Blog ROI: Get into the feedback loop10 ways to maximize your blog's ROI: Part 2, getting high-value feedback

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Think for a moment about how much your organization spends to find out what its audience (a term we'll keep using until something better comes along, but it really isn't adequate in a social media age) is thinking.

Maybe you're doing opinion polling or focus groups. Maybe you have labs where your prospective customers are testing your newest products and services. Maybe you've hired consultants to mine your customer service logs for golden nuggest of insight.

Maybe you're just thinking of getting a psychic on staff. (Hey, we're located in Vancouver; we can hook you up with someone.)

Feedback is tremendously valuable stuff. And you don't just want to hear reactions to what you're doing and saying; you want to know what's on your audience's mind about the whole range of subjects that could touch on your organization's products, services or mission.

Enter blogging. More to the point, blog comments -- where your readers respond to your posts and, often, alert you to issues, opinions and ideas you need to know about. Sometimes you'll find a valuable nugget in response to something you've said; other times, a side conversation between readers about something completely different will reveal an important insight; and on still other occasions, people will volunteer something to you from out of the blue.

This is a conversation you aren't going to have through the feedback form on your web site. There is a lot that your audience will share with an actual person -- especially someone they feel they have a relationship with -- that they'd never even think of dropping into your virtual suggestion box.

Some suggestions for getting valuable feedback through your blog:

  • Make it clear what kind of feedback you're looking for, and what you can't help with. There's no sense having people leave tech support questions for your company's Squidinator 2000 if you have no way of dealing with them.
  • Thank people for their comments, critical and positive. And be genuinely grateful: they've given up a little of their time and attention to help your organization be more effective.
  • Engage with commenters, including the negative ones. It's a way of compensating people for that time they're giving up - and for keeping the comments flowing.
  • Recognize that complaints are at least as valuable as kudos. One legitimate complaint on your blog could well represent dozens, even hundreds of people who are fuming in silence. Fix that problem, and you could make a lot of people happy. That said...
  • Recognize when a commenter is just being abusive; no law says you have to play with bullies. Don't feel like you have to respond to them, either. The other readers on your blog will recognize inappropriate behaviour for what it is.
  • Be sure your organization buys into the idea that you'll be allowing critical comments as well as favorable ones. That's the table stakes of blogging - and the minimum level of openness you need to get honest, useful feedback.
  • Know the limits to what your organization can accept, and make those clear on your blog. You don't want your users to feel they've had the rug pulled out from underneath them when and if you need to edit or delete an inapproprate comment.
  • As you develop a relationship with your blog's readers, start asking them directly for feedback. Float a trial balloon; point them to your latest online ad campaign; ask them about their lives and the problems you can help them to solve. Just remember that you're doing all of this in public.
  • Offer more than one way to give feedback. Blog comments are great - but consider inviting your readers to take polls, post on their own blogs about a particular subject, or upload a YouTube video with a unique tag. You'll get more diverse input, and potentially expose your blog to a wider audience.
  • Don't let your blog get overrun with comment spam; it can drive out real people faster than anything else you might do. Invest in a service like Akismet or Mollom if you find yourself overwhelmed.
  • Remember that your readers, valued and wonderful though they are, are in no way representative of your broader audience or constituency. Don't take their input as gospel. And remember what Henry Ford was reported to have said: if he'd asked people what they wanted, they would have said "faster horses". (Actually, in retrospect, that might have been for the best... but you get his point.)
  • Find channels to update your organization's decision-makers on what you're hearing on your blog. No matter how high the quality of feedback, it's worthless if it isn't heard and acted on. And when your organization does act on it, let your readers (especially the one or ones who offered the relevant feedback) know about it.

You'll know you're getting valuable feedback when:

  • You're bringing up blog comments at business meetings.
  • A co-worker asks you to run an idea past your blog audience.
  • Others in your organization mention blog comments they've read to you.
  • Your colleagues start asking for more frequent feedback updates.
  • The feedback is resulting in identifiable changes and improvements in the way you operate (such as fewer complaints to customer service).

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