Friday, August 29, 2008

Hyperlocal news could work!

Well oh well... readership of newspapers is still in decline (but not half as quickly as advertising in them) and the media landscape continues to to shift. Yes, the continued growth of Press2.0, Citizen journalism/crowdsourcing, free online news and everything else associated with it has been given as the reason for this.

But one type of newspaper is showing a glimmer of hope.. the hyper local newspaper. Delivered locally and using locally-availabe sources, could this be the answer?
To quote Andy Lark:
There might just be one exception - where communities are strongest (say Austin [Texas]) papers might thrive due to their relevance and high-degree of localization. Where communities are most diverse (say New York), the broadcast form of print seems to be having less appeal in favor of real-time and highly localized digital ink.
State-side this trend seems to be growing, especially with a hybrid online & newspaper operation run by "enfant terrible" Rob Curley, picured below from his Fast Company article back in 2006. He started taking the local news content back to the community and in a multi-media way.

Its also happening over here in the UK and one example that blurs the lines between both is the G41 newspaper in Pollokshaws Road area of Glasgow. Its a website/newspaper that continues the trend of naming these hyper local rags after postcodes.

But could this glimmer of hyper-local hope... just be the last part of the newspaper industry going up in flames?.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Customers - a definition of a developing breed

Throughout this blog I refer to 'customers' as the main people that companies should:
  • engage with
  • worry about
  • communicate with
  • listen to, etc.
Yes, I could have used others, such as:
  • Readers
    (if you have a subscription model that actually works or another model that makes money)
  • Staff
    (if your target audience in internal
  • Shareholders
  • Leads / Prospects
    (if your target is aquisitional)
  • and a bunch of others....

But I've use this term mainly because its simple, is the one I use most commonly and also the one you're most likely to try to engage and influence. Also according to last week's IMRG statistics, online sales are still showing double-digit growth, so its probably no a bad thing to give them a high business priority right now.

However, the internet has done more than simply change the way users experience and swap information, its created a new type of customer. To quote Alex Jefferies of Aberdeen Group in his recent report on Customer 2.0:

These customers expect to interact with peers and businesses when they want, how
they want, and in the channel of their choosing.

There's no longer the chance to turn a blind eye to this developing type of consumer. They have: an opinion, a voice and increasingly have the power to wield it. The company that doesn't facilitate and listen to all these touchpoints may find the conversation going on without them.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Online Reputation Market worth £60 million

In their latest report 'The Online Reputation and Buzz Monitoring Buyer's Guide 2008', E-Consutlancy believe that the market for monitoring reputations online will be worth £60 million in 2008. This market, made up of companies such as Brandwatch and Cymphony, is therefore set to grow by 30% by the end of the year.

Companies are realising that monitoring and measuring their reputation across their delivery and customer interaction channels provides the opportunity to understand what users are actually saying. Furthermore, by feeding this information back through the organisation they can potentially improve products & services (and hopefully not just to prep the lawyers for another round of 'cease & decist' letter sending).

We've had clients of our company Ideal Interface take a look at these online monitoring solutions and start using them, so it comes as no suprise that the market is growing. But what's in-store for 2009 and beyond?

This was a question I asked Gile Palmer at Brandwatch recently. His reply was:

I think 2009 could be an interesting year for technologies like Brandwatch - for starters they will get better at the core job - alerting people when interesting/worrying things appear online as well as giving a more medium term / long term view.

There's no doubt that the Online reputation monitoring is heating up. WPP has recently moved to buy TNS, who have their Cymphony social media tracking service, for a reported £1.1 billion. This has led some industry observers (including myself) to assume that larger players are looking to enter this growing market.

Interesting times ahead then....

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Crowdsourcing & News

Having mentioned previously how retailers (coffee, PC's & high street fashion) are attempting to utilise the knowledge of crowds, I've turned my attention to how The Press 1.0 are using web 2.0 crowdsourcing techniques to solve problems in innovative ways.

