Doing the Blogger Outreach ROI Math

We've been doing online influencer outreach for a really long time. Back in 2002, while working at a now-defunct startup, I started pitching bloggy industry news sites like WebServices.org. At the time, I didn't know that what they ran was called a "blog", nor that what I was doing was called "blogger outreach". We still do (or at least oversee) influencer outreach today, usually as part of broader online marketing and movement building campaigns.

On Google+, Raul referred me to Kerry's recent blog post on the old question of paying bloggers for placement. I left a too-long comment, outlining the state of play from my perspective.

As a footnote to that comment, I thought I'd outline how we think about the dreaded return on investment of influencer outreach.

Focusing on What We Can Measure

As I wrote on Kerry's blog:

When I’m doing online outreach...I’m interested in two things. In the short term, I want to drive high-value visitors to my client’s site. In the longer term, I know a link will help continue to drive visitors, and improve their SEO ranking.

There are plenty of other reasons to do influencer outreach, and they're the same as traditional media relations. For one, it makes most clients happy to see their names in digital print. Then there are the usual benefits of brand awareness. These have value, but it's often difficult and expensive to calculate that value. As such, we focus on what we can measure.

Here Comes the Math

Here's how we think about ROI on influencer outreach. Consider a sample client project where we're working to raise awareness and drive signatures to a petition run by national non-profit organization.

We know, from previous campaigns and experimenting with online advertising, that the average cost per conversion is $1.75. That's the average cost of acquiring a petition signature.

The average cost to the client per blogger for influencer outreach for one campaign might be $150. That includes our research, writing the pitch, sending the pitch, following up and reporting, plus the client's time reviewing the campaign, pitch ideas and so forth. This doesn't mean that we charge $150 per pitch per blogger--our pricing isn't that granular--but when you add up all the time and effort by agency and client, it probably comes out to around that number.

So, if we pitch a blogger on writing about this non-profit campaign, we'd ideally like to get 85 petition signatures to "break even". How many visitors does that blog post need to send to the petition to generate 85 signatures? A good petition might convert at 15 to 20%, on average. However, traffic from blog posts is usually quite high-value, so let's set a conversion rate of 25%.

That means that the blog we pitch would need to send 340 visitors to our client's petition page in order for us to achieve a positive result.

Of course, that traffic doesn't necessarily come all at once--it can continue to trickle in for months or years (though probably not for a petition, which is typically time-sensitive).

For a typical blog, 340 visitors is still a lot. Consider that last year we got a client covered on the world's most popular environmental blog, TreeHugger, and that blog post sent 364 visitors over the course of 2010 to the client site.

Selling Widgets Works the Same

You can do similar math for a for-profit organization that's selling products online. The conversion rate there is much lower--2% might be considered nirvana--but a national online retailer I know is willing to spend $40 to acquire a new customer. In that case, a blog still has to send at least a couple hundred visitors to the client site to make the outreach worthwhile.

We're aware of an emerging set of metrics around "return on engagement", but we remain focused on where the rubber meets the road. We work with our clients to do this kind of math on all their marketing activities, online and off. It enables them to decide what marketing mix to deploy.

Photo courtesy epSos.de