You've read much about blogging and the blogosphere and you are beginning to become a believer in the power of the crowd in helping you get your message across. You've convinced your boss that you should spend a certain amount of your day blogging, researching the blogosphere and engaging those who would promote your services far and wide for no other reason than having an affinity for what good work you do. Great. But at the end of the day, you have no idea how to measure the impact getting your message out on the blogosphere has on your business. The one very important question remains:
What impact does the blogosphere have on my brand?
Like so many facts in marketing, charting the chatter surrounding your brand is more an art than a science. I'm not happy to report that it may indeed be impossible in most cases to see exactly how much revenues are affected by what bloggers are saying about you. There's no way that I know of to get the fiscal impact of word-of-mouth advertising, as it were, on your sales. That said, it is possible to hold a ruler up to the blogosphere and calculate just how much chatter is being generated around your brand.
As a software engineer turned analyst turned dot-com entrepreneur I have gravitated toward "hacking" together my own method for charting chatter about my own site. Though there are services like Nielsen BuzzMetrics, which have their all-in-one approach to chatter charting, I'll outline the more labor-intensive, pedagogical, poor-man's version here instead.
In the world of chatter there are a few tools that, used together, will give you all the information you need in order to report on the buzz-worthiness of your products, services, and campaigns. They are:
- Analytics: WebSideStory's HBX is a great analytics tool. Next best is Google Analytics only because you don't have to pay for it assuming your page views stay below their five-million annual pageview threshold. Set-up should be somewhat painless on most sites. An unruly CMS or IT team can make it harder than it needs to be, though. Both of these analytics packages require no server-side installation and simply ask to be embedded within the page's source code.
- What will be tracking? The classics: page views, visitors, repeat visitors, and referrals from search engines, directly from other sites (such as blogs) and from bookmarks/emails (i.e. not linking from any other site at all).
- Blog search: Bloglines and Technorati are my preferred tools for this. I use both at the same time since it's effortless to do so. Each validates the other's data.
- For Technorati, I'll use the example of iMedia Connection, which itself has some excellent chatter surrounding it. See for yourself. There are two numbers we're going to be pulling from that page. The first is the links. Those are the number of specific citations to the iMedia site have been made by other sites linking directly to iMedia Connection and any of its pages. The other number is the number of blogs that are doing the linking. The number of links is always greater than the number of blogs.
- For bloglines, we want to do a "citation search" for imediaconnection.com. That will tell you how many posts on the internet link to iMedia Connection and any of its sub-pages. This number should be close to the Technorati links number. Have a look and compare.
- For both of those numbers, you'll want to chart over time the change in each week's total. Since blogs and the references to your site contained in them often remain well past their freshness date, the total number of links is not the key metric here. Instead, you want to see how much additional chatter there was in the last week, which you can gauge by comparing this week's total to last week's.
- Alexa: Amazon's "non-scientific" consumer internet monitoring service. iMedia Connection Alexa rank is not what you want. That will measure your performance against other sites. Really, all you want to do is to see how many visitors to your site Alexa is recording. Grab the weekly "reach per million" metric. The higher the number, the better. A number like 100 means, of 1 million internet users, 100 visited your site. Sites like Yahoo!, Google, Amazon and MySpace garner most of the attention. Have a look at the iMedia Connection weekly reach to see how they compare. For your Alexa rank, the weekly reach is good in and of itself. You'll want to chart its change over time as well, but its freshness is not a concern here. You've addressed freshness by narrowing your metric to the past week.
- It should be noted that Alexa rank does have some drawbacks. But as a leading indicator is helps when used with your overall mix of measuring chatter.
- Email: If you send out a regular email using an online email service, then they have a set of metrics you can throw into the mix too. Each week, try to track tally the number of opens and clickthroughs your subscribers. In addition to that, your email provider should also be able to tell you how many times your message was forwarded. For all three metrics, the numbers you get will be fine alone. No need to chart change on those since emails can be sporadic. You're just trying to see how many people.
- Access to your own database (or data dumps that your IT department should set up for you): You'll want to see how many registered members you have. In most cases, a seasoned analyst can grab this data from the analytics tool only, but it's always nice to have a weekly tally that comes right out of the only data source that matters.
- Good old fashioned spreadsheet: You may wish to use Google spreadsheets or the Zoho suite of on-demand productivity tools, but in a bind any old desktop spreadsheet program will do.
Using the above tools, we're going to figure out on a weekly basis just how your brand is attracting attention online. These are quantitative tools. The metrics we'll skim from them will not tell you what the blogosphere thinks and says about your brand. However, on a daily basis, take informal, qualitative surveys using bloglines and technorati searches. I like to spend about an hour a day visiting the blogs that mention us and responding to their comments by leaving comments of my own. Blog owners love to get feedback. Whether the review is positive or negative, giving feedback immediately is key. Bloggers want to be heard. Feedback is food.
On a weekly basis, however, you'll want to create a simple spreadsheet of fields that help you chart your site's buzz over time. Here what I recommend:
- Technorati: Blogs linking to your site
- Technorati: Total incoming links to your site
- Bloglines: Citation search total
- Analytics: Pageviews
- Analytics: New Visitors
- Analytics: Repeat visitors
- Analytics: Referrals
- Analytics: Organic
- Analytics: Direct
- Datasource: New Members/Subscribers/Customers
- Datasource: Revenues from (direct sales/affiliates/partners/resellers/etc.)
- Alexa: Weekly rank
- Email: Opens
- Email: Clickthroughs
- Email: Forwards
Each week -- say, Monday morning -- we're going to go to each of those sources and manually input their totals into our spreadsheet. While these are not key performance indicators in the strictest sense, they are a subset that narrows the focus on key chatter metrics. You'll include these in your additional KPI reports on revenues, sales, search, conversions, reach, mindshare, etc. Over time you'll be able to see what effect internet buzz is having on your brand. No site, like no brand, is the same. So start tracking your chatter now so that you can be the judge on what's good buzz and what's not.
Kelly Abbott is CEO of Dandelife.com. .