10 Ways Brands Can Work More Effectively with Top-Tier Bloggers

by Michael Sheehan on April 17, 2012

in General, How To, HTD Tech Tip, Opinion

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Bloggers are not second class citizens. At least not all of them. I do have to draw a bit of a line here between those “bloggers” who simply post sales, coupons, contents and giveaways, and those who produce content in the form of reviews, how-to articles, social commentary, experiences, analysis and the like. In my mind, there is a clear distinction. While both types provide some sort of value, I dare say that the “top-tier” bloggers, the ones interested in enriching and helping the lives of their readers are providing more to the marketplace than those who are simply out there writing about giveaways.

But that’s my opinion. Take it or leave it.

What bothers me though, is the fact that many times brands and their PR firms don’t understand the differences. And don’t get me started on those SEO firms that pitch me daily on doing a “guest post” of “quality content” just to be able to put a link back to their client’s site. I try to write with integrity, fully disclosing relationships, clients, gifts and special privileges I have when I write my content. I’m not going to dilute my own brand just so that you can push some silly keyword-optimized, link-heavy article that provides no relevance or value to my site or my readers. There are plenty of other sites that will do that for you, just not mine please.

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Anyway, as I have worked on a variety of programs, campaigns, product launches and awareness programs for many brands and PR firms around the globe, I have obviously developed some opinions on strategies that I think work (and a few that don’t). So I have compiled a top-10 list, specifically for brands and their PR firms, to help guide them when approaching and working with top-tier bloggers. Obviously, this is not the end-all, de facto list, but it’s a start. I would love to get others to weigh in as well.

10 Ways Brands Can Work More Effectively with Top-Tier Bloggers

  1. Understand that we are different – As I mentioned above, not all bloggers are alike. This is true when it comes to quality bloggers versus quantity bloggers. Take some time to read the content on our blogs. Find out what our interests are and what makes us excited and unique. And one thing that really upsets us dads that are blogging is being lumped in with mommy bloggers. Nothing infuriates me and other dads who write more than receiving an email pitch that is geared towards a mommy blogger, has content that is not relevant to dads, or that perpetuates an overly-used and archaic dad stereotype.
  2. Do a quality pitch – I get lots of form emails, which I understand the need to do, that announces a new product or service. This is great if you want me to simply stay up to date on the latest and greatest coming from your company. But if you really want to get some traction, take an additional 5-10 minutes to map out why I should care about your pitch. On my site, I have created a “Vendor” contact form that helps to guide those people trying to pitch me. While not all bloggers do this, you should, in your first contact, include relevant information like what makes it unique and why should I care.
  3. Be responsive – We are all very busy with a gazillion things going on in our work and personal lives. But nothing irritates me more than sending questions back to a brand or PR firm and getting no response or a response that is extremely delayed. I call this “Black Hole Marketing” where you send me a pitch, I respond and then things go quiet for a long time or forever. My time is just as valuable as yours so please respect that. Many bloggers make their living from campaigns or articles that they write. If you or your PR firm are non-responsive, it is a reflection on your brand and if I do write about your product or service, the full story may not be delivered, or worse, I may write with a tone of negativity.
  4. Think about the long-term relationship – If you want to be successful working with bloggers, you need to develop the relationship with them. While I understand the 1-time reviews or articles are fine and pretty common, my peers and I believe that developing a longer term relationship is better for your brand. We want to understand who you are as a company, what drives your innovation and how your products or services evolve. I would much rather work with a brand over a series of weeks or months on an awareness campaign or branding exercise than simply do a bunch of one-off reviews. I will and have done both, but I prefer those that last longer and provide more value. This value is then translated to value to our audiences. You need to nurture and build those relationships.
  5. Provide a timeline – All bloggers have some sort of an editorial calendar, whether formal or not. As I do much of my writing in my free time, my calendar is much more constrained and I frequently find myself “behind” on all of the content that I want to produce. It’s important to understand and respect timelines. If you have a product launch and want coverage, be sure to outline that at the beginning. Giving us hard dates is extremely helpful for time management. If you are working with us on a longer campaign, please give us a timeline. I need to know if press releases are tied to items that I’m doing for your brand, or if a product launch is weeks away, or if additional assets that may be relevant are going to be released and WHEN they will be released and IF I will have early access to them so that I can incorporate it in my story. Respect my project and editorial plans and I will respect yours.
  6. “Compensate” us appropriately – I realize that this is a gray area. You need to fully disclose relationships that you have, products or services you have received or other compensation you get in the form of money or product/services. This is required by law now and you can get in real trouble if you don’t fully disclose. However, my point here is that for most of us, time = money. Many bloggers write simply for the passion of it and because of the will to share our ideas or experiences. But it is often nice to be recognized for our efforts. Sometimes, that can be in the form of sharing what we write (e.g., via social media), letting us keep the product we review, or even hiring us to participate in a marketing campaign that you are driving. We like recognition as it shows that our content creation is appreciated. But also remember, some bloggers can be bought off. That is to say, throw some money at them and they will write about just about anything. Let me say this, personally, I will not write an article on my site or on another site for $25-50. It’s just not worth my time. And it probably isn’t worth yours either. As we have learned, you need to pay for quality, unless you are simply trying to blast the marketplace full of bland and diluted content, then I guess it is about quantity. When you plan your campaign, be sure that you have budget to engage your targeted bloggers and make them excited to work with you. Trust me, I, like them, will go the extra mile if you show that you care.
  7. Think Different – Yes, I’m borrowing the Apple line here, but it is important to call it out. If you run a top-tier site, you get pitches every day. Many of those get about 30 seconds of time before they hit the trashcan. If you want to make a mark, please be sure you craft out a compelling and different pitch. But it doesn’t stop with just the pitch. If you are going to engage in a campaign, do something different. Giveaways are great. They still drive traffic and some branding. But is it really hitting your target market? There are people on social media that simply troll for giveaways. That is all that they do. And there are bloggers who realize this and simply write their content around these giveaways. Their sites are highly trafficked but, as I mentioned before, they probably are not very relevant and don’t really do much for your brand. I would much rather spend time thinking about and working with a brand or PR firm on a campaign that is unique, than I would just doing a giveaway.
  8. Let us help you – Remember, we have ideas as well. We also know our audience and who is reading and reacting to our content. As you craft your campaign, be sure that you ask the bloggers that you have chosen for their ideas. Or even better, let us come up with a campaign idea and let us pitch you on it. We frequently have other resources that you might not have access to. Our blogger and social networks are different. And we know what types of content (written, spoken or graphical) will work with a particular product or service. Frequently, a combination of strategies will work. But don’t just try to shove a campaign down our throats without allowing us to provide some ideas and feedback. This is a 2-way street and if you really want to succeed, you need to appreciate that.
  9. Promote our work – If you are engaging with top-tier bloggers, most likely, we are pouring a lot of effort into creating compelling, engaging and interesting content. For me, just writing a single review takes several hours, from testing out and understanding the product or service, to taking photos and/or recording a video, to the actual creation of the content. On average, I spend anywhere between 2-5 hours on an article, depending on the content. If I were to arbitrarily assign an hourly cost of $100/hr, you can see my costs to produce that content. Please understand that value. At the minimum, I would hope that the brand would also provide some additional value by socializing the content that I create. There is nothing worse than working hard on something, only to have it go into the “Black Hole” that I described earlier. If you don’t use the work that I create, do you think the next time I will want to work as hard (or at all) on your next campaign or product? Think again.
  10. Make us feel special – Many bloggers have egos that they need to feed. Sure, I’m one of them. It’s really exciting to get recognition for our hard work. The same can be said about anything I guess. It’s important to promote the positive from time to time instead of only showing the negative. So, I ask that if you like what we have done, recognize that. Thank us. Engage with us again. And, don’t be afraid to offer constructive criticism. We won’t be offended. Trust me, we can provide feedback to you as well, especially if we are going to work on an even more effective campaign in the future. Our success is your success. If you want to make us feel special, think about exclusives or special invites or VIP programs. I have worked with quite a few brands that have done this. It goes a long way and as we prioritize our work, your stuff will bubble up to the top.

