This is the second part of a two-part story on measuring blog marketing. Read part one.
Big brands are quickly adopting either official or C-level blogs. Google and Yahoo maintain company blogs. Microsoft supports both official blogs and individual employee blogs. Executives at General Motors, Sun Microsystems and Jupitermedia all write blogs of their own. And smaller companies are using the medium to raise their profile; some even hope to generate sales. But are they working? How can one tell?
"I feel our blog attracts a quality prospect," said Bob Cargill, senior creative director for Yellowfin Direct Marketing and author of a company blog on direct marketing issues. "We're 'expertizing' ourselves, so that when people think of direct marketing, they'll think of me and of Yellowfin."
But how does one assess the impact of a brand blog, particularly when it has defined PR, marketing or even sales goals? Ask 10 business bloggers this question and you're likely to get 10 different responses, ranging from "Why bother tracking?" to entire methodologies for doing so.
"It may not be measured yet, but Robert Scoble's done more for Microsoft than McCann Erickson ever did," said Hugh MacLeod, a marketing consultant and author of the gapingvoid blog, referring to the employee blogger who's credited with giving the software giant a human face. "I've been in advertising 15 years, and what he's done is the most tangible 'let's move the goal posts, gang' effort I've seen."
MacLeod's is a fine sentiment, but do corporate (or employee) blogs apply an even coat of brand sparkle for every firm that tries them? It seems just as likely a blog post could garner negative attention or ridicule, in which event the brand's managers should know about it and respond.
Since he's a dedicated direct marketer, you'd expect Yellowfin's Cargill to fret over quantifying his blog's impact, but he admits he's not thinking much about it. Part of the reason is the minimal investment that company has made in it, and part is that blogging generates community, which provides its own -- qualitative -- feedback.
"I think you have a better chance of measuring a blog's effectiveness than a PR or an ad campaign, because you have the direct interaction between you and your prospects," he said. "That's why as a direct marketer, I'm very into blogging. I can write an article on my blog and know pretty quickly how popular that post is. You're self-correcting with each and every post, because you're listening to what others are saying about you and reacting. With direct mail [campaigns], we usually get just a 'yes' or 'no.' With a blog, we get qualitative feedback."
But for large consumer brands that generate more discussion than a Yellowfin, trying to get a handle on and respond to qualitative feedback is a much bigger chore. A couple thousand geek blogs will likely comment on Yahoo on any given day, flinging a storm of insults and praise. How should the company measure its blog's impact on that buzz?
Measure the Conversation
Blog ad player Pheedo's approach may offer a clue. The company has had a good year so far. In the last two weeks, CMO Bill Flitter said he has been approached by a number of prospects who want to dedicate some of their ad spend to blogs and blogging. Several of these simply wish to advertise in blogs. But at least one, a U.S. policy organization, wants to try getting the word out about a major public issue via a video blog of its own. The group hopes the site will be a hit among its constituents and other influencers, including journalists.
He proposed a variety of measurement approaches for the client, including monitoring trackbacks (define) and comments. Flitter also suggests monitoring the news for certain keywords.
There are numerous tools available to monitor keyword mentions and incoming links, and these can be used to measure corporate blogs. They range from cheap and/or free solutions like Google Alerts and Technorati search feeds to services designed to discover keyword mentions across all online media. These include Cymfony and New Media Strategies.
Of course, the more sophisticated software costs money, which will go into the equation when marketers measure return on investment. Even free measurement techniques -- such as reading trackbacks and comments -- require a time investment.
"The tools may not be that expensive," said Pheedo's Flitter. "What's expensive is the time it takes. You have to pay someone to do that."
Benchmark Your Blog
What about unique users and hits, the traditional metrics of Web site marketing?
They're easy and important to gauge, but may not be a smart measure of a blog's qualitative impact, said Steve Rubel, a PR executive with CooperKatz and author of the popular Micro Persusasion PR and meta-blog.
"You can look at traffic statistics, but they shouldn't be used to indicate the blog's health," he said. "[Traffic volume] is a nice boxcar number, but it doesn't mean anything. You may have 100 media hits, but what if they're all negative?"
Rubel encourages customers to blog. Last year, CooperKatz client WeatherBug launched blogs to cover Punxsutawney Phil's emergence on Groundhog's Day and the Florida hurricanes. Sometime this quarter, CooperKatz will roll out a corporate blog for the customer. Additionally, Rubel's blog has brought in new business for the PR agency. At least two blog-referred clients are generating significant revenue, and the firm is in talks with several other leads generated through Micro Persuasion.
It's safe to say Rubel has done a lot of thinking on corporate blogs. He says brands ought to apply qualitative benchmarking to measure a blog's impact. One such approach is conducting brand attitude surveys similar to those performed by Dynamic Logic. Or brands could try a scoring system capable of rating every press comment or incoming link.
"You could set up a search feed for your brand," he said. "You track that over a month and see what's being said about your brand across the blogosphere. Assign each post a score." Then launch the blog and run through the same process six months later. Whatever lift or drop you detect between the two average scores is the sum impact of your blog, Rubel explained.
Or, he said, you could launch a promotion on your blog. Measure the interest in that promotion as a way of assessing the blog's overall reception.
Several experts suggested conducting random pop-up or roadblock surveys. Ask visitors what they think of the blog, and how it changes their view of the organization. "Quantify it like a focus group, just less creepy," said gapingvoid's MacLeod.
Blogs are probably best advised to combine surveys and rigorous benchmarking with the traditional means of self-monitoring that have always been used by bloggers, such as comments, trackbacks, and other forms of listening.
"If you cobble all those together into some sort of system, and codify it, you can have a solid way of looking at a blog's influence," said Rubel.
There's no standard for measuring corporate blogs, and the impetus to track them is still weak. Rubel confesses he isn't applying his proposed measurement methodology to his own blog. "I don't have the time," he said. "But I kind of feel like it's been working."
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Until March 2012, Zach Rodgers was managing editor of ClickZ's award-winning coverage of news and trends in digital marketing. He reported on the rise of web companies, data markets, ad technologies, and government Internet policy, among other subjects.
March 19, 2014