CASE STUDY: Subscribers Are Not a Good ROI Metric

Situation

I wanted to start a new blog to share links, graphics, photos and other interesting nuggets encountered during my endless hours of Internet research, which my wife refers to as “piddling around.”

I created a new scrapblog using Posterous, an upstart blogging platform that was all the rage in social media circles two months ago.

During the next two weeks I added a link or so a day, but didn’t tell anyone about it. You can imagine my surprise then when I checked my Feedburner statistics and saw this:

found611 subscribers! Woo-hoo!

Analysis

Then reality set in. Impossible. There’s no way anyone knows about this blog. I started digging through the analytics and discovered that nearly all my subscriptions came from Friendfeed, a popular aggregation tool of social networking sites that was recently acquired by Facebook.

friendfeed

Since I only had about 150 collective views, it was totally impossible that so many people had “subscribed” to my blog. They hadn’t even seen the content! Apparently when I added the new blog to my Friendfeed profile, they were automatically counted as individual subscribers by Feedburner since my new posts appear on my Friendfeed page.

These aren’t actual subscribers. The majority of these users won’t view my blog or my content, as you can see:

feedburnerLesson

A little bit of Googling revealed that I’m not the first to discover this discrepancy. But when I talk to clients about measuring social media ROI, I now have a great example of why counting subscribers, comments or page views aren’t valuable metrics. They are all easy to artificially inflate with no effort.

Most social media savvy clients accept this in theory, but continue to have a difficult time selling the concept to management. My hope is that more stories like this will illustrate the value of new metrics. While there is still no standard, the pressure is on for companies like Radian6 and Visible Technologies, now armed with several years of data and statistical samples, to demonstrate their value in 2010.

Have your social media success metrics changed in the last 12 months? If so, how? Please share in the comments.

The below links are referenced in this post:

Aaron’s Posterous blog
Aaron’s Tumblr blog
Friendfeed
Feedburner
Google Results for “Friendfeed AND Feedburner”

The Five Types of Blog Commenters

Soldiers: These are the commenters who enjoy being the first to comment, even if they have nothing to say. Soldiers comments are typically encouraging but lack substance. They include phrases such as, “great post,” “interesting,” and “nice work.” Soldiers are always polite. Their comments are short and serve more of an acknowledgment that they read the post or visited the blog rather than substantive or thought provoking. If your blog had a “like” button, they would probably just click it. Most bloggers, myself included, appreciate these comments. They are at least one form of feedback that people are reading our posts.

Contributors: These are the most sought after types of commenters by most bloggers. This group might not leave a lot of comments around the blogosphere but when they do, they are worth reading. Contributors comments push forward the conversation started by the blog post. They can be both positive and negative, but they add substance to the conversation. These people are most likely to also retweet or otherwise share the post with their online networks.

Link Baiters: Most similar to Soldiers, link baiters objective is to try and build their own site’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO) by creating a new incoming link from your blog. They are selfish, thinking of their own interests before the blogger’s. Link baiters comments are short and often plug something that they’ve written on a similar topic. Many marketers try to behave as contributors but, especially when they start out, end up as link baiters instead.

Trolls: The Wikipedia definition works here: “a troll is someone who posts controversial, inflammatory, irrelevant, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room or blog, with the primary intent of provoking other users into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.”

Spammers: Most spammers are actually bots that post off-topic comments on a blog to promote a commercial site, typically a pharma or porn site. Again, I’ll reference Wikipedia for a pretty good definition: It is done by automatically posting random comments or promoting commercial services to blogs, wikis, guestbooks, or other publicly accessible online discussion boards. Any web application that accepts and displays hyperlinks submitted by visitors may be a target. Adding links that point to the spammer’s web site artificially increases the site’s search engine ranking. An increased ranking often results in the spammer’s commercial site being listed ahead of other sites for certain searches, increasing the number of potential visitors and paying customers.

I’d like to consider myself a Contributor, but I often end up as more of a Solider. I want my friends and other bloggers to know that I’ve stopped by to read their posts. However, I often feel short on time and end up just posting a quick sentence or two instead of something more substantive. I’m going to work on that in the next year.

What am I missing? Let’s expand this list. Also let us know what type of commenter you are and why.

Disruptive Companies are Hiring Now

I hear a lot of people that are looking for jobs discouraged right now. There’s a belief that most companies shut down their HR departments between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

If that’s what most companies do, take advantage of this lull and increasing your own recruiting efforts at a time when your competitors are slowing down.

Even if you don’t want to hire until after the new year, use this time to search for new talent.

