The adventures of an analog engineer and digital storyteller who studies emerging networks and their impact on the great game of business.

Earlier this month, one of the nonprofits that I volunteer with asked if I could help them raise $3,000 for a special project. The organization had already raised some money offline through their most active supporters, but those efforts had plateaued at $1,125.

First, I assessed their online assets to determine which ones could produce the most robust dividends. Based on that analysis, I decided to approach both their Facebook Fans and blog readers by:

  • creating a “Donations” tab on the Facebook page that described both the project and the goal
  • adding a PayPal button in order to accept credit card donations
  • adding a snail-mail address for donors who were more comfortable sending a check
  • posting to the nonprofit’s Facebook wall (as administrator) letting the organization’s 1400 fans know about the project and new donations tab
  • publishing a blog post about the project that included a link to the new Facebook donations tab
  • and updating the list of donor’s names as they arrived.

The following is a chart illustrates what happened.

In less than nine days, total donations hit $4,575, eclipsing the organization’s $3,000 goal by 53%!

So, here’s a math question for you. Based on the following information, what’s the ROI?:

  • 1400 Facebook fans
  • 120 blog subscribers
  • 400 unique blog visitors per month
  • $30/month for a PayPal account that takes credit cards
  • $0 Facebook Fan page
  • $0 for donated web hosting
  • 2-hours to create and publish the content
  • added $3,450 of online revenue in nine days to the $1,125 that was generated offline.

Successful business folks understand that companies are complicated entities that consist of many moving parts. And although the ROI of individual projects is important, the assets that companies build over time may hold more overall significance in the grande scheme. Therefore, rather than spending time calculating ROI on a project-by-project basis, perhaps it’s more prudent to invest that same time into building your company’s online assets?

By considering new media activities as investments in the development of corporate assets, a world of opportunities open. The more valuable the asset, the larger the dividends that it produces.

May 20, 2010

Mike Santarinin, Publisher Xcell JournalOn March 29th, David Meerman Scott wrote a blog post called “Brand Journalism,” where he discussed the communications skills companies must acquire in order to excel in the online world. The post reminded me of one that I wrote about Mike Santarini, a displaced trade journalist hired by FPGA manufacturer Xilinx. David’s post prompted me to follow-up with Mike to learn what it has been like being an embedded journalist for the past two years.

Mike The Journalist

Mike Santarini spent 13-years writing for trade magazines such as EETimes and EDN before being laid off in February 2008. At first glance, his story sounds cliche–experienced journalist caught in the cross hairs of a decimated print industry–but that’s where Mike’s story takes an unexpected turn. Instead of finding a job with another struggling publication, he accepted one with an electronics company that he covered as a trade journalist. One week after his unceremonious ejection from EDN, Xilinx hired Mike to take over the manufacturer’s 21 year old publication called Xcell Journal.

Mike The Embedded Journalist

During its 21 years, Xcell Journal grew from a simple company newsletter into a quarterly “engingeering-practical” magazine with a readership of approximately 40,000. Although that circulation sounds envious, as a trade journalist, Mike understood that the quality of that number was very important and so, after a little investigating, he found that the Xcell Journal mailing list “…wasn’t being scrubbed, and it was being sent to dead mailboxes at the four corners of the earth.” After some vetting, today, the magazine has tightened its circulation to approximately 25,000 (~20K online and ~5K print).

Xilinx's Xcell JournalI found it curious that, in the age of online content, Xilinx would still print hard copies of the magazine.

Mike explained that Xcell Journal is designed as a magazine that engineers can retain for reference. By printing Xcell Journal on high quality, “heavy cardboardish” stock, the print version delivers a rich reading experience.

The comment reminded me of Seth Godin’s concept that “books are souvenirs,” which Mike validated when he said, “Xcell is a treasured commodity. Engineers are known to keep a library of past issues that they use for reference.”

But if only 20% of the readership receive copies of the print version, how does Xilinx qualify these special recipients?

“Through the sales department,” Mike explained. “It’s a great model because we’re getting ROI on the print versions and getting them into the hands of our customers/potential customers.”

Journalist vs. Embedded Journalist

Moving from traditional journalist to embedded journalist has been educational. “There’s a lot of stuff I didn’t know about the company,” he said. “I now have respect for the humongous effort it takes to get a chip conceived, roadmapped, designed and brought to market.” This revelation surprised him because, as a journalist who covered Xilinx, he expected to know more.  However, by being embedded within a company, Mike had access to stories that he never could have as an external journalist.

Embedded Journalism as a Career

I asked Mike if he would recommend this line of work for other journalists.

“Yes. Right now there are lots of opportunities for good journalism in industries.” He also added a few caveats.

“You have to make sure before you take the job that the company is creating technology that you truly think is innovative. I got lucky because I joined a company that invented the FPGA and is the leader in the biz and has a very bright future. I’m not sure if I was in a position where I had to promote a third-place me-too technology and constantly perfume the pig that I’d take the job. I think there are a lot of great technologies and companies out there and thus a lot of great opportunities out there for embedded journalists. There are a ton of great stories that aren’t getting told and sometimes companies don’t realize they have a great story or realize it isn’t being told to the outside world.”

A New World

At the end of the phone call, I asked Mike if his experience as an embedded journalist has been favorable. “Yes,” he answered, before adding something more interesting.

“In a way, I can’t go back because of it.”

Photos Courtesy of Xilinx

A few days ago, I got an email from The Toll Roads, asking me to consider switching from paper-based statements to electronic ones. As I read the email, a sentence jumped out at me:

“Last year our paper statements consumed 190 trees.”

The sentence sounded familiar to me, so I performed a search of my email for the term “190 trees.”  Thirteen instances were revealed, with the oldest being sent to me on December 13, 2008.

As I dug into each email, I saw that the same sentence had been repeated in all of the emails that were sent in 2008, 2009, and 2010:

“Last year our paper statements consumed 190 trees.”

I found it hard to believe that The Toll Roads consumed exactly 190 trees annually over the past three years, but what else could I conclude? Here are three possibilities:

  1. The email marketing campaign is a complete failure because the Toll Roads hasn’t put a dent in their annual tree consumption rate.
  2. The campaign is a total success because the Toll Roads converted all new customers to paperless statements, thus maintaining the 190 tree per year consumption rate.
  3. The company is simply cutting and pasting the same email independently of how many trees are being consumed on an annual basis.

I still don’t know which one it is. I requested a clarification from The Toll Roads two days ago and am waiting for a response. But in the mean time, as an executive, you need to understand that everything your organization publishes becomes part of a database that can be mined. It doesn’t matter if it comes from marketing, PR, or sales–to your customer, it only comes from one place…your company.

So, is your company sending mixed messages to its customers?