Blog Campaigning: 5.3 How can we measure the impact of blogs?

5.3 How can we measure the impact of blogs?During the period that the research took place, few bloggers, online communication experts or political commentators explicitly discussed technical aspects regarding how we actually can measure the impact of campaign blogs on political elections. The only reflection that explicitly dealt with this subject was produced by Todd Zeigler, Senior Vice President of the Bivings Group, on the company’s blog, The Bivings Report. Discussing the performances of the 2006 contestants’ official campaign blogs, Zeigler (2006b) raised the following question: “How influential/successful are the campaign blogs?”.

In an extension to his own question, Zeigler writes:

“How many people are reading them? How many people are linking to them? How well networked are they? Are they working? These questions are pretty much impossible to answer in an academically defensible way: we’d need access to the logs of all the campaign blogs to answer adequately. We’re left picking through anecdotes” (Zeigler 2006b).

Zeigler validly raises a relevant point about the complexity surrounding some of the metrical factors that can explain the reach of the content produced on blogs. But it is what he further says that interestingly shows that there are other simpler, non quantitative factors, which also can tell us something about efforts politicians’ dedicate to making their blog successful. In an attempt to somehow answer his first question – “how influential/successful are the campaign blogs” – Zeigler (2006b) decides to use the search engine Technorati to look at aspects that can tell us something about how effective the medium is when used as a campaign tool.

The first aspect Zeigler looks at is how the candidates’ campaign blogs ranked in the search engine. The paper has earlier mentioned that Technorati ranks the blogs in its database by the number of incoming links. Zeigler (2006b) assumes that links are the most effective way we have to measure the influence of a blog. The two next aspects Zeigler examines are how the main campaign sites rank in the search engine and how many links they attract. While these aspects can give us an indication of how much attention the candidates receive from the blogosphere in general, they will unfortunately not teach us much about the influence of the candidates’ blog itself, Zeigler (2006b) argues. The last two aspects examined by Zeigler (2006b) are whether the candidates are doing a good job of actually getting their blog content in the search engine, and whether the candidates have bothered to actually claim their blog in the search engine. Zeigler (2006b) argues that these measurements might give us an indication of how serious candidates are about their blog.

Based on his methodology Zeigler found that:

• “Only 44% of the blogs we looked at had been indexed by Technorati in the last 15 days. And many of these blogs that had been indexed weren't being done so regularly. Seems a lot of campaigns are unfamilar with pinging. • Only 18% of the campaigns have claimed their blog on Technorati. • Generally speaking, these campaign blogs are not linked to that much by other blogs. It was surprising” (Zeigler 2006b).

He concludes that:

(1) “Campaigns haven’t mastered some of the technical aspects of blog promotion This is evidenced by the fact that most of these blogs aren't getting indexed regularly by blog search engines and most campaigns haven't claimed their blog on Technorati. If people can't find your posts, they aren't going to link to them.

(2) Campaigns aren’t networking effectively with other bloggers I know lots of candidates have conference calls with bloggers. And I also know you can't judge the effectiveness of blog outreach efforts based solely on the results above. However, a lot of blogging is building online relationships one blogger at a time. You exchange emails with other bloggers. You link to them. You comment on their blogs. You add them to your blogroll. Given the results shown above, I can't imagine that most of the campaign blogs are doing a good job at building these sorts of relationship. I suspect a lot of them are operating in a bit of a vacuum.

(3) Campaigns aren’t producing compelling content Any successful blogger you talk to will say you earn links by creating good content. Write something great and people will find it and link to it. Click through on the blogs above yourself and see what you think about the content” (Zeigler 2006b).

None of the academic studies reviewed earlier in this paper have considered any of these aspects in the same way as Zeigler does. It should also be noted that many blogs and newspapers are in fact using measurements such as incoming blog links, daily hit rates provided by search engines like Alexa and the number of friends on social media platforms like MySpace and Facebook, as indicators for which of the contestants in the 2008 presidential race that are doing best on blogger outreach (see Easter 2007). There is no reason why future studies should not use measurements like these to test the correlation between online campaigning and electoral success. However, by measuring a blog’s reach and incoming links we still do not examine the correlation between voters that read a candidate’s blog and people that vote for the candidate operating the blog. We also have to take into account that the aspects Zeigler examines can be proxies for a campaign’s overall level of preparedness and organisation. In his analyses of the effects websites had on people’s voting decision during the 1996 U.S. congressional election, D’Alessio (1997) (discussed in chapter 4) found that “the more sophisticated and better resourced candidates were more likely to operate websites” (Gibson & McAllister 2005, p. 6). It might also be plausible to assume that campaigns operating a blog in a modern election campaign are more professional and overall better prepared than the average campaign.