This strategy not only separates your from the competition, but it also encourages job seekers at a time when they need it most.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is not just about timely donations and greenwashing products. It’s about showing your company cares. This might be an excellent way to do it, especially if you’re on this list.

Pardon the Disruption

Those of you who follow my blog closely (mom? dad? bro?) may note that I haven’t posted in several months.

No, I haven’t given up blogging. No, I haven’t decided that Twitter is a better medium for my thoughts. And no, I haven’t been so busy with client work that I had to put Disruptology on the back burner.

In fact, I had a medical issue that required surgery and a considerable amount of rehab.

I don’t typically post about my personal life here, but my eight days in the hospital proved to be a pretty transformative experience. Here are some of my revelations:

I didn’t miss social media

I didn’t feel an overwhelming need to update my Facebook status, check in with Foursquare or see what blog posts I had missed in Google Reader for weeks after my return home. This might not sound like a revelation to some readers, but as someone immersed in social media for the last eight years, a month without email/iPhone/Twitter is akin to solitary confinement.

When I returned to social media, not much changed

About four weeks after I returned home, I started to slowly reemerge from my self-imposed exile. Here’s what I found:

  • The same marketers posting too frequent Twitter updates continued to pollute the stream.
  • The conversations about social media ROI, the iPhone vs. the Droid and the exaggerated death of news media continued unabated and with little in the way of new information.
  • Google Wave came and went, and now everyone is back to talking about Twitter.

I missed writing…

I always thought that I wrote to share my knowledge with you, but I realized that I also write this blog for my own gratification, which is good because…

…but my voice wasn’t necessarily missed

Don’t worry, I don’t take it personally and I’m not at all bitter. When I stopped posting in September, readers simply moved on to the next blog. I would do the same. But this realization helped crystallize for me why I write and what my objectives are. As a result, I expect the content and the tone of this blog will change. We’ll see.

I’m going to try blogging more. I invite your feedback on my posts and I thank you for taking the time to read and comment, as always. If I’m slow in replying to comments, it’s because I’m still limited in how much time I spend online by my pesky surgery.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Tagnic: Are You Playing the New Twitter Game?

tagnic_l.png

Tagnic is my new favorite game on Twitter. Unlike previous games like Spymaster that annoyed and alienated both friends and customers alike, there’s no DM spam and playing is pretty unobtrusive. In fact, your friends might not even know you’re playing until you let them in on it.

Tagnic is the first social game created by a young startup called SocialBomb. I am friends with its founders (@doryex, @scottiev and @rebelprince), which is how I came to start playing.

HOW IT WORKS

Start by signing up here and following @tagnic on Twitter so that the bot can keep track of your tweets. Then, when you’re writing to someone, you can assign them different descriptive words by adding a plus sign (+) before the word in your tweet.

For example, if I wanted to play with my friend Paull Young (@paullyoung), I could write, “@paullyoung is a PR +crimefighter and great +blogger.” Paull would then receive “crimefigher” and “blogging” points.

Similar to the popular iPhone/Android game Foursquare, Tagnic assigns badges based on various combinations of words. Here’s an example.

What I like about this game is that it’s social, it’s fun and it’s a new way to interact with your friends on Twitter. This of it as personal hashtags.

BRAND OPPORTUNITIES

Games like Tagnic are an opportunity to help better define our social interactions in a fun and engaging way. While I have no idea what Social Bomb plans are for further Tagnic development, imagine how a brand could get involved by sponsoring a badge.

For example, if a user receives a combination of words like “caffeine,” “addict,” “coffee,” “awake,” and “Starbucks,” that individual could receive the Starbucks Java Junkie badge.

Marketers could also reward users for obtaining certain badges related to their brand or gain insight into how people talk about their brand based on a combination of words.

CONCLUSION

Tagnic is still in its early stages of development. I want to be able to showcase my badges easily on my Twitter profile, not just on the Tagnic page. But the concept is really strong and has the potential to add a new level of fun on top of an already highly engaging platform. Give it a try. It might take a quick explanation to get your friends/followers involved, but once they catch on, you won’t be able to stop.

@Tagnic is +addictive, +fun and +easy to use!

Once you’ve played, please leaves some feedback about it below!

Social Media Stories of the Week: 8-28-09

A collection of awesome posts from blogs that might not be on your radar. There are some case studies, some tutorials and a lot of great analysis. Enjoy!

HOW TO: Add Twitter and YouTube Tabs to Your Organization’s Facebook Page: Heather Mansfield is a social media consultant focusing on the non-profit space. Her posts on Change.org are certainly worth following, and this straightforward explanation is one of them.

