You have a product or service to promote. You’ve heard great things about “conversational marketing”, “viral marketing”, and the like. On the surface, it seems easy: identify a few big bloggers, schmooze with them a little, and wait for the flood of sales as your chosen bloggers start talking up your product.
It’s a good idea. So good that thousands marketrs and PR folks have been deluging bloggers from the Technorati Top 100 on down with press releases, insulting emails, even bullying tactics to get them to promote their products. So good that Lifehacker’s Gina Trapani posted a list of PR spammers and blocked emails from their domains. So good that the best way to get bad PR from bloggers these days is to try to get good PR from them.
What went wrong?
One reason this wonderful idea isn’t working the way it was expected to is that while bloggers have something pretty valuable to offer marketers, marketers so far have had little to offer in return. Likewise, while it costs marketers little to reach out to bloggers, it can potentially cost bloggers quite a bit in terms of lost integrity and lost audiences. Offering a blogger your product for free seems nice, but a blogger can quickly lose their readers’ goodwill if they’re perceived as a shill for some company.
Another reason marketers have had a hard time connecting with bloggers has to do with control. Bloggers are, as a rule, a pretty independent bunch. They often feel used when marketers approach them, out of the blue, and ask them to promote their product or service. And bloggers don’t like being used. Most popular bloggers are strong writers and good marketers; they could easily be working in the media, in advertising, or indeed in public relations or marketing if they wanted to (or were able to) sacrifice their independence.
But all is not lost…
Reaching out to bloggers is still a good idea, though. Good bloggers have a special kind of rapport with their audiences, and are pretty adept at getting near the top of search engine result pages. Which means that a few kind words about your product on the right kind of blog can have a lot of life — piquing the interest of their regulars and turning up again and again in search results.
The trick is to treat bloggers with respect, both for them as people and for their relationship with their audience. Which means rather than the drive-by pitching that has characterized most efforts to reach bloggers so far, you need to think in terms of building long-term relationships with bloggers.
A few pointers
- Do your research. Instead of spamming hundreds or thousands of blogs with pitches for your product, identify a handful of bloggers whose audiences will find the most value in your product. Show respect by learning something about the blogger — we make it very easy!
- Take them seriously. Bloggers fight an uphill battle for legitimacy. You can show a great deal of respect by recognizing both the hard work and the talent that goes into creating a successful blog.
- Explain yourself. Show that you’ve done your homework by explaining clearly what your product has to offer a blogger’s audience and how you think you can work together.
- No strings. If you’d like a blogger to have a look at your product, make it absolutely clear that you don’t expect a positive review. Show your respect for the blogger by allowing him or her to make up their own mind about a product and to explain their opinion to their readers in their own way. Asking a blogger to lie for you is the quickest way to a) lose their interest, or worse, b) pan your product mercilessly.
- Offer gifts, not bribes. This follows from “no strings”, but often marketers want to send t-shirts, pens, or other schwag to bloggers they work with. Nothing wrong with that, but again, make sure you’re not offering goods in return for positive reviews. Offer a gift as a thank you for a blogger’s time and consideration.
- Do the groundwork. Treat a blog just like any media outlet — provide the blogger with everything she or he needs to properly evaluate your product or service.
- Follow through. Keep in contact after a blogger has written about your product. Send them a thank you note, a testimonial, figures showing any impact their work might have had on your sales. Link to them from your site. Remember that a lot of blogs are businesses, and a lot of bloggers do related work as their day jobs — knowing their writing helped you increase sales 43% can help them sell ad space, gain new clients for their freelance business, or benefit them in other ways.
- Ask for private feedback, too. A lot of bloggers will write a selective review of your product geared towards their readerships, while holding a separate personal view of the product. SHow your respect for them as an individual by asking if there’s anything they’d like to say that they chose not to include in their review.
- Take your lumps graciously. Don’t attack bloggers who pan your product or service; if you’ve done your research and selected appropriate bloggers to pitch to, they’re disinterest in your product is probably a very important piece of information for you! Thank them for their time and move on — don’t, under any condition, “go after” them!
Remember, with rare exceptions, bloggers don’t make a lot of money blogging, and so their audience and their standing in the blogging community are their main rewards. Approaching them with respect for their position and their needs will gain you a lot of respect in return, and you may well find that the blogs you maintain relationships with have become a central part of your marketing strategy — and a set of important relationships in and of themselves.