How can I tell if I was successful?

I just e-mailed my annual performance review to my manager. And it’s always a relief to hit that send button, but you also always wonder if there wasn’t just one more piece of information that you would have supplied to show how awesome you are.

I am struggling with something this year that I think lots of marketing professionals-at least those that don’t have big research budgets–struggle with as well. When you are doing outbound marketing or PR activities, in my case community building stuff, how do you know when you have been successful? Or more specifically, how do you PROVE that you have been successful?

In a recent post, I mentioned that corporate bloggers need to be able to draw a connection between their outreach efforts and results and I am not sure I have got this one figured out yet. And I don’t think our market research folks are going to do a study on it.

Positive feedback is great (and trust me, all of the kind comments and even some of the not-so-kind ones have been really great for me in terms of my own personal growth). But at some point, if you can’t point to tangible, significant results, does your blogging become something that is just “nice to do”, an “extra” but not something that is important to your job. In my case, how can I show that the work I have done here has caused more people to apply to jobs at Microsoft? Or in a broader sense, show that this blogging has helped people see us as the cool folks we are (come on, admit it…you like us)?

Come on you corporate bloggers out there…you must be going through the same thing right? How do we build a business case for blogging? How do we measure the ROI?

I’ll be thinking on that this weekend over a few margaritas. I’ll also be standing behind home plate at a softball game trying to look like I know what I am doing, in a fashionable way, of course.

Have a great weekend everyone! (In case you are wondering, 80 degrees and sunny here)

Comments (12)

  1. Or Ron says:

    "…how can I show that the work I have done here has caused more people to apply to jobs at Microsoft?"

    Well, this seems fairly straightforward. What you need are some concrete figures, regarding your influence on readers.

    You can add a simple question to the applicant’s form, asking something along the lines of "Was your application motivated by reading a Microsoft employee weblog? If so, which one?"

    As you probably know, recruiters use similar methods for printed media, where each job description has a number the applicant must quote. The description is the same in different papers, but the job numbers are unique to the particular publication.

    This is how you can tell which publication is responsible for the largest number of applications, and you can use your advertising budget more wisely.

    The same technique can be applied here, by asking that simple question. True, it will require some work to get the question in, but you then have real numbers, with a minimal investment.

    "…Or in a broader sense, show that this blogging has helped people see us as the cool folks we are (come on, admit it…you like us)?"

    Well, we do like you. I know I like you for trying.

    I spend a substantial amount of time managing a .Net user-group, sponsored by Microsoft. I wouldn’t do that if I didn’t like you, would I? I’m a MVP second year in a row- that means you like me too, I think…

    However, this is not a measurable subject- unless you are willing to spend a substantial amount of money, and a great deal of effort on market research, surveys and focus groups. It will be a waste of time if you don’t, since reaching your potential audience and "probing their minds" is a major effort.

    I believe you should steer away from that, if you don’t have the budget.

    What you CAN measure, is the number of posts by Microsoft employees, and the number of feedbacks, their tone, the lessons that can be learned.

    The statistics are there, and so are the feedbacks. It will just require some research on your part, but no substantial investment (budget-wise). Find out who the Microsoft bloggers are, and go over their weblogs to find the answers you’re looking for.

    It took me about 4 minutes to find some very good responses that match the type you are looking for.

  2. Heather,

    I’m not really evaluated on blogging (it’s not part of my responsibilities, more that I’m "allowed" to blog :), but there are cases where I need some arguments to proove that blogging is useful.

    I tell stories. I’m a researcher, so stories are about new contacts that I established because of my weblog, reviews of my work that I get from people I wouldn’t know otherwise, speed of receiving answers to my questions… I try to show what blogging does to my core activities: saving time and providing opportunities that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

    I can see many parallels to your question in training and knowledge management fields (where I’m from 🙂 – every now and then someone asks about ROI. The problem is that measuring it often difficult (time-consuming) and not necessary… There is a piece on measuring communities at – may be helpful when you think about ROI.

    Btw, two others things:

    1. Your weblog is one of 3 I read from Microsoft people 🙂 I like the tone and style and openess. It feels like being a friend of someone recruiting for Microsoft and listening to "stories from the field" over coffee. I don’t know how good it is for finding better people for Microsoft, but definitely it helps to understand your role in the process. And I enjoy it. Think of customer satisfaction :))) I may be angry when Windows crashes, but I’m more able to accept it and wait for a better version when I see human faces of people in the company.

