Mr Flibble. Copyright © 2008 Dominick Reed
Cowboys, Snake Oil Salesmen and Bloggers
Like the cry “There’s gold in them there hills!” Social Media has become the business perceived as a license to print money, attracting every shark that smells there’s something to be made from nothing.
Somewhere along the line, word got out that Bloggers were the passport to advertising online with zero financial outlay. Supposedly they’re the golden ticket to Word of Mouth marketing and by harnessing them via press releases and sampling, you can charge your clients tens of thousands of dollars worth of Social Media Marketing without spending a cent.
You just have to read the discussions in LinkedIn’s Social Media Marketing groups to see how many self-named Social Media Experts – with zero relevant expertise – are expounding the joys of utilising bloggers for marketing. And then there are the mountains of online excrement that tell you about the art and science of Social Media, but actually show a lack of insight into the medium.
In all honesty, it’s these kinds of people who give Social Media a bad name.
In the blogging community approaches by some PR companies have already damaged the reputations of those they represent and Search Marketing companies are joining the ranks. Within that, include Market Research survey companies and free competition/promotional websites. Why? Because these so called ‘Experts’ put up their hands to court bloggers, without regard to the psychographics of the medium.
But what would I know?
Under various pseudonyms, I write a number of blogs, ranging from the personal journal to those targeting various communities of interest to FMCG, Service industries and SME’s. And when I say communities, I’ve since met a lot of my local readers in person, many also blog.
Those who regularly read my blogs comment on posts, talk about them in external forums, in Google Buzz, in Twitter and on Facebook. Many now hook up for social gatherings, swarms and tweet-ups too. They also email me, and like me, the Bloggers have a file full of unsolicited mail, aka spam from the kinds of companies I mentioned above.
So I know firsthand and have seen evidence of the visceral response from Bloggers to approaches by brands. Not all Bloggers are averse to being courted by advertisers, but the approach has to be couched appropriately. And this is where most companies fail, at the first hurdle.
Because it is a crowd sourced online medium, the crux of Social Media is listening, chatting and understanding. In approaching Bloggers you must apply all of the above. And by doing this, in terms of identifying your target market, you drill down even further than Direct Marketing ever has. But this is where merely downloading a list of blogger’s email addresses and sending out a templated email will be your undoing.
Blogging outside of business oriented sites is often deeply personal. The name comes from ‘Web Log’ – an online journal. Just as in life, in blogging communities you have niches within subcultures and if you ignore that, the drawbridge will be raised, subjecting your brand to firebombs of negative online PR – from exactly the group of readers you were hoping to promote your brand to.
Clumsy examples: acquiring a list of Food Bloggers and asking a Vegan Blogger to promote Quick Service Restaurants; or asking a Mummy Blogger with four kids to test drive a compact car for review. Hell hath no fury like an irate Blogger, especially when the current statistics are that 90% of the public trust personal recommendations. Those who give may also take away.
You have to understand the philosophy and values of the bloggers you approach before courting them. They’re not professional journalists. Nor do most aspire to that. For the most part they’re amateur Writers, passionate about the subject they write about, that’s what drove them to blog in the first place.
For example, unlike Journalists, sending out a press release does not work. Unlike subscribers to sampling websites, sending promotional packs may also be ineffective. Telling Bloggers that you want to publish their posts or images on your website (but that you own the intellectual property in the T&Cs) is bound to invoke scathing criticism. Telling them to be a Brand Ambassador will see scorn heaped upon you.
The most influential Bloggers are savvy to the fact that you want make money out of them for no remuneration. Would you volunteer to boost the sales of a corporation that posts profits larger than the GNP of some countries, for zero compensation? I think not. You’re not, your ad agency isn’t. So why expect Bloggers to?
A considered Approach
For brands to get results, avoid the smooth talking Snake Oil Salesmen of Social Media, they have but one angle. Talk to Social Media Marketers within your advertising agency. They should take the time to understand who to work with online and then offer an insightful and creative promotion to take to Bloggers on your behalf.
Have them support the campaign with traditional media and PR. That way you can ensure that your established brand values and corporate image will marry with the appropriate gatekeepers for maximum exposure.
The Bottom line is, if you want Bloggers to be your friends, treat them as you would yourself, with manners and dignity.