Thursday, August 7

Fighting B2B Blog Boredom: Ragan

Christine Kent at Ragan.com recently revived a June Forrester Research report that suggested the number of business-to-business (B2B) firms that started blogging in 2007 was down compared with 2006.

According to the report, corporate bloggers ran into roadblocks stemming from a misalignment between invested effort and expected returns. The report included a survey that demonstrated 20 percent of marketers and communicators say they’re still not doing corporate blogs because they don’t see the need or the value.

Of course they did. Of course they don’t.

When the International Association of Business Communicators and Benchmark Ltd. surveyed more than 1,000 communicators in 25 countries last year, they found that only 70 percent of those surveyed measure the effectiveness of what they do. Only 61 percent said they considered measurement an integral part of the public relations process. Why?

We don't have the money. We don't have the time.

If a company doesn’t see the value of measuring communication, it seems pretty likely that they won’t see any value in blogging or social media. After all, chances are that they don’t see any real value in most of their tactics.

But even if they did, would it really make a difference? Given how misaligned some communication tactics are to the company’s business objectives, probably not. There are ample examples of communication tactics that measure public relations by the column inch and advertising campaigns by how much someone’s wife might like it.

While Ragan offers quick tips, it’s really much simpler.

If your company is considering any communication tactic, whether it’s a blog or brochure, why not start by asking the right questions like “what do we hope to accomplish?” And I don’t just mean social media. I mean everything.

Objectives tend to make all communication more cost effective, less time consuming, and — most importantly — measurable. Otherwise, it’s all too easy to find yourself running around crazy on a tactical treadmill, hoping that lightning will strike twice because the media ran a similar story last month or because the competitor seems to have a successful blog.

For example, while Kent mentions that executive bloggers should not expect massive participation with every post, one might also wonder if participation is always a prerequisite for a successful blog. Perhaps, but only if participation was one of the objectives, and someone has the foresight to define who they want to participate, and maybe why they want them to participate, and what constitutes participation, and possibly how this participation might further the company’s underlining strategic goals.

Simple. Unless you ask the right questions and provide some objective answers, there is no value in social media or any other communication for that matter.

Digg!

13 comments:

Hersh Bhardwaj on 8/7/08, 11:00 AM said...

My first comment here Rich, I think the post is relevant to what I have been involved with lately-managing corporate blog for my company. I wanted my company's blog to build brand leadership and position us as 'the' experts in the industry, where everyone else is busy selling and we have taken time out to disseminate valuable info for free. And yes we have started a dialgoue with our prospects and current customers!

Rich on 8/7/08, 11:09 AM said...

Hersh,

Now that makes perfect sense to me. Not only does the objective demonstrate thought, but it seems to provide a smart contrast between your company and other guys.

That's sure better than why some decisions are made, eg. "we started a blog because Hersh did." ;)

Best,
Rich

ben on 8/7/08, 11:28 AM said...

Nice post ... right tasty stuff.

But I'll repeat the "RFE" I just tweeted @ you, i.e. " "Without measurement, social media isn't seen to have value."

Here's what I'm quibbling with: "Unless you ask the right questions and provide some objective answers, there is no value in social media or any other communication for that matter."
And I take your point ... but it isn't literally true.

If I don't measure the costs of a project, do those costs disappear? I might wish them to ... I might act as though they don't exist, foolish ... but if they exist then they exist without regard to my quantification of them. If I'm not in the forest when the tree falls then I don't hear the sound, but the air vibrates none the less.

So: if a social project is having some good effects without measurement those effects are likely not to be known, unless by some benevolent accident. And folk who aren't intentionally looking are probably not the sort to just happen to notice.

So: without measurement of costs expensive programs are likely to be continued without adjustment and, likewise, without measurement of benefit positive projects are likely to be either continued without adjustment or (bad karma) cancelled.

No?

Rich on 8/7/08, 12:20 PM said...

Ben,

I like your comment.

To expand on my tweet to your RFE, for 30 percent of the non-measuring respondents ... I'm not so sure they even believe there is a tree to make a sound (despite the forest in front of them).

But it is a fun topic. So I might say that if a tree falls in the forrest and no one is around to hear it, then it might make sound waves. But do those sound waves have value?

Without question, there are always effects that are not included in a primary measure (or maybe never measured). However, it's difficult to assign any real value to such effects unless we're measuring them.

Let's take utility bill insert, for example. Utilities invest money in bill inserts (little communication pieces tucked in with your bill), but many have no idea idea how many people read those bill inserts, how many take action on the message or change behavior based on those inserts.

