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eFootprint Audits dialogue

Altex has a relationship or “connections” with a new UK company called eFootprint Limited which provides audits – measurements of an organisation’s online presence.

You can download a free sample (one we did for easyJet.com) from www.efootprint.com

Disclosures: I am the majority shareholder of both altex and eFootprint. altex provides some of the behind the scenes services to power eFootprint Audits.

I recently announced the launch in a forum in the Uk where I asked for some constructive criticism.

A smart lady called Kaye gave us some 🙂

Here’s a summary of the dialogue (but it makes sense to download and read the easyJet.com eFootprint Audit [pdf >1MB] first)

Kaye first said:

Hi

Just read the easyjet efootprint and was not sure at what I should be
looking for. How is it different from web analysis that can be done per minute

I was also looking for financial implications such as roce and roi. I looked
for effect on sales, marketing, reputation, brand equity, brand architecture
but did not see it – I believe C level would be interested in this. I
thought it may have been interesting to compare with an airline from another
territory e.g. kingfisher

I was unclear about how easyjet could use social media – I understood you
do not make recommendations – but examples from other airlines might have been
useful. I was also surprised that your reference to social media related
only to tagging and not connections, engagement, knowledge sharing, hiring of
staff etc.

It may be that I have misunderstood the concept, but at C level these are I
believe some of the questions they require answers to

Regards

Kaye

I replied:
Firstly the eFootprint Audit of easyJet.com comes from the BASIC version of the service (and so would have cost around £3000 Robert) and was done without their knowledge, approval or involvement – meaning we had no access to management information, web logs etc.

The Audit was performed, if you like, from the outside and something of this nature (or in fact much broader, deeper and detailed) can be performed on any organisation without their compliance.

FYI our sources of information are public free, public paid, private paid and proprietary – using techniques developed in India and UK.

But to deal with Kaye’s very valid points about the eFootprint Audit:

In just the same way one would look at other business KPIs, this report provides a benchmark for those who want to examine their online presence.

Web analytics done on the fly are great for people who are used to them, and can sort out the good from the bad and thorough from the skimpy.

This would exclude most C suite people.

Because the vast majority of internet mediated presence is not of the organisation’s doing, measurement of returns on investment would suggest one was able to identify the investment of many people and organisations over which the company has no control and, in most cases no insight.

20th century models of measuring reputation in terms of ROI and ROCE would require a leap of faith that no accountant or economist could currently tolerate.

It would be no more that PR bling (and close to the sort of ROI measures they currently – and misguidedly use for press relations).

The use of comparative studies are also problematic in many ways because the rate of growth of internet mediation over corporate returns has left most organisations inadequately well equipped to take advantage of the new environments.

The effect of on sales is pretty easy for a company to find out from online sales v offline sales and even a half-witted consultant can show that online growth should be at a minimum of 6-8% this quarter over last for most industry sectors.

Effect on reputation is relatively easy for a consultant to establish from these data.

If the gross presence of one organisation over another is greater, the reputation is greater (simple count of pages indexed).

However, the nature of that reputation (e.g. good v bad – a development we will introduce in the very near future) is the bigger issue as a consultant would note.

In addition, the nature of reputation and where that reputation is being explicated is important.

If not in forums and social media, it is in online press comment.

All this information is there for the consultant to use.

The online brand equity is an interesting area for management.

The online community is seldom the same as the market segmentation that a brand manager would like it to be.

This is an era of self-selecting brand segmentation (and tough on 20th century top down, command and control marketing teaching and practice – is it true that ‘marketing is dead’?).

The same thing applies to brand values.

Today, brand values are explicated by the online community and often have little in common with values expressed by the marketing manager.

Kaye you are right in identifying many of the other elements that can be audited.

At this point in the curve, we have to be able to point to the evolution of the “always on” ubiquitous, interactive communication era.

In addition, we have to be aware of a huge amount of research that is now becoming available and we have to be able to assess the validity (including culture, location and methodologies used).

We do that by using advisors who have an interest in doing such work.

There are issues that we have to face: not least that the new environment flies in the face of what many practitioners were taught at university by people whose research interests were formed in the mid 20th century.

It is only in the last couple of decades that organisations have begun to take the value of corporate intangibles into account when valuing organisations.

The old ways of accounting – the ones used to measure the value of industrial manufacturing – are not very helpful when trying to value intangible values of online presence.

The wiki used by an iron ore smelting company may well be more valuable in 21st century than the factory!

But, for now, there is nowhere on the balance sheet called ‘wiki’.

An example of this kind of value is evidenced by Select Minds, a social network but there are many other social networks that do a similar job such as Linked In.

The difference being that Linked In is of the community and not of the organisation.

Another issues that (eFootprint) audits have to face is range.

How far ranging can they be?

A 40-50 page audit, at a cost of (only) £3000, that covers so many aspects of internet mediated influences can only, at best cover a small part of the total landscape (what of email, IM, Flixwagon etc).

Equally, should an (eFootprint) audit be a tome or should it be widget based like http://howsociable.com?

Which form of communication would be suited to the C Suite.

Today it’s a paper document, printed in colour and bound beautifully – ideal for tabletop meetings and admittedly out of date the moment it is printed.

Tomorrow, who knows?

It also important to point out that the business point of eFootprint is to create commercial opportunity space for partners who can add value and build on the information contained with the Audits. We do NOT want to propose solutions and seek partners for that side of things.