Despite the forecasted death of the investigative journalist (or newspapers as a whole)*, there have been examples where the news industry has utilised crowdsourcing methods:

* due to the long tail of publishing and the proposed amateur-isation of the profession thanks to the knowledge of crowds

Washington Examiner Community Action Network
This site, run by the Washington Examiner in the USA publishes databases of public information for its readers to sift through and report back. So far they have uncovered issues in standards and payments.

USA Today
Gannett, the owner of USA Today announced back in 2006 that it was restructuring its newsdesks around crowdsourcing topics. An 'Information Centre' surrounded by seven descrete areas was set up. Apparently partly and admission that blogs and other social media may have somethign to say and partly to increase the size of the resporting team to incorporate "Pro-Am" (A combination of professional and amateur) workers.

Assignment Zero
This combination between Wired Magazine and New Assignment is a bold attempt to bring journalists together with people in the public who can help cover a story. Participation in it is entirely volumntary and reporters contribute across the world and its hoped it can cover particular stories with more depth and relevance than before.

Well does this combination of citizen journalism and collaborative investigation work?

Some people think that this isn't a new form of journalism, its just journalism. Assignment Zero could also be seen as failing when they found that the crowd became too difficult to mange.
But to quote Mark Tapscott of the Washington Examiner:

Call me an ink-stained wretch or a hopeless policy wonk with a techno-geeky obsession, but if the possibilities of such a partnering of traditional media and Internet-age citizens doesn’t get your journalism juices flowing, I suggest a visit to your cardiologist.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The difference between Getting and Understanding

I've been speaking a lot with leading digital industry people recently and am getting suprised by the number of them stating phases such as:
  • "Your customers 'get' this idea!"

  • "Its a demographic difference, your target audience just 'get' it"

  • "Do you have management that just "doesn't get it"?"

Well, it stikes me that 'getting it' just doesn't cut the mustard really. In this sound-bite (sound-byte surely?) time we live in, everything has to be communicated in mere principles. Why has it become socially acceptable for people to consume just enough information to be able to recite your ideas back and nothing more?

What happened to 'Understanding'?

I sadly think that understanding is becoming a dirty word, somehow conveying that you either took too long to grasp a concept or that the person explaining somehow said too much. Perhaps its the consequence of a time-poor society that even providing suitable explanation is too much effort to the listener.

The word is a description of what it is: a solid support on which to base something heavy. It conveys, not just the retention of small lightweight premaces or 'revision friendly phrases', but the effort of listening hard and the comprehension of what is important.

When did you or your company last take the time to understand?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Low quality video production... why?

  • Every video podcasting site will tell you its not expensive to produce video content for your website.
  • Every salesman will tell you that their £500 digital video camera produces professional quality footage as standard.
  • Every non-linear video editing (NLVE) software suite's specifications will inform you of the high definition, mulit-codec, images it can create.

But when you try it out, all you get is various clips that look like they were done on the cheap. Why?

Here's a clue...

Sometimes its not about the quality of the kit you buy, its about the skill of the person shooting and editing the video.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

American Airlines Blog... was it a fake?

I've previously mentioned how I was unsure if the American Airline Blog at was either an awful blog or a parody.

If you try to get to this now, (the blogging platform the site is hosted on) tells us that "This site has been removed"

The death of this blog does however raise further questions.....
Was this stopped by the person(s) blogging, perhaps beacuse it was realised they were doing a bad job of it?
Did American Airlines request the removal of this site as it was fake?

(Online) Video Killed the Television Star?

There are two views on how TV and YouTube will get along in the future
  1. YouTube is a threat to TV and will become its demise
  2. YouTube is an additonal channel to TV and the two will eventually create a hybrid media source
I personally believe that the latter viewpoint is true. My hunch is that the Internet will incorporate more and more video content in time, as:
  • Video cameras become more commonplace & cheaper (quality of mobile phone video)
  • Methods of posting video content to the internet become easier
  • Broadband continues to increase in speed and overall usage
  • People find it more acceptable to communicate and interact in this way

Note: This has already been covered intially in my post 'This time the revolution will be televised', so I'll not go into it again.

