Friday, June 06, 2008

The Online Asset - How Obama won

In the past, I have commented on the relationship between traditional press relations and online content.

The difference between the two is that a press release has a limited long tail value whereas an article online has a long half life and contributes to the digital footprint, Google Juice and visibility of an organisational long tail asses.

The former is best considered in accounts as part of P&L and the latter as a corporate asset on the balance sheet.

The extent of goodwill in the former is less potent than the latter.

Today, with Robin Gurney, I am building a company to help organisations identify this corporate asset in its wider sense.

The argument goes like this:

Lets suppose you are the government minister for a small island in a large archipelago in the middle of the ocean and want to increase its GDP to benefit the people of the island.

You elect to invest in building the digital footprint of the island and work at it until it has an online presence ten times bigger than all the other islands nearby.

Thus when people seek to comment about, visit or invest in the group of islands, your island always comes up first in searches, in information resources and in connectivity. The result will soon see more economic activity.

There is a direct relationship between online presence and economic activity.

In concept, it is an extension of the London School of Economics Reports which showed that a 7 per cent increase in word of mouth advocacy unlocks 1 per cent additional company growth (

As for an island, so for any country, company, brand, person or politician.

It is not quite a case of simple counts. There are other factors.

Lets take a very simple look at the US Democratic race and see if we can add to other commentators efforts.

The Google index for Barak Obama is, today 5,3700,000 and Hillary Clinton is 5,4300,000.

If my theory was going to be correct, Clinton should have won the race and, plainly, she did not.

But, if we look closer at the results, we see that Clinton has a couple of decades of commentary that is indexed and Obama only four years worth. He made up a lot of ground very quickly.

Now lets look at blog posts:

Obama blog posts 99,859,318
Clinton blog posts 34,127,553

This is a very different picture. Here we are seeing like for like time scales and the digital footprint shows Obama attracting three times as much comment which, one can argue, helped Obama Google Juice as well as wider visibility. What is more, the digital footprint for Obama had the benefit of a steeper long tail curve (more content was more recent).

Then, again, take photographs. Online Obama has 2,990,000 photos indexed by Google and most of them are less than six years old. On the other hand Clinton only has 2,530,000 photos and hers go back to 1969 (see picture above)!

This is why Robin and I think it is important to have robust methodologies for audition online presence. It affects political and corporate outcomes and the extent of correlation between online presence and success are far too close to be co-incidental.

There are other indicators in the use of evolving channels. Twitter is one. Clinton has 4,019 followers and Obama has 33,069 followers; Obama is following 33,960 people and Hillary is following 0.

Leavering value from online presence is not hugely dependant on other marketing activity unless that serves the online presence in a virtuous circle (as Google, Facebook, eBay and Amazon attest) and so auditing online presence is important to be able to identify the value of an organisation.

In addition, it is a significant element in valuation of organisations and for establishing thier future prospects.

Obviously, there will be much more to follow as our research reveals more information but here are some interesting findings over the last few months.

1. In the UK social media interest in organisations in general changed last autumn. The rate of increase in social media comment accelerated very significantly.

2. The rate of change of inbound links is greater for more successful companies.

3. The long tail effect does have a half life. Content effect decays over time which means that having been online for a long time is not always good in itself.

4. Active sites and active social comment raises the digital footprint faster.

Fun huh!