    2. Just a technical note. When you refer to a "recent post" why you don’t link to it? I would help readers to find it back…

    Keep going.

  3. johnza says:

    as someone who filled (and read) out a bunch of those reviews as a microsoft marketing person, i really empathize. this is a hard thing to do. proof relative to an engineer (shipped it, bug count) or a sales person (pipeline, leads, sales closed) is really hard.

    to me in marketing we can get all caught up in the numeric metrics and lose sight of what’s important. many times we had all the Reach/Frequency, CPM, and awareness metrics nailed but in truth we weren’t truly "reaching" anyone.

    marketing is like agriculture. you are planting seeds and fertilizing them? are the concepts you put out there taking root, are they spreading, are they self-polinating? it’s not always how many you reach, but whom. it’s not always how you reach but how deeply.

    not an easy answer, but when it’s really working you’ll know. all the best. your blog is great.

  4. johnza says:

    here’s another kinda simple thing that always helped: do your abcs – a = orignal situation, b = destination, c = what needs/needed to be done to cross between.

    retrospectively what were your abcs? what was the market/product situation A like? what is it like now B? what did you do C to help make that happen?

    prospectively, what are your abcs? what is the situation A you now see for your brand/product etc.? what goal B do you think ought to be set? and what contribution C do you think you should be making to bridge between the two.

    sorry, i’m pretty sure this isn’t the kind of answer you were really looking for. but this approach has been helpful in the past. thanks.

  5. Heather says:

    Or- You make some great points. I wish that adding a check box on the career site was as easy as it sounds. You’d be surprised at how hard something like that is here. ; ) Your point about key learnings is right on. I guess as a blogger, I can take some of those things and synthesize them into some kind of report. For example, segment the people that read (for career advice, people who have already applied to MS, people in related subject areas that link to me in their blogs, etc) and see what their feedback is and maybe what their behaviors are (for example, if people who comment here apply online). I was really focused on the outreach piece but you are making me think so much more about what kind of info we can pull in via comments. And that’s a huge compliment to you…thanks for making me think!

    Lilia- I’m thinking about your concept of telling stories. It’s kind of how we think about "customer scenarios". It would be a great way to frame some of the learnings. Also, your feedback about us providing the human face is probably going to be pasted into a mail for my manager ; ) and it certainly reinforces in my mind why I am doing this so thanks!

    Johnza-actually your info was helpful too. It helps me to think of this as a reponsbility that can be measured by a point in time (since there’s really no end point intended). So we would look at where we were when we started, where are we now and what changed and then what did I/we do to impact that change. I thikn I can do this every 6 months or so.

    OK, this is officially my favorite blog topic so far…I’ll have to let you all know how we progress in terms of demonstrating ROI for blogging in our space. All 3 of you posted comments that really made me think about this and realize maybe it’s going to be possible to measure this. Thank you!

  6. Me says:

    Reality is that th powers that be have alreay made their collective minds up on what your review score is well before you pontificated about hitting send

  7. Heather says:

    "me"-that doesn’t mean I don’t have to demonstrate results on an ongoing basis though. I’m not trying to include some new analysis in my’s just what made me think about how to measure the effectiveness of blogging.

    My desire to be a good performer doesn’t ramp down after my review score has been decided. ; )

  8. Zarquon says:

    I find it fascinating that the Microsoft Blog Explosion of 2004 came about as a result of directives from higher up. This seems like an upside-down approach. One thing that differentiates blogs from other kinds of sites is that they generally result from grass-roots efforts from people in the trenches, whereas Microsoft’s blogs seem more like one of several dozen PR efforts, almost the antithesis of blogs.

    I guess part of the problem is that communities aren’t built by decree, communities arise by like-minded individuals coming together to share information. And it shows, too. A lot of Microsoft bloggers are posting things like, "Wow, this blogging thing is hard." Most have nothing much to say.

    There’s a whole host of problems with giving everyone instructions to blog. Successful blogs are successful because they are written by people who have something to say and the motivation to write it down for everyone. The content is immediate, spontaneous and relevant instead of heavily processed, focus-grouped and strategized. To a large extent, Microsoft has done a great job of taking away everything that makes blogs useful and interesting in the first place. How can you be successful under those conditions?

  9. Heather says:

    Zarquon-actually you have it backwards and I don’t think I ever mentioned that anyone ever told me to go and blog. I was told to reach out to the marketing community. Using blogging to do that was my idea. We aren’t a bunch of drones that act on commands from management. We are given business issues to solve and we figure out how to do that. Either way, we still have to justify that the (work) time we spend doing these activities is a good investment. Frankly, I want to ensure that I am spending my own time in a way that gets me to where I want to be. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.

