An ROI Metric for Social Media Marketing


Steve Rubel posts a snippet from a new Forrester report that suggests ways that corporations can begin to measure the effective return on their blogging investments.

One thing to keep in mind whenever you talk about blogging and ROI though is, as Jeremiah likes to say, the “I” for a blog-based social media marketing campaign is almost nothing when compared to traditional, broadcast-based marketing.

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What’s in a name? Introducing Yodel Anecdotal

an·ec·dot·al (adj) : of, relating to, or being the depiction of a scene suggesting a story

Last night Yahoo! took the wraps off of a new corporate blog. Taking the place of Search blog which stood in for a long time as Yahoo’s central voice in the middle of a galaxy of Yahoo-specific product blogs (opml), Yodel Anecdotal is designed to be the place where we can post all those stories that we want to tell but don’t really fit next to stories about search engine weather reports.

Props to Paul Stamatio for the design. I especially like what he did with the rotating headers with random shots from around Yahoo! I have a 360 blog that I use for snapshots of things I see around campus but these are way better.

I first learned about the project when I was chatting with Paul in the burger line at the Yahoo cafeteria. He had one of the new Motorola Q devices which prompted me to strike up a conversation in which I later learned what he was up to. Nice work and what a great way to show what you did for your Summer internship.

Be sure to check out the intro video which is a fun little tour through the main campus (I can now show my parents in Japan where I work!). They had fun making the video and it shows.

GM Chairman & CEO starts blogging on Fastlane

Something not often mentioned when companies decide if it’s worth the effort to start up a corporate blog is the advantages of having a well-established audience when you need one. The argument I normally trot out in these cases is that of Kryptonite. Imagine if those guys had a blog up and running when the Bic Pen story broke – they would have had a platform to repond and would have had tools such as Trackbacks that would have helped draw attention to their response.

I recall Shel Holtz talking about all corporate sites having a "dark link" which is a blank area on their home page that could be lit up with a link to an emergency page in the case of a crisis that needed a rapid respone. The emergency version of this page could quickly be redirected to without calling in the web publishing staff and it would allow the company to quickly get their response out in times of crisis.

I view corporate blogs as very much the same kind of investment. In some respects, building up a readership in advance and a place to go for the "straight dope" is insurance for when the chips are  down and you need to get people listening to you and not the spinning of pundit and the press. We’re seeing this now with the first post by GM Chairman & CEO Richard Wagoner on the GM Blog, Fastlane.  In it, he seeks to cut through some of the noise around GM’s recent earnings announcement and rally dealers, employees, and customers on a brighter future. As a side benefit, in the comments area, there is some debate about the usefulness of a possible partnership with Nissan/Renault. It’s refreshing to hear a CEO speak this way and I hope the unvarnished feedback equally refreshing.

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Not thinking about your customer, why most Knowledge Management initiatives are DOA

Enterprise software and corporate IT departments often forget about their real customers. Most KM initiatives look better on paper than in practice. Case and point below:

I recently saw an example of that same top-down approach applied to sharing resumes internally at a large firm. Instead of going to a flexible folksonomy orientated Web 2.0 approach, such as using People Blogs, the firm asked each of it employees to fill out a 700 question form, which attempted to categorize every skill a person could possibly have. Needless to say, the employees have not filled out the forms.

– emphasis mine, found on Innovation Creators

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Innovation Creators & Enterprise Digging

Rod Boothby has been hard at work beating the corporate blogging drum where he works and part of his process has been to externalize his thinking on a blog set up specifically to generate awareness and test his ideas.

He’s thought long and hard about not only the benefits of creating a blogging culture at a company, he also has gone into quite a bit of detail on different approaches and sprinkled it with thinking about the cultural implications as well.

Rod’s been posting regularly since October and I would encourage anyone that is thinking about corporate blogging to subscribe to his feed. Here are some highlights from the past few months:

But my all time favorite innovation here is Rod’s concept of Enterprise Digg. The social bookmarking service blew onto the scene much like Slashdot in that important stories are submitted to the service by its members and then subsequent users “digg” the stories throughout the day. I became aware of from their diggnation podcast in which the founders of the service recount the past week’s top diggs over a few tins of their favorite beer.

Apply the social bookmarking aspect of to the enterprise and you have a service that serves many requirements that Rod alludes to in earlier posts. A social bookmarking service in which popular posts bubble up to the top is:

1. Social – collective linking behind the firewall gets everyone tuned into the news of the day without interruptive chatter.

2. Rewarding – if someone continually submits links that bubble up to the top, they will be recognized for their innovative vision and alignment with the interests of the company’s employees.

3. Fun – not to be forgotten, there’s a certain thrill at being the first to discover something no one else has seen. It’s the, “be the first on your block” syndrome applied to corporate culture.

4. Efficient – if you slice off the top 5% of diggs to the system, you very quickly filter out the noise and get to the most important opportunities and threats that face your company. No more email blasts from the CEO, no more soul searching corporate surveys, no more breakout session SWOT analysis flip charts. Set up a bookmarklet on your browser toolbar and bag-n-tag sites while you work and go back and review the aggregate on a monthly basis.

But why stop there. The only thing missing is that there needs to be a financial incentive to really drive this engine. Put some skin in the game and reward the top diggers, the people with the most votes on their pages.

Let’s take it a step further and have folks buy and sell shares in the top ideas. We had this issue every year in a company where I used to work. Every year all the open projects were gathered together for review and were matched against resources and over a painful 72 hour period, the project plans for the next 12 months were laid out and locked into place. It was increadibly frustrating for the project managers and stressful and highly political for those making the decision.

