Working with bloggers is a mainstay of any communications strategy. Knowing who to work with can involve mining ever-increasing and changing depths of data. But data alone will not tell you how to build a rewarding relationship with a blogger or why it is worth investing in them – that takes a human touch. So as an antidote to a programmatic, spray-and-pray approach to blogger relations, here are guidelines on building the sort of relationships once reserved for traditional media.
1. Every blogger wants to be unique, so tailor content – make it bespoke to the blogger. Bloggers often design and run websites themselves, so make it easy for them to use your content and make it their own. A magazine, for example, will need high-resolution images, a website will not. And make content adaptable to how they use social media.
2. Work with bloggers to create content. Pay them for sponsored endorsements. The salaries of even top-line magazine journalists can be pitifully low and blogging is another drain on their time resource for which they are unlikely to earn extra cash. This doesn’t mean pretending that a blogger is impartial when they have been paid to say how wonderful your product is. Think of bloggers as a resource. If you do not use them to create content, encourage them in other ways; humans will go to great lengths to be understood and think themselves part of something. Make your ‘noble purpose’ theirs.
3. Invest in training and education of bloggers. Do not assume levels of insight. Individuals who are not part of an organisation such as a publishing house, which will have access to a significant knowledge base and the checks and balances imparted by sub-editors and other intelligent arbiters, might find accurate information difficult to come by. Inform without patronising. Collaborate.
4. Bloggers or ‘vloggers’ (video bloggers) are often individual voices with no corporate heft. Their priority will be to entertain and grab attention. Traditional media are more likely to focus on information with insight. Be flexible enough to cater to both parties. Also consider what is meant by ‘blog’ and that definitions can vary. To some, The Huffington Post (with 110 million unique monthly visitors), Gawker (22 million) and The Daily Beast (14 million) are blogs. At what point does a blog mutate into a media colossus? At the other end of the scale are the motivated, committed, insightful individuals who might have fewer than 1,000 page views a month but could have a million in 12 months’ time. Everyone deserves respect. Everybody’s in the same game.
5. No one is impartial; everyone has an agenda. Bloggers who are part of a traditional media outlet such as a magazine or newspaper might blog under their own name, or not. Either way, their opinions will usually not involve strident criticism of major advertisers. Tread gently, though, on ‘editorial integrity’. Be aware, also, that ‘organic’ search optimisation is skewed heavily in favour of those who post frequently. Fill those posts with searchable tags or phrases and ensure they are linked to by sites further up the food chain. If your brand’s website gets many thousands of page views each month, make sure you link to less frequented sites that are spreading messages you want your audiences to hear. It will help increase the volume.
6. Gauge whether a blogger is worth investing in, now or in the future. Influence metrics, such as those used by Klout and its ilk, are a hair’s breadth away from self-fulfilling prophecy, with high scores leading to more influence as much as the other way round. If you really want to know who are the influencers in a particular field, pay someone like PiQ to find out. But that is not enough. Find out where and how these influencers get their information. Talk to them. Ask. Pick up the phone. Have a real-life, in-person conversation.
Create your own influencer metrics based on their trusted sources and your own experience of working with them. Also remember that most influential individual bloggers were influential before they started; blogging and social media only expanded their potential audience. Most nobodies who start a blog remain nobodies. Bloggers who come to the attention of companies such as Handpicked Media and get taken on are as rare as lottery winners. But if they do hit the jackpot and they already love you for having helped them and been pleasant and accommodating when they were starting out, then that relationship will reap long-term rewards.
7. There are prizes for quantity as well as quality. Bloggers are akin to the stridently opinionated who hold forth on Speaker’s Corner. One person shouting is either brave or a nutter; 1,000 people shouting is a movement and far more difficult to ignore. Taken together with traditional media, bloggers contribute to a critical mass of noise. They can create simple awareness that seeps into the public’s subconscious. So keep volume content compelling and simple for volume use.
8. Make it easy for bloggers to make money. Most retailers have a direct or third-party affiliate scheme for ecommerce. Manufacturer brands usually do not have systems flexible enough to accommodate such initiatives. But individual bloggers often rely on affiliate sales income and any help you can give them to get started will be well received. Generating more online business also helps contribute to a blog’s search engine optimisation, so the rewards are not only financial.
9. Things are different in Asia. Bloggers in Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China can have far more influence and impact than regular advertising or celebrity endorsements. ‘Queens’ who blog about beauty products, for example, are often paid on a per-post basis, and if the public know this, they don’t seem to care. So long as the individual can be identified with, and their opinions and experiences of a product seem credible, everybody wins. Often this top tier is supplemented by a second tier of unpaid bloggers who are given products to use and write about. Peer-to-peer, human-to-human interaction has incredibly strong appeal in China.
10. Few blogs have global appeal and while English is the blogosphere’s most widely used language, Chinese and Spanish are not far behind. YouTube videos that require no language skills to be understood can become worldwide phenomena, whether you’re in Toronto or Timbuktu.
President, SERMO Communications
3-5 Rathbone Place
T: 020 7268 6100