Blogging outside of the firewall has some measurable numbers for determining ROI. However, it also offers noticeable value that doesn't always translate to numbers. The following is a list of the kinds of value blogging offers a business and how that value can be determined.
Perhaps the clearest value to measure and the shortest path to the bottom line that blogging offers is lead generation. Blog visitors can be funneled to the business's main site by cross linking in the posts, sidebar links, and navigation items. If your business has a proper lead funnel in place, you'll be able to track the conversion rate and sales volume of the traffic that enters the site through the blog (sorry, setting up a lead funnel is another day's post).
Search Engine Optimization
Likely, search engines will be the largest traffic source supplying your blog. Search engines, especially Google, love blogs as they are a natural fit for exploiting their algorithm. You can measure the position you have in the SERPs and the volume of incoming search traffic through standard analytics solutions, such as Google Analytics. You'll also be able to track the conversion rate and sales volume for that traffic, assuming you're capturing that data through your lead funnel. A business can build perception as a market leader by having a high ranking in the SERPs for prominent keywords in their market. If your blog is hosted on the same domain as the rest of your site, then not only will your blog be a significant source for attracting search engine traffic, but also the Google juice flowing to the blog will spill out to the rest of the site improving its performance in the SERPs for its own pages.
Quality posts will inspire people to link to them and/or socially bookmark them. Inbound links provide value in the forms of search engine optimization, referring traffic, and a reputation boost. The number of inbound links and referring traffic can be measured. You can even track the conversion rate and sales volume for that traffic. The value gained from market exposure as a link source doesn't translate to numbers, but it is directly responsible for whether or not the measurable numbers go up or down.
Blog subscribers come in several forms: email subscribers, RSS subscribers, Twitter friends, and potentially more. They are extremely valuable contacts because they have opted-in to your future communications. You can tap subscribers for consuming new content, taking action (like voting for a post on Digg), special offers (like participating in a contest), and completing surveys. You can measure the number of subscribers and the actions they take with services such as Feedburner.
Market Leadership Perception
Blogs are a great tool for positioning yourself as an expert in your market. Consistent output of quality content, combined with positive interaction are the keys to successful positioning as an expert, which has myriad immeasurable value trails. You should notice value in the form of how many inbound links you earn, the context of the words around the link, the volume of unsolicited media inquiries you earn, and an increased close ratio for your sales team due to your reputation.
Speaking of reputation, you'll need to properly manage yours online to get the most out of our thought leadership program. Essentially reputation management is about listening and responding. In an interview from CIO InSight, Robert Scoble put it like this:
We used blog-search engines to find anyone who wrote the word "Microsoft" on their blog. Even if they had no readers and were just ranting, "I hate Microsoft," I could see that and link to it, or I could participate in their comments, or send them an e-mail saying, "What's going on?" And that told those people that someone was listening to their rants, that this is a different world than the one in which no one listens. It was an invaluable focus group that Microsoft didn't have to pay for
The article went on to say that this kind of direct communication provided millions of dollars in PR value and is directly responsible for a shift in market perception about Microsoft as evil. So, not only can thought leadership position you as an expert, but it also allows you to address negative PR early on.
Thought Leadership from blogging can provide several competitive advantages. Dominating the conversations will increase the mind share your brand has in your market. Leading the pack also means you're receiving more from the benefits of thought leadership than your competitors, which has as many advantages as their are benefits. Staying ahead of the group will strongly aide your acquisition of market share and provide strong defense for the amount you control. In an interview for Influence 2.0, Claudio Marcus and Kimberly Collins of Gartner quantified the advantage in the B2C market as such:
...by 2007, marketers that devote at least 50% of their time to advanced customer-centric marketing processes and capabilities will achieve marketing return on investment that is at least 30 percent greater than that of their peers, who lack such emphasis
The consumer-centric marketing processes they are discussing is driven by intelligence gathering that guides messaging. While you may not see the exact same numbers in the B2B market, it is safe to assume that the world is at the beginning of an adoption curve for leveraging intelligence for publishing direction. As a result, you should see significantly more return than those not aggressively applying the same cutting edge techniques in your market.
Media and Public Relations
Publishing content for and interacting with other media providers will increase your sway with them. The measurable results of this will come in the form of inbound links, trackbacks, syndication, comments, and blogrolls. What the numbers won't show is the increased willingness to listen to the PR pitches you put in front of the media. In fact, you should find yourself in the position to make more casual and opportunistic pitches from a more open and frequent information exchange.
Related to reputation management, product development can benefit from listening to what customers are saying about them. Robert Scoble talked about it like this:
I would often e-mail a Microsoft product team leader, like Dean Hachamovitch over at the Internet Explorer team, and say, "Hey, man, here's someone out here complaining about your product, what are you going to do about it?" That would prompt him to blog about a lot of things, to tell people what they were going to do about CSS (Cascading Style Sheets, a design tool for HTML and XML pages) support and security, or crashing, or whatever. I think that helped improve the products. The One Note team (One Note is an application in the Microsoft Office suite that syncs text and audio) told me they got a lot of feature requests through their blog, features that they actually implemented in the next version of the product. They thought it was an important way to listen to customers and give them what they wanted.
As he said earlier, "it was an invaluable focus group" for Microsoft. You too can cash in on this valuable benefit.
It's not only potential customers and market influencers that are going to be participating with you, but potential employees as well. When competing against pundits like Microsoft, Intel and IBM, you'll need all of the help you can get to attract top talent. A quality information stream and positive market perception from quality participation in the industry conversations will go a long way in selling your company to talent you don't even know exists.
Perhaps one of the least obvious benefits is that all of these benefits come from an operating expense that is significantly lower than would be possible with PR or from printed publications.