But on the other hand there are those who believe that Online Video will bring about the death of TV, particularly in the guise of YouTube. So are we right to ask Buggles to rewrite their song? Or is everyone just getting a little too paranoid?..... errr.... YES!

A recent study by IMMI found that 20% of primetime television viewers are watching some episodic television online and that this grou (the majority of them women) don't have the time to catch everything, so use the online episodes as a way to catch-up on the ones they missed live.

Here's their full report: ttp://

As eMarketer agree, there is no reason to believe that the increase in online video is causing a subsequent drop in TV viewing:

It does then beg the question of where these extra hours are coming from.... perhaps they've stopped listening to 80's radio stations!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Social Media changes marketing & usability

If you're planning on advertising on social networks, you've probably already heard ort read that CPM's are incredibly low. Indeed, if you read Alex Nesbitt of Digital Podcast's thoughts, he believes that Google AdWords can be 100 times more effective than adverting on social media sites.

The argument has been made frequently that tracking CPM's and building communities are two entirely different things. Search and content sites are better for quantitative marketing and communities provide better qualitative understanding, providing insight into product / service improvements (see my previous post on ROI of Social Media for more)

Having spent years working with large companies to build usable websites , I've been a fan of the work of Jesse James Garrett, one of the pioneers of web usability. He basically stated that the web browser provides two different functions:

1. A hypertext system (content & search, e.g. Google, BBC, etc.)
2. A software interface (application, e.g. Online Banking, etc.)

His original diagram explained the ' basic duality' and the ways to deal with the specification and development of these two paradigms, from Abstract to Concrete & Conception to Completion.

But is this the entire picture? Well I have a theory its not and that we're missing something here.
I think that social media (discussion forums, blogs, etc.) actually create a place between Mr Garrett's two purposes. They create a 'third space' that combines both the content of the hypertext system and the application functionality of the software interface. Its this third space that's confusing, because the interface isn't just one thing or the other:
Its not just about look & feel, its about elements & navigation. Its not just about getting instant gratification and clicking'next' to the following page, its about interaction and engagement whilst your on that page.
Perhaps we need a new diagram Mr Garrett?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Who's the modern Edward Bernays?

I've been reading up more about Edward Bernays, the father of PR. He started the way the consumer-age (the 20th Century) marketed and communicated to its audience. He played a major role in helping to define the communication industry's direction and methods.

Part psychologist, philospoher and self-publicist, he pioneered things we now take for granted in the modern world such as: linking celebrity to promotion and product placement at events. However I was most interested to read that he spent a lot of time promoting the new and exciting media of the time... radio and then moved onto promoting TV.

As PR and Media have once again changed in the last few years, who would you say was the modern Mr Bernays?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Virtual Worlds

Having been involved with 3D/Virtual worlds for over a decade now (from the early days of contributing to Virtual Reality Special Interest Groups to finding new ways to improve the rendering speed of Second Life on my home PC), I'm still interested in their usage and development as a communication, simulation & training tool.

I am therefore curious to see what Google's new virtual world, called 'Lively' was all about.
I hope to be trialling it soon, so stay tuned, but here's the best review of it I have found so far:

However, what has really got my attention is this demo video (possibly fake) posted up recently to several virtuial world discussion groups and news sites. If this is real, then the likes of Lively and Second Life could find they have a limited shelf life....

Friday, August 15, 2008

A holiday for Social Bookmarking

When I posted recently on the use of social bookmarking tools, I commented that Delicious ( was not as popular as I thought and was ranked just outside the top 1000 most highly used sites on the Internet. Since then I've been keeping an eye on the popularity of this site using Alexa, the Internet's dominant traffic analyis & benchmarking tool.

It seems the usage of (now renamed to is fading as a proportion of total internet usage.... following a spike of usage in June.

Why? Surely the use of social bookmarking tools should be increasing?

At first, I thought this was because users might have moved from Delicious to, but a quick look shows that they are having a similar decline and Digg is faring even worse.

So what's up? Has Social Bookmarking usage peaked already? If the proportion of users for both service have dropped since mid-June, have they stopped for a reason?

