simple format: "I cover the numbers. I give a quick glance to see how many blog or online mentions [we're getting]. How does that compare with the previous week? And how many people followed us on Twitter that week?" Lastly, and more significantly, is the quarterly report. "I just get in there and look at all the analytics," says Berg. "How many people are visiting? What about the traffic? Where is it coming from? What content is drawing them in? What's the ratio of new visitors to old visitors?" She also gets a paid report from Cymfony (http://www.cymfony.com), a market influence analytics company, which then helps her set up goals for the next quarter. People Who Need People As daunting as the blogosphere may appear to the uninitiated, it is still very much a people-dominated realm. "People decide where they will interact not companies," says Phillips Berg echoes the sentiment. "Remember that you're a communicator," she underscores. "Go beyond the numbers to find the real story." PRN CONTACTS: Michael Smith, mike@michaelsmith.biz; David Phillips, david.g.h.phillips@gmail.com; Paula Berg, Paula.Berg@wnco.com

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