We've been working on a bunch of blog- and book-related projects, so the posting's been sporadic here. But we've been collecting lots of "dots" in the ongoing blog ROI discussion and want to try connecting a few.
As our last post shows, a blog can get you the kind of ROI that CFOs drool over: measurable dollars-and-cents.
But over the past couple of months, serious thinkers about blogging have been hammering on the point that direct revenue is only one of many kinds of "return" that a blog can produce. And it's downright silly to insist on focusing on only one benefit, or on trying to "measure" the intangible ones.
Shel Holtz, Jim Turner, and Katie Paine have made the point in various ways and provided some great examples. Katie's public concessions that "some things you really don't need to measure the ROI on" and "in some cases the demand for ROI for blogging is a total waste of time" are especially telling, since her business is measurement and her blog is called, KDPaine's PR Measurement Blog.
Shel's post sums up the point with an analogy similar to the ones I've used many times about various business expenses that nobody demands an ROI analysis for:
[Do] companies demand ROI justification for their telephone networks? Not even the bean counters insist on a tally of the ROI for phones because everyone knows the consequences of removing them.
I've often asked the same type of question using a face-to-face communication setting: Do we calculate the ROI on a comfortable, well-furnished conference room? The value of having an impressive room to host meetings is too obvious to debate, but it's also too intangible to waste time trying to "measure" it.
A blog is a communication tool.
A well-furnished blog (conference room analogy), or one with lots of calling features (telephone system analogy), can provide many kinds of intangible returns, using links, blogrolls, comments, permalinks, trackbacks, audio and/or video podcasts, and so on.
Okay, if you're with us this far, how do you get these intangible returns?
Three links and an image
Well, here are a few more dots you should connect: links, branding, and conversations.
Pulling together some more threads, Kevin Kelly, Hugh McLeod, and most recently, Michael Schrage, have written very different pieces spread over the several months that I think come together in the "rule of thumb" I tell all our clients about what they need to put in every post to get the greatest business networking power out of their blogs: 3 links and an image.
(Now, you'll likely observe that I tend to include lots more than 3 links and often more than one image. But beginning bloggers tend to panic if you tell them larger numbers and the main point is to get them past what they're going to write and get them thinking about what they're going to link to and show.)
I first read Kevin Kelly's piece in the August 2005 print version of Wired magazine, but it's online too. He wrote the main section of a technology review article called 10 Years that Changed the World (1995-2005); his piece was called We Are the Web and included his assessment that the simple hyperlink was "the most powerful invention of the decade."
As he pointed out, the simple HTML behind the hyperlink meant that "anyone could rustle up a link."
Then in October, I came across Hugh Mcleod's assertion that individuals and small business can use blogs to create their own Global Microbrands. He explained that "with the advent of blogs ... any service professional with a bit of talent and something to say could spread their message far and wide beyond their immediate client base and local market, without needing a high-profile name or the goodwill of the mainstream media." Aside from his own compelling example with his gapingvoid blog, he cites an impressive list of people who have either built from scratch, or extended, their personal brands using blogs.
Then in February this year, Yvonne found and showed me an article in CIO Magazine (again we saw it first in the print version) written by Michael Schrage, co-director of the MIT Media Lab eMarkets Initiative, entitled Think Before You Blog. The article is full of pithy observations pointing toward his conclusion that:
Every C-level executive who has to manage expectations, strategic direction, morale, uncertainty, risk and people's time should most certainly be doing a blog. Not doing a blog will become much like not doing e-mail; a willful failure to communicate that sends a message all its own.
But the two that connect back to my rule of thumb are:
Truly dynamic blogs are about truly dynamic linking. Blogs are about the opportunity to link your insight with someone else's—and have them link their insight to yours.
But what should I write? That's precisely the wrong question. The better question is, What do I want people to be talking about—and doing—after reading my blog?
So, how do you get that intangible networking ROI?
Linking, branding, and conversation. Three links and an image.
Oh, and make sure you've enabled comments and trackbacks to keep the conversations going.