Here's a theory.... aren't the Millenials on holiday?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

User Generated Content must stay that way

If the recent reports are true that (the Web2.0 online city guide that allows user to review particular businesses), is offering to tamper with negative comments to sell adverts to advertisers.... then it casts a significant shadow over their authenticity and credibility.

It beggars belief if the claims of several business in the San Francisco area are true [more detail found here] . Mary Seaton, owner of the Soft Outlet in San Mateo, claims:

"I didn't receive a phone call from Yelp until I received a negative review," Seaton said. "A week after I received a negative review, a sales person contacted me and she said...'We noticed that you have some very positive reviews. We can push your negative reviews to the bottom, so that your positive reviews will come to the top.'"
This activity is clearly different from moderating your comments or any form of user prioritisation (e.g. my favourites, "was this useful?", etc.) and clearly runs against the whole idea of transparency and openness, key qualities for any company relying on user generated content for its business model.

You hope this is just the action of a single disillusioned employee....... and in no way linked to the allegations that Yelp have previously paid people to provide reviews.

Chief Conversation Officer?

I've previously mentioned that some companies have created a Chief Blogger or similar role. However, blogging/micro-blogging is only one toolset to use when trying to engage with your customers and listening to them is just as important.

With this in mind, why not have the title Chief Conversation Officer?

A person in an organisation who is responsible for participating in social media and monitoring all channels. Their role is to undertsand the dialogue happening, to try to resolve where possible or viable and highlight issues back through the orgainsation to improve product, service or brand.

Has anyone else got a better definition?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Social Media Moderation Guidelines

I was speaking with the Head of Marketing of a large retailer the other day and she asked me if their were any guidelines for moderating participation in social media. To define this further, she wanted to know what moderators could & couldn't do or say on their updated User Generated Content site.

My first thought was to say "don't moderate, allow the crowd to do this for you"... but I didn't for two main reasons:

1. This is a site dedicated to a specific company's product(s) and not a general free-for-all chat area. Off-post topics are quite clearly breaches of the site's usage policy and really have no place there.

2. Its not the place where it will have immediate community membership/evangelism, therefore the self-cleansing aspect is not a likely following the initial launch.

But it did get me thinking about what you should and shouldn't moderate. This situation has been clouded further by the recent decision in the High Court that "Internet Bulleting Boards are more likely slander than libel" and a certain amount of give-and-take should be considered, however this is not a license to defame online, since the Judge in this case stated:

"I would not suggest for a moment that blogging cannot ever form the basis of a legitimate libel claim," he said. "I am focusing only on these particular circumstances."

There are however some usful point to consider before you head into this difficult situation:

  • Know your target audience
    Would they consider moderation as censorship? Are they likely to self-moderate?

  • Understand the impact of moderating
    Identify if this will cause an unneccesary delay in postings and the time/effort/cost

  • Make sure your site usage policy is clear and available

The best starting advice I give these days (as I am definately not a legal person) is this social media legal checklist reference from Richard Best (note: He is in New Zealand, you should therefore consult with you in-house legal team first to check they are happy)

I guess all things in life should be done in moderation.... including moderation!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Attention Economics

"What's that then?" I hear you say

Economics deals with the demand and supply of limited resources. In the normal definition, this is materials, labour, cash, etc. But how about if we regard attention as a resource and understand that everyone has only a finite supply to provide?

Attention Economics is a concept proposed by Herbert Simon and in recent years has been adopted by the marketing / advertising industry. The idea that people get 'Information Overload' is thus superceeded by the theory that they get 'Attention Overload' . Therefore individuals get too many things fighting for their attention than is reasonable, possible and processable (for more info, see my previous post 'Branded to Death')

What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it

However, awareness is only the first part of the entire 'AIDAS' marketing model, that then takes the person on a journey thorugh I(nterest), D(esire), A(ction) & S(atisfaction). Its therefore important to understand that capturing eyeballs is important but that once you've done this you should change your approach and try to generate I(nterest).