Using Mobile Technology to Influence Healthcare Reform: Ben Stein’s Mobile Commons helps non-profit companies build social media strategies in really unique ways. This post shares examples from companies that have used SMS (text messages) to raise awareness among different communities about important social causes.

Chick-fil-A is the First Restaurant Chain with 1 Million Facebook Fans: I can’t believe it, either. Never underestimate the value of a good Cow Appreciation Day Photo Contest.

Numbers we track in our online/offline life: Sam Lawrence examines what it means to be a “friend” these days and delves into the numbers we track online (friends, status, dates) vs. those we track offline (sleep, weight, money). An interesting take on what metrics matter and why.

Image credit: Shutterstock

When Good Consultants Go Bad

goodvsevil_l.png

As a communicator, you’ve probably learned a lot about the power of social media over the last 12 months. What would happen if you used that power to try and hurt a company rather than help it?

My Problem

I recently purchased a piece of furniture from a company in New York. It wasn’t anything special, just an ergonomic desk and monitor arm to improve my home work station. When I ordered it, the salesperson told me it would arrive in three separate shipments (from two carriers) and that it would take four weeks to ship.

I’ve ordered enough products online that I am accustomed to waiting for a week or so, but four weeks seemed like an eternity. Although I understood that it would take some time to arrive, I was not prepared for the lack of communication along the way. At the very least, I expected an email informing me when it shipped.

For one month, I heard nothing. Not a peep.

I’ll spare you the details, but suffice to say I received zero communication from the company. No tracking numbers. No ship dates. No estimated arrivals. Not one call or email to let me know they hadn’t forgotten about me. My first communication was from UPS informing me I had missed their delivery.

Finally, two weeks after I received both pieces of the desk (sans assembly instructions), I started emailing (passive) and calling (aggressive) to get updates abut the remaining shipment from a customer service rep who was less than enthused to help.

Seven weeks later, I am sitting at the desk still waiting for the monitor arm that the factory shipped to an address in Pennsylvania that no one seemed to catch until I started calling again. I’m frustrated that they company isn’t working to help me fix their error. I’m angry that they are shifting blame to the factory even though I ordered it from them. And most of all, I’m tired of wasting time tracking down this shipment.

Dave Dougherty and Ajay Murthy write in the Harvard Business Review that:

More than half of the customers we surveyed across industries say they’ve had a bad service experience, and nearly the same fraction think many of the companies they interact with don’t understand or care about them. On average, 40% of customers who suffer through bad experiences stop doing business with the offending company.

What would you do? As someone who has some experience using social media and who is familiar with the case studies about companies that ignored their customers at their own peril, how might you react?

My Solution

My first thought was to begin posting negative tweets to a couple of thousand Twitter followers and to write similar updates on LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. I could spread the bad word about this company to thousands of people in less than a minute. That would feel good. It’s also what most people do: they vent their frustration to anyone that will listen.

I realized, however, that most of my friends and Twitter associates are either not looking to buy a desk nor are they necessarily going to remember my updates when its time to do so. It was the right platform, but not necessarily the right audience. Also, I wasn’t looking to create a United Airlines type of situation (although I felt much the same way) for the company. I just wanted to share my own frustrations with other people considering buying their products.

I wanted something more enduring. Something that might show up in search engine results. My next thought was to write a nasty post here naming the company and hoping it would come up along with their name during a Google search. But one lone voice of dissent does not a purchase change. I started thinking about how I make a purchasing decision, and it turns out (obviously) I am very interested in what other communities of experts have to say.

If it’s electronics, I typically check CNET and PCWorld reviews (both the article and the user comments). If it’s books, my first stop is Amazon and if it’s a restaurant, I’ll see what people wrote on Menupages, New York Magazine or Yelp before making my reservation.

And that’s what I did. I added a customer review to some of the sites where I had done my original research. It might have taken a bit more time and ultimately, fewer people may read them. But I feel better. I shared my experience with the people that affect the company’s bottom line. Even if customer service doesn’t matter to this company, hopefully it will make a difference to their potential customers.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Friday Links for 8-21-09

linklove.png Here are some interesting articles I read this week I thought you might enjoy:

Social Media Charm School:“When it comes to social media, it is easy to be dazzled by big numbers and strong opinions. But often what is really needed isn’t a comprehensive strategy with metrics and targets, but a charming and intelligent human personality.” (via graphpaper)

Mobile Marketers Must Look Past The iPhone: “With all the negative press, should marketers question their own love affair with the device and its app platform?” (via Silicon Alley Insider)

Hyperlocal news makes news: the case of Everyblock: Yesterday’s reports of MSNBC’s acquisition of Adrian Holovaty’s Everyblock have generally treated the latter as a “hyperlocal news service.” And to be sure, this is abetted by some of the language Everyblock itself uses to frame and describe what it offers: a “news feed for your block” which can help you “find news nearby.” But for whatever it’s worth, I’ve never understood Everyblock’s fundamental proposition in quite this way, and here’s why I think understanding what it offers as “news” is giving it short shrift. (via Urban Omnibus)

Image credit: Shutterstock

REVIEW: The FedEx Blog

fedex

(NOTE: Updated for accuracy following comment by Matt Ceniceros from FedEx. Thanks, Matt!)