For all they know, more people might be disgusted by the bill inserts in the face of rising energy costs or concerned about how many trees it takes to create them. For all they know, bill inserts might have a negative value.

Closer to the topic, I think what Forrester and Ragan are getting at is that some corporate blogs are having a negative effect, which means they have no value. Thus, those who say social media have no value can easily prove themselves right (maybe because they don't measure anything).

I'm not real big on random good effects without measurement only because they are too easy to dismiss or be missed. Sure, good effects (and bad effects) probably exist regardless, but unless we're listening, it doesn't matter because we have no qualified or quantified way to assign value.

Do keep in mind that every measure is different. I know a historian who loves history and enjoys blogging about it. For him, the pleasure of blogging is enough. For a company, the pleasure of blogging might be enough, but probably not.

So along those lines, I'm saying is that without measure, there may be effects but those effects have no value because no value has been assigned, good or bad.

In other words, there is no tree to make a sound. Or if you prefer, there is no measure to assign a value.

Best,
Rich

ben on 8/7/08, 12:40 PM said...

FWIW I'll chase around this bush til the cows come home, to risk a mangled metaphor. Matters of value and significance are my main focus, i.e. they matter when decisions involve individual (i.e. "subjective") judgement.

Let me pick at 2 threads to establish common ground ... I think perhaps you're missing my main point.
"I'm not so sure they even believe there is a tree to make a sound (despite the forest in front of them)." and that belief will, of course, ramify forward into their decision making. But it doesn't affect the facticity of the tree. I can believe that my country is faultness, right or wrong ... which doesn't mitigate the consequences of our action. (You see, it isn't restricted to B2B!)

"So I might say that if a tree falls in the forrest and no one is around to hear it, then it might make sound waves. But do those sound waves have value?"
Now we're nibbling the nut! Just so ... what's significant, what's salient, what affects business decisions. I can believe that ignoring security concerns means that hackers don't exist. And I should suffer the consequences of that thought act.

"I'm saying is that without measure, there may be effects but those effects have no value because no value has been assigned, good or bad."
If a whole lot of people find my company's blog edifying and useful, then that affects their activity in some way. That I don't know it ... that affects my valuation of my company's blog, but it doesn't obliterate those individuals' reactions.

If I don't realize the value then I don't internalize it into my processes ... I don't build on it, or optimize it, because I can't acknowledge what I don't see. So that's far from excellent.
But how does my failing to realize a thing make that thing disappear?

If I get online orders and don't respond to them, or even receive them, that doesn't mean folk didn't place orders.

I have the feeling we're out of sync on something and suspect that conversational style is making clear things fuzzy.

Rich on 8/7/08, 1:25 PM said...

Ben,

I think we're closer in our thinking that it seems on the surface, which is why we're nibbling the nut. I liked your other tweet, which was "With gas tank leaking, it'll stay full unless I check the gas gauge."

To which I responded "Right. Yet, without the gas gauge, you cannot deduce the distance you will travel nor the value of your unplanned destination."

Let me add more meat, because the subject of valuation is subjective, assuming you've assigned values.

If Driver A takes the direct route and arrives at his destination faster than Driver B who took a less direct but more scenic route, did Driver A's route have more value?

I think it depends. If Driver B wanted to reach a destination faster than Driver A, then clearly the Driver A route was better. Yet, if Driver B has other objectives, such as enjoying the scenery or saving gas by driving slower, then we couldn't necessarily say that Driver A had a better plan.

Of course, there always Driver C who just keeps driving. Maybe they'll get to a destination and maybe they will not. Maybe it will be a bad destination or perhaps a great destination. It's a crap shoot. How can that have value?

This does touch on my original point. We need objectives and we need to measure! Without objectives, there is no measure to determine the value of anything. The assignment of value usually takes place by determining that you've arrived at your destination and maximized your ability to achieve certain mandatories along the way.

Let's keep in mind that just because we happen to be moving forward, as all three drivers might be, doesn't necessarily mean that we will reach our objectives (or any objective if we have none) nor can we conclude that the route we take has any value. It's pretty difficult to measure forward motion for the sake of forward motion unless it's against something else or other definitions.

And that might be where we might be slipping in our conversation ... in the definition. For example, you say "I can believe that ignoring security concerns means that hackers don't exist. And I should suffer the consequences of that thought act."

That is what some people are saying, but I'm not one of them. I might frame this up differently.

The lack of security plan doesn't negate the existence of hackers. But the value of various security plans would probably be based on their ability to defend against hackers (if that is our objective).

