Measuring the Value of Good Will

In this week’s installment of his ‘Circuits’ column, David Pogue asks, “Are you taking advantage of Web 2.0?” By ‘you’ he means your company, and he describes the response this question got from the attendees at a recent PR conference:

“…within seconds, there were 132 responses on the screen in a huge, scrolling list. ‘Not enough money.’ ‘Don’t understand it.’ ‘No technical resources.’ ‘Not enough manpower.’ ‘No visible return on investment.’ ‘Fear of ridicule.’ ‘Fear of slander.’ ‘Fear of permanence.’ ‘Fear of the public running amok.'”

There are lots of common fears in there, and they’re all reasonable at first glance. Companies are understandably afraid of opening themselves up to ridicule and slander from a public running amok, knowing that all the messy results will live forever, just a Google search away. And they’ve seen some embarrassing failures from companies who’ve tried to embrace the new paradigm – like the Chevy Tahoe debacle, and Wal-Mart’s fake blog (or flog) scandal, to name just two incidents. So the safest bet is to simply stay away from all things Web 2.0.

The problem with this approach, obviously, is that the public is already running amok. That’s what the public does. If they want to slander you, they have YouTube and MySpace and a million other places to do it. Sticking your head in the sand doesn’t make all this stuff go away. It just makes your company look silly – or worse, aloof, uncaring and behind the times – and ultimately more vulnerable to whatever mud they might be slinging.

So if it’s unwise – or unrealistic – to stay out of the fray, then what’s the best strategy for jumping in? The other questions from the PR conference attendees fall into this category. More and more companies have recognized the need to participate, but they don’t know where to focus or how much to invest.

There are lots of success stories. Big companies like Dell and Mariott have generated good will and good press through their forays into Web 2.0, and this has surely translated into dollars. But it still comes down to the question of ROI. If one of the ultimate goals of embracing Web 2.0 is to engender good will, then how do you quantify it? How do you measure success?

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