Every now and again, I like to conduct a brief review of a corporate blogging initiative to see how companies are advancing their social media strategies. This week, I’m taking a look at the FedEx blog network. Hopefully we can all learn a few lessons from what the company is doing right and where there’s room for improvement.

URL: http://citizenshipblog.fedex.designcdt.com/

First post: January 8, 2008

Four sub-categories:
Community & Disaster Relief
Economics & Access
Environment & Efficiency
People & Workplace

Pros:

The blog is updated several times a week with content provided by FedEx employees around the world. You’ll even find posts from the company’s CEO and its presidents.

Every post is tagged with keywords describing the content, and there is a weighted tag cloud on the sidebar so you can quickly see what topics are written about with the most frequency.

The sidebar also features links to the company’s Twitter profile and a badge showing they are part of the Alltop community, two signs of a larger social media strategy.

Since its inception, the blog has served as a place of conversation on a plethora of topics. There are posts about some of the company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts, personal posts from employees that have helped with important strategic work, and even sad news, like that of the plane crash in Tokyo that claimed the lives of its crew. Overall, the content is extremely well rounded and a superb example of enforcing the global citizenship message.

Cons:

I’m a bit unsure if all posts are truly authored by the people to whom they’re accredited. Some of the posts strike a more personal tone that fits well with a blog format, while others feel overly formal. For example, the post about the free resume printing day was authored by FedEx Office CEO Brian Phillips, but there’s not one personal sentiment in there to suggest that the post is from him. It just doesn’t feel authentic. In particular, this post has just over 1,000 views and only 4 comments, all of which go unanswered. Since this was such a large, successful promotion in the US, one would expect more attention here, particularly since if the post was truly from the company’s CEO.

Overall, the blog has very few external links, even when there are clear opportunities to do so (i.e. linking to the home pages of the charities they discuss, the news stories they reference or the companies they post about).

The archives are sorted chronologically, but only by year and not by topic, making them difficult to search.

There are many instances of executives just re-posting press releases without adding any substantive commentary. It’s important to remember that a corporate blog is not a clearing house for marketing materials, but a place for honest conversation.

While the audience is supposedly people interested in “the issues related to FedEx”, the blog seems to cater to a largely internal audience judging by its content. That’s fine, but it’s still unclear who the target audience for this initiative is.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This is a really strong effort on the part of FedEx, and I’d recommend corporate bloggers review the blog (especially the well written, clear guidelines, for some best practices. While its not perfect, the areas I found for improvement seem like pretty easy fixes.

What do you think? Have you ever visited the FedEx blog as a customer? Share your feedback below.

Why People Tweet

In a survey conducted by TNS and The Conference Board on how Americans use Twitter, almost 42% of respondents claimed they did so to keep in touch with friends.

The second biggest reason was to update their status.

Notice that “build a relationship with a brand” didn’t make the list.

Just because we see one use for a platform doesn’t mean that our audience sees it the same way. The other important take away is to see that there is no one “right” way to use Twitter. YOU are the audience that you’re trying to reach, so what type of engagement are YOU looking for from a brand?

Graph credit: emarketer

The News Cycle Shortens, Ebbs and Flows

How do blogs and social media affect the news cycle? We all know it’s getting shorter, but what are the implications as we develop media outreach strategies and try to balance our attention between high profile blogs and mainstream media outlets?

A recent New York Times article discusses the results of a new Cornell study where researchers analyzed how news spread between blogs and mainstream media during the 2008 presidential election:

The researchers’ data points to an evolving model of news media. While most news flowed from the traditional media to the blogs, the study found that 3.5 percent of story lines originated in the blogs and later made their way to traditional media.

As Twitter becomes an increasingly popular tool for reporters to source news and collect information, we’ll continue to see a shift in the direction news moves. Although we’ve already seen this happen a few times with breaking stories and liveblogging press events, it will be interesting to see how more controlled announcements are affected.

What do you think? Has your company shifted its communications strategy based on the rise of social media?

Graphic: MemeTracker.org