You don't generate Interest by trying to grab more attention. Hitting potential customers with more: red, flashing, pop-up, bold & sexually-themed messaging is not the way to get them curious enough to want to learn more. My theory is that if you keep trying to do this you create a form of message ADD where customers tune out and become blind to their affects.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The long tail of PR

I've been impressed recently by the contact I've had from PR companies in response to my blog postings. They have: taken the time to find my work, read my words, find my email address and craft an email to me.
Usually the email contains further information about their client's products (which are mostly relevant to my articles), links to additonal supporting work and in some cases an offer of a product demonstration or contact with someone at the company should I want to get some more detailed and personal insight.

This is the long tail of PR working in the way it should.

The long tail of PR, first highlighted to me in David Meerman Scott's book The New Rules of Marketing & PR, shows how PR companies are increasingly realising that they don't need to spend huge amounts of money 'blanket bombing' the top media (newspapers, magazines, etc.) and can raise a lot of interest by re-focusing their attention further down the 'tail' at much smaller & niche players such as myself.

There's a lot more thought about this topic on Chris Anderson's site (who is actually Editor in Chief of Wired Magazine).

I wonder, as blogging and social media continues to grow, how PR companies will decide to segment the long tail of their audience, media and influencers. The different methods of identifying, contacting and dealing with the niche players will potentially be the difference between a good and a great Web2.0 PR company.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

More on the single view

After reading an eMarketer article [Brands Adjust to Media Fragmentation - now only availble if you subscribe], it brought back my thoughts from a recent posting on the Single View of customers and companies.

The fragmentation of old and even new media channels these days makes it difficult for companies to communicate effectivey. And following the further fragmented dialogue caused by these messages is an issue of exponential difficulty beyond that!

So how to you ensure a customer has a complete view of your own company?

In my opinion you can't fully right now, because as soon as you use different channels for customer communication you loose a certain rigour. As for controlling which channel customers use.... "forgeddaboutit". As I said yesterday, its all about channel relevancy.

Lets be frank, customers don't care if your call-centre/website/branch is out-sourced or have different staff training processes now...

...To them it is all the same company, regardless of channel!

But you can help yourself:

1. Interlink your activity wherever possible:
How often do you see a press release with no URL to additonal information of supporting data?
(Answer: still too much!). Online date should link to each other, it joins a users thinking with your efforts and was the purpose of the WWW in the first place. Don't forget that links between your different online submissions can help in your Search Engine Optimisation efforts as well.

2. Be consistent across all channels:
As any Marketing or PR manual will tell you, you must make sure you give the same message as often as possible. Channel mis-match confuses people and this is even more important digitally (where inconsistencies can turn up in the same Google search). Consider a quality process for all your externally-bound content. Have a corporate-wide terminology database, especially if you translate content (and make sure ALL translation companies have access to this source). Give call-centre/customer service staff the same information you give everyone else and be prepared to manage the exceptions / issues carefully, noting what those exceptions are (product, brand, circumstance, etc.).
There's far more information from Mr Bob Liodice on the subject than I could ever provide.

3. Track your messaging
Monitor what gets said across the web and who says it. Social Media monitoring solutions are increasing in their ability to detect sentiment and can be inexpensive to implement quickly.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Conversation Prism

The Conversation Prism
Originally uploaded by b_d_solis

Brian Solis (Mr PR 2.0) has evolved the concept of the 'Social Media Starfish' (I'm sorry, I could never take that label seriously) into The Conversation Prism, explained further here.
Here he tries (and succeeds more than anyone I've seen so far) to map the different conversation sites and technologies across the Web2.0 landscape.

I think this is a bold step and one that we will see improve over time. I'm especially sure that there are far more indexes and scales along which to measure the impact, effectiveneess and relationships of these intertwining tools, services & networks. Lets see where this goes in the future.

[Cheeky note: I also hope that NBC don't realise their 'Peacock' has been borrowed!]

Channel Relevancy

Multi-channel marketing and retailing is not a new thing, in fact Argos claims its been in this business for 35 years now. However, times have changed and the Global economy is slowing down. The way that some companies will respond to this is to switch to lower 'cost to serve' (The average cost required to deliver a service to a customer) models in an effort to reduce staff & overheads.

