Thursday, July 24, 2008

Measuring the Value of a Blog

A Forrester Group study How To Derive Value From B2B Blogging gained quite a bit of attention last month by reporting that the number of new business-to-business had “plummeted” in 2007 vs. 2006. I haven’t read it ($379 for a 19 page document seems a bit rich). but the gist seems to have been that blogs haven’t shown much value for many businesses.

From a marketing measurement point of view, the interesting question is how you measure the value of a blog in the first place? Without giving away any trade secrets, I can safely say that the answer is, “It depends.” Specifically, it depends on the objective you’ve set for your blog.

You did set an objective, right? I mean, no one clever enough to be reading this blog would be so foolish as to set up their own blog without thinking things through.

Typical objectives might be to attract an audience, educate readers, build a community, or establish expertise. The standard advice would be to first select an objective, then to select metrics and goals that reflect progress towards that objective, and then to measure actual results against the goals.

That’s perfectly sound advice so far as it goes. But it doesn’t address the truly critical question of whether a blog is the best way to meet the objectives you’ve selected. Maybe the resources invested in a blog would be better spent on a newsletter, or paid search, or trade shows.

This leads to the question of just what resources are being invested. It’s easy to underestimate the cost of a blog because so much of the expense is in the time to write it, which seems like it’s free. But in fact, time is often the most constrained resource of all, particularly for the senior executives who are often expected to be company bloggers. Certainly an organization must ask itself how the time spent writing a blog would otherwise be used. If a more productive alternative is available, the blog should go, or at least be reassigned to someone else with (literally) nothing better to do.

I asked myself that question some time ago, with the result that I changed from my Customer Experience Matrix blog from a daily to weekly posting cycle. (Incidentally, traffic did not especially decline.) Starting the MPM Toolkit blog pushed me back to a twice-weekly schedule, but it serves strategic purposes that make the extra effort worthwhile.

Interestingly, other consultants in the marketing measurement industry—whom you have to assume are measuring their blog value carefully—have decided not to bother. Pat LaPointe of MarketingNPV dropped his blog in April, explicitly stating that he could find more effective ways to deliver his message. In a side conversation. Jim Lenskold of the Lenskold Group told me he blogs very rarely because he can reach a larger audience in other ways for the same amount of work. Jim also made the particularly astute point that the kinds of information he wants to convey doesn’t really lend itself to the “quick opinion” format of most blogs. Another consultant whose judgement I respect, Laura Patterson of VisionEdge Marketing, seems to have no blog at all.

The point is not "blogs are good" or "blogs are bad". It's that blogs are tools which must be evaluated like any other marketing investment. The actual cost of a blog is a little harder to measure than many other marketing projects because so much of the cost is implicit (time) rather than explicit (cash outlay). But that’s not a reason to avoid the measurement effort—it’s simply a caution that you must be careful to do it right.

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