Without having that objective, there is no value to any of the plans and if there was, we wouldn't see it. How could we?

We simply might take the lowest bid in those instances. And if we were so inclined, just as those communicators seem to be in regard to social media (and other tactics), aren't they really saying that there aren't hackers or if there are hackers, then those hackers aren't sophisticated enough to thwart the cheapest plan? And aren't they really saying, then, that the security plan has no value, thereby justifying their disposition to select a cheap one.

It's not how I believe, but it is what is occurring in communication. So many dismiss social media because they do not see any value to it.

Of course these many don't see the value because they haven't considered the value of any communication because they are not setting objectives and measuring outcomes and comparing them to past performance. In short, they are operating in an illusion that may or may not have consequences.

Ergo, if you don't have a security plan, it doesn't mean you will be hacked. But it certainly increases the likelihood that you will no matter what justifications are presented as fact (ie. we have nothing that anyone would want to hack).

So I'm not taking their position as much as presenting their ideas, which are incorrect.

I see the same thing with the lack of a crisis communication plans. Companies run around believing that they will never have a crisis. ... um, until they have a crisis. Ha!

Am I saying that until the crisis exists, there are no crisis? No! But they sure are. And as long as they do, well, they are basically saying that crisis communication plans have no value.

I'm simply saying that with that perception, of course, there isn't any value. How could there be?

Best,
Rich

ben on 8/7/08, 5:13 PM said...

"If Driver A takes the direct route and arrives at his destination faster than Driver B who took a less direct but more scenic route, did Driver A's route have more value?"
Ok, now I'm quite certain you're failing to take my point.

I didn't tweet that the tank would stay full ... you fully quoted 1/2 of the tweet. Why 71 instead of 142?
''"With gas tank leaking, it'll stay full unless I check the gas gauge." Surely not; measurement isn't proximate cause.''
I'm sure you'll grant that "surely not" is, well, significant.

Of course value has many components ... which allows you to swing focus onto the other aspects, ignoring always and consistently that which is not directly determined by the practitioner's state of mind.

But I appreciate you making it explicit. I often meet people who truly believe they command the nature of reality by their subjectivity. "I don't believe in global warming, therefore my self-destructively conspicuous over-consumption has no negative consequences."

But, in the end, it's merely sophistry ... however elaborated with neo-realist refinements. And, in the end, the fallen tree is fallen whether we heard it or not.

I can see how some would find this offensive: I'm suggesting that the world is never centered around one individual's personality.
And yes, I appreciate that such homely realism is antique.

HeyHo, and still: it falls.

ben on 8/7/08, 5:15 PM said...

p.s. "well, they are basically saying that crisis communication plans have no value."
Which is what you were saying: because they fail to acknowledge the value of a certain activity, that activity has no value.

No biggie: merely that nothing is true unless it's you that says it ... my role here is entirely moot.

ben on 8/7/08, 5:16 PM said...

p.s.2 Perhaps I should have been more Socratic: does a near empty gas tank become full because someone ignores the gauge?

ben on 8/7/08, 5:18 PM said...

p.s.3 Directly to my point, in your words: "For all they know, more people might be disgusted by the bill inserts in the face of rising energy costs or concerned about how many trees it takes to create them. For all they know, bill inserts might have a negative value."

So, an activity can have negative consequences even when ignored by the actors.

I'm sure you'd say the same is true with something positive.
You just wouldn't agree if I said it, is all.

Rich on 8/7/08, 5:29 PM said...

Ben,

"You just wouldn't agree if I said it, is all."

Well, I certainly wouldn't agree with that. I agreed with you on many points. I'm sorry you feel otherwise.

Best,
Rich

Gr8t Cn U on 8/8/08, 8:47 AM said...

We also find it difficult to measure blogs as a contribution to an overall brand. Based on the old favor bank concept, you make deposits in the favor bank to build up goodwill. You can't measure precisely how many deposits will add up to how much goodwill. Along the same thinking, the cumulative weight of blog postings over time helps sustain, reinforce and build a brand.
Gary

Rich on 8/9/08, 12:44 PM said...

Thanks Gary,

Certainly there are qualified areas that are always hard to measure, much like communication in general.

I believe social media can add value if it is done right for that business. But the question communicators is ... how do you demonstrate that value to people who don't believe it?

The only way to successively accomplish this is to set objectives and measures. Will there be "in addition, it did this" results? Sure! But we really need to focus on some tangible measures to demonstrate success.

Very good points that I agree, btw.

Best,
Rich

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