But how do you know which channels to streamline without impacting your customers and therefore potentially affect revenues in the long term? This is especially important for companies that potentially have the same customer wanting one view of the them, regardless of the channels offered.

Here's my advice for Channel Marketing & Retailing...
Be relevant!

1. Understand your different customer types (create personas, measure, test & develop)
2. Understand their existing channel mix for information & purchase (which may be different)
3. Encourage a lower 'cost to serve' mix
4. But do not force customers to use a mix they do not want to - or risk losing them

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Workforce Collaboration

Is your company using tools for allowing the staff to work more efficiently? If not, why not? Surely getting more out of the same team make good sense.

But is it that easy do?
There are now a number of software and web-based products & services that allow sets of individuals to connect & collaborate together to become more productive or useful.

1. Google Applications:
Do you find that Microsoft Office is too expensive, especially when you have more than one PC in different locations?
Do you find yourself using only 20% of the functionality in Word & Excel most of the time?
Do you find upgrading your Office suite a paid every time a new version comes along?
Do you want several members of the same team to view and edit the sme document, regardless of location?

Well.... not only does Google make its own word processor, spreadsheet, calendar and other applications available online, it provides them for free for individual use. It also charges just £25 per user license for large organisations to utilise the Premium version. Combining the useful functionality of most popular office applications, plus the ability for multiple users to share and work on documents, companies such as L'Oreal and General Electric are currently evaluating its usefulness as an MS Office replacement.
Take a look at for more information about it.

2. Basecamp:
This is a web-based service that allows multiple-user collaboration on a project. Its a growing suite of applications that provides: plans, task break-downs and areas for sharing ideas, Basecamp is very useful way to run projects, especially if you have a distributed or virtual team.

Projects don't fail from a lack of charts, graphs, stats, or reports, they fail from a lack of clear communication

This tool has been developed by 37 signals, who have also produced, an Online contact manager and simple CRM application (more on this when I get my hands on it)

Monday, August 4, 2008

Enterprise Social Network?

So, can a social network exist and work within a company? Well, some believe that it can be and along with other web2.0 technologies/ideas (e.g. wiki’s, image galleries & tagging/rating content) have loosely called this subject "Enterprise 2.0" or 'Socialprise' a term apprently invented by However its worth mentioning that some people still debate the existence of an Enterprise 2.0 market and others claim the term is an oxymoron.

But Forrester Research believes 50% of the Global 2000 are planning to adopt some type of Enterprise 2.0 solutions by 2013 and According to ABI Research, this market will be worth nearly $1.3 billion by then. In fact, Forrester's latest report "Facebook for the Enterprise" shows how some companies are already using some social networking features for:

harnessing the network to optimize workforce utilization, develop professional staff, retain talent, and locate expertise

To meet this apparent demand, even Oracle's On-demand CRM Rel15 [its Software-as-a-service (SAAS) response to] now includes social media functionality such as 'Message Center', which facilitates real-time commentary like a wiki and ‘Sticky Notes’. This allows users to tag objects with a comment, subscribe to the related message stream and expose this as a portlet or gadget for embedding in an external home page such as iGoogle. (Apparently there's "even more to come" from Oracle). And with the adoption of Open Social, it means companies looking to include Social Networks in their Enterprise software now only have to include one standard.

Awareness Inc. claim to be the leader in enterprise social media. They have developed a social media on-demand application that combines the full range of Web 2.0 technologies - blogs, wikis, discussion groups, social networking, podcasts, RSS, tagging, photos, videos, mapping, etc. - with security, control, and content moderation. They even have major corporations such as: McDonald's, the New York Times, Northwestern Mutual, and Procter and Gamble as clients.
Conversing with Kevin Andrew from Awareness recently, he claims that his clients:

build brand loyalty, generate revenue, drive new forms of marketing, improve collaboration, encourage knowledge-sharing, and build a "corporate memory."

