The ROI of Conversational Blogging

roiThere were some interesting posts today about the return on investment of blogging. Like always, far too much of the focus (being, in this case, all of it) was placed on blogging as a way to separate readers from their money.

This never ending effort to treat blogging as some new age business plan continues to read to me like someone furiously trying to stuff a round peg into a square hole. But sometimes you take the conversation where and as you find it, so let’s take a look.

First, about blogging as an extension of a business (note the words “an extension of” between the words “as” and “a business”).

I’ve said many times that a blog is a natural extension of just about any business that otherwise spends time and money taking its message to current and/or potential customers. A blog is to a company’s marketing what a web page with mp3s is to a musician’s creative endeavors- a way to take your message directly to the ultimate consumer. By cutting out some of the middle, you create a more direct, less expensive, real time and somewhat interactive method of distribution of both your product and information about that product.

If you do it right, your blog becomes more than just a living marketing brochure- it becomes a portal for marketing, customer service and personalization. It becomes a public relations home run.

That’s good.

But what about the rate of return for blogs that aren’t about making money? Certainly, the best measure of that rate of return is the satisfaction you get from the blogging experience. But just because a blogger isn’t trying to separate his readers from some of their cash doen’t mean than merely sending a post out into the vast blogosphere is the be all end all of blogging.

Almost all bloggers are looking for something in return from their blogging. Let’s think about this some more.

In her article, Charlene Li talks about measuring the benefits of blogs by looking at certain factors like conversion rates, traffic, etc. She is trying to couch something very subjective in more objective terms, and I’m not sure she convinced me of anything common sense wouldn’t already dictate.

But let’s talk bout some of her factors, from a conversational blogger’s perspective:

Consumer self-education: From a conversational blogging perspective, this would translate to reader participation. Are your comments and trackback numbers increasing over time? If so, then you have attracted readers who want to engage in conversation about the topics at hand. If not, then even if you have a lot of traffic, you are not advancing your conversational goal.

Greater visibility in search results: While I get a ton of traffic via search results, I have no ads to click. So traffic for the sake of traffic only benefits my conversational purpose if that traffic expands the conversation onto other blogs. The only way to measure cross blog conversation is by measuring the links that are a part of cross-blog conversations. If you become visible via search engines, but no one engages you in conversation, then, once again, you have not advanced the conversational goal.

As an aside, I believe this is why some of the bloggers who look to profit from their blogs focus so much on traffic (and say links are of less importance), while so many conversational bloggers focus more on links (and the interaction which they, at least to some extent, measure).

Lower the cost of public relations: I believe this translates to lowering the geographical obstacles to conversation. One of my primary blogging goals is to find people who are interested in interests (tech, music, etc.) not generally shared by my real world friends. I largely measure my return on blogging by the number of people I “talk” to regularly about those topics.

If you are eliminating the geographical obstacles to conversation, you are getting a good return on your conversational blogging.

Reach an enthusiast community: While not as clean a translation, I would measure this by how sustainable your cross-blog conversations are. Are there are other bloggers who regularly reply to your posts? Do you do the same for them? Is that group growing at a satisfactory rate? The larger and more interesting that group becomes, the more likely it is to thrive over time.

Building a sustainable community is the second step to the process of eliminating the geographical obstacles to conversation I described above.

Address criticisms on other blogs/news stories:
Improve employee innovation and productivity:
Improved stock price:

I don’t see any real correlation with conversational blogging here.

But there are other areas in which conversational blogging can generate a return.

Tapping collective knowledge:

How many times have you turned to the blogosphere in search of hard to find information? I do it all the time.

Via blogging (and here is at least one good use for tags) you can tap the collective knowledge of a great many people. Even better, the blog posts create a record that can and will be found by others seeking the same information.

Want to see proof. Search Google for these song lyrics: “I wish I’d killed John Wayne.”

Be tutored by the world:

I am learning photography. By reading the right blogs, asking question via comments and surfing through the photo feeds of talented photographers, I have learned more faster than I could have by taking classes or by trial and error.

There are blogs about any topic that can provide similar learning materials.

Finding a relaxing place in a hectic world:

Life is so hectic, there really isn’t time to devote to finding user groups and other enthusiasts to share interests with. Conversational blogging allows you to find a group and interact with it in a turn-based manner, in your own way and at your own pace.

It’s a way to belong to something important, with a significantly reduced time commitment.

There are lots of other ways to measure the return on investment for conversational blogging.

The main point, at least for me, is that the benefits are not measured in dollar bills.

Sometime they are measured in something even more important.

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