There you have it! My 10 tips that can help brands better work with bloggers. Obviously, this is not a complete list. But I felt inspired to help out. There is a lot of clutter out in the marketplace, from content creators to companies pitching their products. If you want to succeed in either, you need to think about your strategies and the outcome you desire.

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Are you a blogger? If so, what are your recommendations for brands or PR firms on better ways to engage with you? Are you a brand or PR firm? What do you think about these tips and do you have any others that you would recommend? Leave a comment and let me know!

HTD says: Blogging is a past-time for many and a job for others. Finding the best way to engage with your audience and customers requires strategic thinking, planning and execution. Be sure to do your due diligence!

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  • http://toddrjordan.com/thebroadbrush tojosan

    These are great tips. I’m curious if bloggers on the other end are willing to hold up on them.

    Meaning. I believe most bloggers are so anxious for the reaching out part they undervalue themselves.

  • http://www.hightechdad.com hightechdad

    Great question. It’s often difficult to lump bloggers together and it depends where a particular blogger is in their lifecycle. When I first started out, I took advantage of every opportunity that I could. As I got more traction, I found that I could be a bit more selective. But if I find a product or service that interests me, I have no problem reaching out. It’s a 2-way type of engagement. It’s entirely subjective though, and depends also if you are making a living of it or if it is more of a hobby or passion. It can be both.

  • http://www.cc-chapman.com/ C.C. Chapman

    Great post Michael and I think these apply to ALL bloggers and not just those with a large audience or any other “level.”

    The fact of the matter is that too many PR agencies and brands have yet to full grasp that most of us don’t want to be blanket pitched like they’ve been handling journalists for so many years. 