PS I’d like to point out that one significant PR agency has already agreed to whitelabel/resell the eFootprint service as they see it as a way to highlight issues that THEY can solve (at a price). In other words an eFootprint Audit can be seen a business lead generation device.

Phew !

Robin & David

Kaye replied:

Hi

I am sure the efootprint exercise would be useful for some companies/brands
it just seems to me that the audit deals with issues that those businesses
that are on the button online would be doing anyway.

I am not sure I agree with you with regards to ROI and ROCE you will be
surprised at how many CMO rely on this

You mention Select Minds – provides corporate social networking solutions
and have some interesting research on employee engagement and connectivity, etc
– see also human capital institute, mzinga, etc. Similar solutions are being
used by some FMCG brands – e.g. Proctor & Gamble.

I think some marketing managers and brands managers are now beginning to
understand that they not the only ones responsible for brand communications, etc
but social media solutions can allow for conversations, connections and
engagement with the brand

I believe the true value of efootprint is likely to be from how clients use
the service

Regards

Kaye

To which we replied:

Kaye, as always, on the money.

Providing services for those businesses that are on the button is one market. Then, of course, as well both know, there is a bigger market which has some catching up to do. Your point is well taken.

The issue of Marketing’s use of ROI and ROCE is always worth exploring.

The nature of marketing return can be interpreted in many ways. The bottom line, that is, net after tax has so many variables. “Our David” has experience in this going back to the early 1980’s and even today it still seems that for CMOs the range of metrics is closer to personal preference than financial accounting. Equally, the nature of investment has many interpretations. It is not for us to presume but, of course, being able to respond is an issue we have to face.

There are some metrics that we could not use because they are, in themselves, misleading and we are quite prepared to offer alternatives and even stand aside rather than mislead. The key here is whether the CMO is misleading himself or the board which, at times, is a mute point. There are many measurement companies that can offer measures while our preferred route is to lean in the direction of audits. Our responsibility is to the board.

The nature of capital employed among economists seems to be going through the hoop too. The argument that capital might not just be financial capital has taken something of a knock because of the credit crunch when the nature of financial instruments was largely valued in intangible terms to the eventual detriment of the banks.

This is a pity, because we hold that gross online presence is an asset although we make clear that such assets are both positive and negative and come with a range of potential values and returns. This online asset approach has some resonance with Leif Edvinsson’ ‘intellectual capital‘and Baruch Lev‘s ‘organisation capital‘.

Deploying resource in exploiting online presence is an area of online management that is really in its infancy and with such big under exploited assets (20 million page impressions the case of easyJet) many organisations could get big returns for very low outlay. If gross online presence is reported as part of the overall corporate asset, it would help marketers develop enhanced online returns (and also reduce the amount of orphaned asset that companies leave laying about as cached content that offers opportunities as well as huge long tail downside potential).

Internet assets are still low on the horizon but as Lev puts is “…financial analysts, the major information intermediaries in capital markets, do not capture fully the value of organization capital in their widely used forecasts of firms’ earnings.” and the internet is now part of organisation’s capital.

It is surprising how many networks are up and running. It seems that most professions have several and I guess there will be more yet, and then a big shakeout. Personally, I find that having so many adds to my attention deficit. In addition, as a predominantly European enterprise we have to be very conscious of the reach of such networks. The US emphasis is high (mostly because of the language advantage the US has).

Philosophically, our view is that organisations do need to engage because the evolutionary nature of the internet is now a factor in relationship value in its own right (a debate that is a bit arcane for this forum) and this is a big issue for Marketing research institutions with so many contributors to the fragmentation of received media.

Which takes us to your final point: In Europe, I am not yet convinced how much marketing managers and brands managers are beginning to understand that they are not the only ones responsible for brand communications. It does come as a shock to many when confronted with the data.

In one case, we recently pointed to daily search over a month period to a marketing director who believed that the internet was not very significant to her B2B business with 1600 UK outlets. She was staggered to find that net unit sales mirrored the number of searches for her organisation almost exactly. Suddenly, the internet became very important indeed!

What is very evident from both our research and that of others is that market segmentation is now much less in the hands of the marketer than it was.

Gartner’s recent research on the topic of “Generation Virtual” (Generation V) which they define as a generation that isn’t specified by demographics (age, sex, location income etc) but instead by technology usage and internet behaviours, is just one example.

In a number of studies of student’s use and application of internet mediated devices and channels for communication also shows that there are no ‘magic bullet’ devices or channels and Facebook does not rule student’s online interactions (IM, SMS and email are more important for most – but not all).

What the findings do show is how the platforms used does mediate consumer habits. Content analysis of a number of IM exchanges is low on brand mentions and high on values as part of decision making (which nightclub, clothes and books – but music bands were explicit brands). The brands identified also included implicit reference more than explicit brand naming. Typical content included colour, size, design and peers as models and their dress sense and was more mentioned than the brands themselves. I think this is probably a recent change because IM has become so significant for students and mirrors some findings in blog posts as the network effect seems to leach out specific brand mention into implicit mentions.

Hopefully, our planned work in this area using semantic analysis will give us a clearer view.

In addition the interests of students often extend a long way beyond typical market profiling.

Kaye, you are so right, there is so much to do in this area and so many new approaches to research and at the same time there is a huge need for people with expert understanding who can take data and develop effective insights to develop effective strategies.

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