Why not pull out top ideas into a pool in which employees can place a portion of their virtual portfolio onto certain ideas. When those ideas get promoted into production there is an initial payout (as in an IPO) and as the profitability of the feature is measured over time, the payout would continue to pay dividends. This payout would act as a proxy for real money in order to base it in reality and, just as with the real world stock market, Product Manager and Senior Management would be restricted from the amount of trading they can do because of a conflict of interest.

Take a look at the Buzz Game on Yahoo! Research – we’re working with O’Reilly to use predictive markets to do just that.

Infoworld on Blogs as lightweight content management

InfoWorld surveys the corporate blogging landscape and sees them as a right-sized solution to basic content management. If you’re publishing a website, you’re managing content. Yet, if you go shopping around for a traditional content management solution, the enterprise software vendors will give you a six figure estimate with a healthy “services” chunk thrown in.

Deploying a full-blown ECM (enterprise content management) system to address basic corporate content publishing and
workflow needs has been likened to trying to kill a fly with a rocket launcher. A more suitable solution may lie in souped-up blogging tools, which by design simplify content publishing.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. From Blog tools tackle content management.

Fear of being blogged

One last thing about the Blog Business Summit and then I’m done. Really.

I was sitting next to a PR person from a major company and she was expressing frustration that the sessions were not going the way she wanted them. Since the bloggers that ran the session love to run things in an interactive way, I asked why she wasn’t asking more questions to drive the sessions to answer what she was interested in. Her reply (I’m paraphrasing slightly) punched right to the core of some of the difficulties faced by a corporation that is trying on their blogging boots,

"Ask a question? Are you crazy? This place is not only full of press, it’s full of bloggers! I can’t have my company’s name all over the place tied to some stupid question of mine."

Slogging up the Business Blog Slope of Enlightenment

Debbie Weil, a blog business consultant, points to a Gartner conference call in which they place RSS and Corporate Blogging heading into the Trough of Disillusionment. As you look at Gartner’s Emerging Technology Hype Cycle for 2005, (check out page 6 on the PDF) you can see that they place corporate blogging about two years out to widespread adoption.

This is not to say that you should throw in the towel and sit on your hands for the next two years while the rest of the world figures it out for you – it just means that companies, now that they have begun to experiment with blogging tools realize that effective blogging is hard work. A blog requires someone not only to write intelligently and consistently, it also requires someone to monitor blogs and respond to comments. I can still hear the sigh of disappointment from the realtor that called me the other day to ask if he could pay Six Apart to also feed him content for his blog.

I have received a few good comments in reaction to my post yesterday about how there is still a gulf between those that blog and those in the corporate world trying to figure it all out. Robert Scoble’s advice to hand out your card at geek dinners isn’t going to really work if you’re promoting a blog for Sarah Lee or Quaker State. The Blog Business Summit was held to try and address this and their upcoming one day seminar will further the education on the nuts & bolts of corporate blogging.

As with any hyped trend, self-help books are rushing in to meet the need. A few good books out already or very shortly include:

  1. Naked Conversations, by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel is available for pre-order on Amazon. They also have a blog.
  2. Debbie Weil is writing a book on corporate blogging for Penguin due out in 2006.
  3. Blog Marketing, by Jeremy Wright is available today!
  4. The Weblog Handbook, by Rebecca Blood is one of the first books on blogs and a great primer.

Business Blogs gets local coverage

While I was on vacation last week, the Oakland Tribune ran a story about corporations getting into blogging for which I was interviewed. While the angle they took was a tad alarmist, (Watch Out! The first step into the blogging world can  be a doozy) but it’s nice to see business blogs getting some coverage in the local press. There’s also a nice plug for the Blogging Business Summit which is being held in San Francisco on August 18th & 19th. If anyone is interested in attending and would like a discount, click here.

Big Media turns focus on Corporate Blogs

Like a Tour de France peleton chasing down a breakaway, the mainstream media has turned its eye to corporate blogging with a spate of new articles. They all mention the obligatory posterchild of corporate blogs done right, General Motor’s FastLane Blog. But they also dig deeper and surface some of the other excellent blogs out there (many running on Six Apart’s Movable Type software.)

US News & World Report runs down a laundry list:
Jonathan Schwartz, COO of Sun Microsystem
Randy Baseler, VP of Marketing of Boeing Commercial
Carole Brown, chair of the Chicago Transit Board
Richard Edelman, President and CEO of public-relations firm Edelman
Paul Otellini, President and CEO of Intel (internal blog)
Rich Marcello, SVP and General Manager of HP
Alan Meckler, Chairman and CEO of Jupitermedia

The Financial Times covers the 10,000 foot view, mentioning the GM & Boeing blogs but also pointing out the perils of not having a blog to respond to criticisms as in the oft-referenced case of Krytonite. After failing to respond in a timely way to the Bic pen hack that was amplified in the blogosphere they saw sales of their locks fall off a cliff and wipe out nearly half of their annual sales in just 10 days.

InformationWeek has a piece written by Bob Lutz who writes the FastLane Blog with some sage advice:

If you filter the negatives out, you don’t have a true dialogue, so how can you hope to change anybody’s mind about your products or your business? And changing minds is priority one at GM. The blog is a great opportunity to tell the public directly about the cars and trucks we have on the market and the ones we’re bringing to market soon. It’s one of the few chances we have to get the word out without running it through the media filter. Advertising is another avenue, of course, but it has much lower credibility than the blog, where we’re engaging in a real conversation with readers. We’ve also used the blog to address
specific media articles that we considered unfair, unbalanced, or uninformed.

To me, the blog is a way for GM to be culturally relevant. It allows us to be on the leading edge of new technology while getting our strong views out there about our cars and trucks. So far, response has been outstanding, with more than 5,000 visits and 13,000 page views a day. To any senior executive on the fence about starting a corporate blog, I have a word of advice: Jump.