However, just having the technology or services available to you doesn't mean you have a valuable tool instantly on your hands. For years companies have had different "Enterprise Collaboration" tools available in the form of software such as Microsoft's Office SharePoint Server, but are these really "social networking" platform? (Some companies such as Scotiabank think they are, perhaps because they make good headlines). I'd suggest that they are not.

So "social networks are open for business", but are there any examples of companies who have actually implemented a social network within their company? Well yes, Kodak employees who take photos in their personal lives now share pictures online about their hobbies, families, and travels.

Does anyone have any further examples?

Friday, August 1, 2008

Calculating the ROI of Social Media

A few days ago I posted on why companies aren't using social media and mentioned that there is no definitive agreed ROI model. Following on from comments by Tristan & Elliefy, I've put some thoughts together on how you measure the Return on Investment of your Socail Media activity/campaigns.

There is a certain amount of thought done on this subject already and I agree with DJ Francis post that you cannot measure the ROI of Social Media the way that existing online campaigns are tracked:

You can’t apply a Web 1.0 gestalt in a world where the audience cannot only respond, but can also generate more content than any single company
Firstly ANY customer engagment campaign needs to tie into your existing overall business and marketing plans. However, I am not aware of any plans that have the aims of "ignoring customers" and "losing market share" (But you never know, a lot of companies seem to excel at this on the web recently).

Secondly, it is more difficult (but not impossible) to measure the intangible parts of marketing , e.g. Word Of Mouth, etc. This ties back to my reply to Ellify, where I cover what I believe is a lack of understanding by companies of the importance of qualitative data, rather than just measuring instant gratification from quantative data.

Now, your (online) Marketing Manager should have a set of overall objectives include items like these:

  1. Increase the in-bound links to the site
    (so more people can use/subscribe to the site)
  2. Increase the number of site users/subscribers
    (as registered users can be measured/communicated/engaged with better)
  3. Provide better methods of engaging users
    (to become customers, premium users, brand advocates, etc.)
Now, the exact way you do this will depend upon your specific brand/products & services/users, but social media can contribute to all of these aims.

However, lets try to see what we can measure both qualitatively and quantatively...

Increased in-bound links:
Social Bookmarking can help your Search Engine Optimisation efforts by creating more in-bound links to your site. By monitoring and correctly engaging with the relevant bloggers, you can also get more traffic to your site and again further your SEO efforts.


Increase the number of site users/subscribers (increase conversions)
This is an obvious metric that can be measured and can be reported in any analytics package. By working on the points above you can assist your efforts to get users to your sight & sign users up. Even better, by creating user forums that are open (but in a carefully managed way is rewarded when they provide further details) thay can discuss and generate further information, hopefully growing to become a community, assisting each other.

Furthermore, by using targetted news releases and campaign-identified RSS feeds (or even Widgets, if you're brave), you can provide the necessary enticement in your content to keep bringing them back.

Measure: (using analytics or available databases)
  • Unique visitors
  • New registrations
  • Member-get-member (Send to a friend) referrals
  • Forum postings - new subject
  • Forum postings - replies
  • etc.

Provide better methods of engaging users
We know that functionality such as Online Customer Reviews significantly influences purchasing decisons and that customer research and share their experiences. So don't be scared to empower your Brand Evangelists in the process.

Now measuring engagement is the hardest I believe (and perhaps why companies shy away from it so much. However people such as Ron Shevlin, who I've listened to and respected for years now) shows how its possible to measure engagement, but that there are differences.

Measuring engagement needs to be done in the context of a firm’s strategy and it’s own theory of the customer — that is, what behaviors the firm believes constitutes an engaged customer.

Final thought:
The exact amount attributable to social media is the important figure to calculate ROI (money made divided by money spent). But be careful as each company's is different and not every investment has a direct ROI.

Or to quote Mr Shevlin again:
Marketers need to stop getting their knickers in a knot trying to boil engagement down to a single metric that relates to a web site or the online channel. It’s a descriptor of a customer’s attitudes, not a channel’s performance.
A qualitative statement if ever there was one!

Here's a great Case Study on the ROI of Social Media Campaign for SeaWorld San Antonio.