    Establish a good relationship with a blogger or journalist and they’ll be happy to hear about and talk about updates going forward, but that first impression is super crucial and 9 out of 10 times is completely blown.

  • http://www.hightechdad.com hightechdad

    Thanks CC. Yes, I agree that the tips can be applied across the board. And I believe it is important to make the point that I’m talking about quality when discussing “top tier”. I know plenty of lower volume bloggers who produce quality content that I couldn’t even come close to matching. It isn’t about the size of the reach, per se, but rather the quality of the reach, big or small.

    I just hope that PR firms and brands adapt their older school ways to embrace better and more valuable interactions and relationships with bloggers across the board.

  • cecilyk

    This is awesome, Michael!

    I’d love to do a companion piece about the flip; how bloggers can better work with brands. I’d do it on MomCrunch on Babble, with credit to you, of course! Are you amendable?

  • http://www.hightechdad.com hightechdad

    Hi @cecilyk:disqus Thanks for the note. I think a companion piece would be great! Please be sure to post the link to your article here so that people can see both sides of the equation.

  • http://twitter.com/Verilliance Verilliance

    Saw this on Twitter just as I was working on a project for a client to help them get feedback on a new series of personal professional development programs they’ve launched. I’ve followed all the rules above with very little luck. So now I’m going to implement #8 above and ask for help. ;) 

    We thought offering free programs in exchange for a little feedback was honest and straightforward. And since we’re not looking to actually promote the programs yet, it didn’t seem right to offer money for a review. Every email I sent was personalized, I DID look at their blogs (but FYI, from the other side of the fence – and I’ve been on both sides – time is valuable on both sides so a business can only review so much of a blog), and the emails were fun, not dry. But the overwhelming response I got involved payment. 

    So I’m back to the drawing board. 

  • cecilyk

    You got it! :D

  • http://www.hightechdad.com hightechdad

    Hi @twitter-85513196:disqus  and thanks for your comments. It’s great to hear that you are working through this process carefully and with thought. While I don’t know the details of the campaign or program that you are doing, perhaps the blogger community you have pre-defined is not the proper one. Yes, as blogging is becoming more “monetized”, many bloggers are looking for some sort of incentive other than free services or products but this depends on the quality of work that a particular blogger does. 

    It’s great that you ARE taking time to get to know the blogs and the writers. Yes, definitely reach out to them for ideas and feedback. Some may provide that “free of charge” without having to invest the time in actually writing and publishing a review of said service or product.

    It does take time to nurture these relationships and it sounds like you are taking the effort to do so. If you have specific questions or ideas, I’d be happy to help.

  • http://twitter.com/Verilliance Verilliance

    Thanks hightechdad, 

    First off, I thought it would be easier to get people interested in getting a free professional development program in exchange for their feedback, so I’m baffled by the low response thus far. But not giving up by a long shot. 

    And yes, I think I approached too many bloggers that were well-established, clearly monetized, and probably way too busy to feel they wanted to help. But perhaps it also has something to do with these programs likely being competition for the bloggers? The programs have to do with personal development on the job such as developing leadership skills, working with teams, prepping yourself for promotion or knowing how to step into new roles once you’ve been promoted. So it seemed natural that blogs about leadership was a good place to start, but I think the combination of busy-ness along with competitiveness stopped it short. 

    So now I’m brainstorming about what other types of bloggers might be interested in reviewing these programs for us – again for feedback purposes. So if you have any ideas there, that would be great. 

  • http://www.hightechdad.com hightechdad

    Interesting scenario. I’m sure that you have thought of this already, but have you tried to ask some of these questions to groups within LinkedIn? LinkedIn is all about professional development and I would think that many people would want to chime in on it. So, before you engage the blogger, just hit some targeted communities. Ask a variety of questions to engage the conversation. Then you may find some “experts” who bubble up to the top. 
    Just a thought.

  • http://twitter.com/Verilliance Verilliance

    I had thought about LinkedIn but have not put in any time there. Good reminder, thanks. :) 

  • cecilyk

    Here’s the post!

    http://blogs.babble.com/momcrunch/2012/04/19/10-ways-bloggers-can-work-more-effectively-with-top-brands/

    Forgive the slideshow. It’s how we do it at Babble. :)

  • http://www.hightechdad.com hightechdad

    I read it (and just tweeted). I know the Babble slideshow well (I used to write over there). Great points and thanks for the link back.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Rozon/557076814 Chris Rozon

    Totally off topic….  but what pen is that?

  • http://www.hightechdad.com hightechdad

    Haha, funny! You know, I’m not sure because the image is simply Microsoft Clip Art that I then modified for the post.

  • Pingback: As a Blogger or Brand, Why is Continuity Important? - HighTechDad()

  • Jen at Ovuline

    Thanks so much for posting this! I am new to the world of marketing/PR through bloggers so this is very helpful!

  • http://www.hightechdad.com hightechdad

    I’m glad that you found it helpful. Thanks for leaving a comment. Happy to answer any questions you may have.

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