Tag Archives: blogger outreach

Acquiescence isn’t enough, marketers should actively embrace objectivity from their blogging partners

Much discussion has erupted lately on the topic of partnerships between mom bloggers and marketers.  It seems to have started with a call for a PR “blackout” from Momdot, a mom blogger community:

MomDot is challenging bloggers to participate for one week in August in a PR BLACKOUT challenge where you do not blog ANY giveaways, ANY reviews, and Zero press releases. In fact, we don’t want you to talk to PR at ALL that whole week.  We want to see your blog naked, raw, and back to basics. Talk about your kids, your marriage, your college, your hopes, your dreams, your house and whatever you can come up with for one week.

Burnout, not objectivity, is the reason behind MomDot has recommended a blackout.  They suggest that the array of product reviews, promotions, giveaways, etc. in which mom bloggers engage is distracting them from more general content about home and kids.  Nevertheless, the question of blogger objectivity has come up in posts about the blackout, and the issue of objectivity, paid sponsorship and editorial vs. commercial content has been a hot topic in the blogosphere for awhile, and recently in a New York Times article, as increasing numbers of marketers link up with bloggers for the purpose of reviewing or promoting their products.  Recently the U.S. Federal Trade Commission announced that it is reviewing its guidelines for “endorsements and testimonials in advertising” with bloggers in mind.

Compensation for product reviews takes on different forms — e.g. pay per review, free stuff, promotional giveaways — but what is common to all is that most bloggers will only agree to the deal if the marketer in question allows them to write honestly about the product.  While bloggers say this allows them to maintain their integrity, one has to wonder if  — even with the best of intentions — they can remain truly objective when being compensated.  Won’t there be a little voice, whispering from the subconscious depths of their mind, suggesting that, despite everything the marketer says, a negative assessment will reduce the chances of being offered a paid review in future?

That’s why marketers shouldn’t simply agree to honesty and objectivity from their blogging partners, they should embrace it actively and vocally.  Here’s why it’s in their interest to do so:

  • The online social community space rewards transparency, while it sniffs out and exposes secrecy and collusion.  A marketer who tries to manipulate product reviews will be found out eventually.  That negative word-of-mouth will spread exponentially and the overall take away will be that something must be wrong with your product, if you weren’t confident enough to let the product speak for itself, free from manipulation.
  • In contrast, a marketer who makes it known that it demands absolute honesty from its blogging partners builds trust and credibility.  It tells people that you’re completely confident in the quality of your product.
  • Negative criticism isn’t a threat, it’s a fantastic source of knowledge and opportunity.  You can learn better than any focus group or quantitative test about the strengths and weaknesses of your product through an honest assessment from a blogger and the ensuing comments and online conversations about that assessment.
  • The only thing you have to fear is fear itself.  The blogosphere will forgive a mistake, provided that you listen to the criticism, acknowledge the problem and keep everyone informed about what you are doing to fix things.  You have nothing to fear, and everything to gain, provided you listen, show that your listening, take action and follow up.

Several blog posts I read on the topic of transparency and objectivity talk about the steps bloggers should take to make their disclosure and review policies clear to marketers who approach them.  This suggests that bloggers feel the need to defend their wish to remain transparent and  objective when it comes to paid-for product reviews.  Similarly, the FTC’s actions to revise its policies regarding endorsements and testimonials to address online practices would indicate that it doesn’t think the marketing community is taking adequate steps to self-regulate.  The alleged need for these policy changes implies that, generally speaking, marketers are more inclined to manipulate online reviews and comments about their products, rather than encourage the transparency and objectivity that brings true value to both the marketer and the customer.

It’s hard to say definitively if marketers are “doing the right thing” when it comes to embracing objectivity from their blogging partners.  However, when I think of all the articles, posts and comments I have read on the issue, I can’t recall any I’ve seen that have come from a marketer.  If you have, please let me know.

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The wisdom of bloggers

As part of the series on blogger relations, Toby of Diva Marketing Blog just posted Part II entitled “A Successful Blogger Relations Strategy.” The post captures perspectives and insights of 99 bloggers who responded to an online survey about what makes a blogger outreach strategy successful. (Ninety-nine sounds so much nicer than 100. Remember the 80’s German pop hit “99 Red Balloons”? Ninety-nine’s got rhythm, 100 feels like a rock.) For all the results you can head over to the blog. It’s an excellent read. I just wanted to highlight a couple of points that I think are especially, well, to the point.

The three big take aways:

• It’s not about you
• Relationships matter
• Honesty is critical

I guess anyone who has some understanding of bloggers knows this. But if there are three “golden rules” of blogger relations we should have tattooed into our gray matter – I guess it’s these three.

It’s a win for the blogger, the brand and the community

This one is an extension of “It’s not about you” and should probably be added as a footnote at that same location in our brains.

A successful strategy isn’t a strategy

I LOVE this thought. Essentially, the whole dynamic of social media is the antithesis of traditional marketing communications, with its one way strategic propositions, USP’s and “on-message” straight-jacket. Conversations aren’t strategic. They’re spontaneous, free flowing and unpredictable. At least the good ones are. It’s a wonderful contradiction. For a blogger relations strategy to be successful, it can’t be strategic. Because it’s rooted in conversation.

It gets the conversation going around the product or service and the discussion builds beyond what was expected.

What’s great here is what’s left unsaid. Bloggers and their communities are happy to hear about your product in the social media space. There’s no sign on the door saying “Brands are not welcome!” They are welcome. As long as they create value for the blogger and the community through, as Joseph Jaffe puts it, the power of community, dialog and partnership. In other words, through mutually beneficial, online conversation among the blogger, the community and living, breathing human beings representing the brand.

Success is when the company establishes timeless relationships with their community of relevant bloggers.

Laurent made this excellent point in a comment to the original post. The greatest potential for mutual benefit will come through an ongoing relationship between the marketer and the blogger. Isn’t that true of most relationships, as we build trust, commitment and knowledge of each other’s needs? Marketers who begin to invest in these relationships need to recognize that this will be a long-term commitment, and ensure that they have adequate structural, technical and financial resources in place before starting out on the journey.

We’re all still learning, so let’s be kind.

I liked the following response from Anita Campbell to the survey question “Who’s doing it wrong?”, as many of us can get quite hot under the collar with regard to social media:

“As for anyone doing it ‘wrong,’ I simply prefer to think of it as them not quite being where they need to be yet … All this openness makes us pass judgment too harshly and too quickly I think. Let’s give companies and people time to learn and grow in their blogging.”

Couldn’t agree more.

Peace.

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