    At the end of the day, I get my paycheck from Microsoft and what I spend my time doing during the work day needs to benefit Microsoft. You are really making a lot of assumptions and I’m not sure I understand where you are getting your information.

  10. Zarquon says:

    Hey – I’m on your side here. Maybe I have it backwards, but as far as I can see, they instructed you guys to reach out the community, and then provided you with various blogging tools, Channel9 and so on. Maybe its not a mandate to blog, per se, but its pretty close. Some might see that as a manipulative ploy, but I don’t, I think its perfectly fine.

    However, I think that whoever is spearheading the community initiative in Microsoft is in for some real surprises, mostly because the nature of communities is that they take on a life of their own, independently of the sponsoring organization or the individual members – an emergent phenomenon, if you will. Microsoft believes that they can create a community that reflects positively on the organization, and they believe they can do this by positioning their employees as high-value, "wealthy" members of the community who can control the messages that are put out by the community. The surprise will come when high-value employees have their position undermined and ultimately usurped when they are called upon by the community to account for distortions and half-truths that they are required by company policy to stand by.

    This is already happening. Robert Scoble is finding that he is forced to justify and explain himself when other people contradict his statements. Truth and credibility is a highly-valued commodity in the blogosphere. Today, Scoble posted a statement apologizing for stating that a Volvo commercial featured real customers when actors were actually used. Scoble correctly realizes that his credibility is at stake.

    What would you do if your credibility was being undermined? Of course, you would defend your credibility. And if your credibility could not be defended because your statements have been demostrated to be false, you’d attempt to cut off the source of the dissenting voice, i.e. comments and trackbacks. Also today, Scoble posts a link to someone’s blog entry entitled "Improve your blog by disabling comments and trackbacks." In comments, he mentions that he doesn’t agree with the article, but its clear that he understands where the threat to his credibility comes from, but also understands that to publically silence dissenting voices is tantamount to admitting intellectual dishonesty.

    How Microsoft handles these situations will be both entertaining and instructive. Your higher-ups are not just trying to build a community, but a Microsoft-positive community, which I have high expectations for, but I also anticipate a significant amount of unwanted criticism, mainly from the tech community. Of course, its in Microsoft’s long term interest to honestly consider changes in response to all valid criticism, but Microsoft may not see it that way — yet another factor that makes it difficult for you to do your job.

    I believe that the parameters that Microsoft has put around this community intitiative thing will ultimately produce some uncomfortable situations. Corporate-sponsored communites in general are a minefield; Microsoft-sponored communities, doubly so.

  11. Heather says:

    Zarquon-I’m not sure what’s going on in the tech space here. All I know is I am a recruiter blogging on an server, so I am pretty sure I was not the type of person they intended on blogging here ; ) Trust me, out blogging here in staffing was a totally organic occurance. I have yet to come across a staffing manager here that knew what blogging was before we started doing it. There wasn’t really a "community initiative" in our department. Ultimately, what I do needs to lead to hires and my thought was that the way to do that was to build community. I started blogging thinking that I would get a bunch of resumes and push out some jobs but it really evolved and now I see a much broader (albeit, harder to measure) impact on our business which is what I am having trouble measuring. Honestly, before we did this, I never really heard anyone in staffing even say the word "blog".

    I really don’t want to control the community. I like the idea of helpiung people with their careers (giving advice) and sharing ideas. I don’t consider it undermining when someone challenges my ideas. I like the idea of healthy debate. We don’t have all the answers here and we end up learning just as much (if not more) than others are learning from us.

    Would I cut off the source if my opinions were priven false? Of course not. We get criticism anyway because we are an easy target. I’d rather address it honestly and directly in a blog. If we don’t address it ourselves, people start to assume things. It sounds like you are assuming that there is a blog god here that is telling everyone what to do. It is not the case. We are a company full of people with their own minds.

    Seriously, you are reading in things that just aren;t there—at least from what I have seen. I’m OK with uncomfortable situations as long as I am adding value to Microsoft and my readers in the meantime. Life’s full of uncomfortable situations (have you ever had to call someone that intervbiewed and tell them they didn’t get the job? That’s a little uncomfortable).

    Sorry-we are going to have to accept that we disagree on this ; ) And people are going to have to take my word for it that there’s nobody here telling me what to write.