Blogger Relations: Two Approaches For PR

There has been some good thinking on PR and its interaction with the blogosphere lately.  Specifically a post from Louis Gray:  Bloggers and PR Are Not Enemies, But Quality Efforts Are Needed.

Lets start by pulling out something Louis wrote:

Not every public relations firm is an expert in dealing with bloggers. Some are waking up to the blogging phenomenon and, guessing at the influencers, are simply adding blogger e-mail addresses to their distribution lists, without taking the time needed to see what it is each blogger covers, learning their focus areas, or personalizing an angle. Others are aggressively hustling the top two to five names and ignoring the second layer – which creates stress for those pursued, and resentment for those who are ignored.

I would like like to think every PR firm gets it by now, it’s not a big mystery what the blogosphere is.  Louis is right though unfortunately, especially when we see things such as the bad pitch blog.  Then again, there have been bad pitches since traditional media was the only game in town.  Bad PR is bad PR, and simply carries over into the blogosphere.

The difference is here, if you get it wrong in a bad way, you can be put on display for the world to see.  No one wants that.

The fact that I am a blogger and know how my peers think gives me insight into the shared experience of blogging.  My honest opinion?  You should start a blog yourself if you truly want to learn how to get bloggers talking about you (I feel like I say that a lot here).  Once you’re actually blogging you will see how everything fits together, build the right relationships, and innately know how to create pull strategies that can work to cumulative effect over time.

The thing is, there are so many angles, so many possibilities, and so many approaches you could potentially take to get bloggers and other social media power users talking about you.  The web means your creativity is limited only by your imagination, especially if you have a good team in place – a strong developer combined with the right creative type who’s also a web guru and you’re going to get big results.

Let’s talk some more about two basic approaches for PR (certainly there are others, but I want to focus on discussing these two for now):

1)  Viral blog outreach

Just a few things I have done to mass effect – getting hordes of bloggers to talk about a client or a news item:

  • Developed web apps that thousands of bloggers not only used, but blogged about
  • Built community around a product/client
  • Crowdsourced new products
  • Ran contests that got people actively involved
  • Taught others linkbait strategies for their own blog
  • Helped encourage an ongoing dialogue with sets of niche bloggers and a relevant company

Knowing these potential tactics and others by themselves is worthless though.  Everyone knows the tactics, its applying them to creative marketing and PR with an understanding of what is possible that gets results.  If you do any of these things without having the right elements in place to make them sticky, they won’t go very far.

Two examples of viral blog outreach

A while ago, I ran a java beta test that was extremely successful by the initial scope we defined.  In all, 1,500+ bloggers signed up and the promotion received buzz and coverage on Technorati top 100 blogs, national tech news sites, and hundreds of bloggers in the long tail.  Why?

  • Promotion played off a popular internet meme – beta testing (plus java is code, and coffee – nice added fit)
  • Bloggers were not “pitched” – they signed up to participate – this was key because what have bloggers done countless times?  Sign up to beta web apps.
  • We gave bloggers link love and recognition
  • We gave bloggers a product they already use
  • We let bloggers decide the direction of a brand new flavor (and Eric Friedman even came up with a great name – Coffee 2.0).
  • There was no “push,” the process was designed to be viral from step one.

I’ve blogged on this campaign before, but wanted to bring it up again only to highlight I was not pitching bloggers.  For large outreach, you can’t just send out hundred emails with pitches/press releases and expect to get coverage – never going to happen.  You have to create an idea, web app, pull strategy, or campaign that scales and will spread organically.  Pushing messages out is doomed for failure.

One more example:  Blog Action Day is a brilliant campaign:

Blog Action Day was simple – bloggers signed up and pledged to write a post on poverty on October 15th. They rallied thousands of bloggers together “to change the conversation that day, to raise awareness, start a global discussion and add momentum to an important cause.”  It was a big success and got coverage not only during the day but long before, and well after.

Here are the numbers in case you didn’t see them:

  • 12,800 Bloggers
  • 14,053 Blog Posts
  • 13,498,280 Readers
  • 17 Top 100 Blogs

They built a web app where bloggers could sign up and pledge to participate.  They followed-up with bloggers on that day.  They forged community, made everyone feel as if they were part of a movement, created excitement, tracked the whole thing, and gave everyone recognition and links.  And they made a mark, just look at the spike in conversations surrounding poverty on the day:

These strategies are great for forging relationships, especially if you have an underlying theme behind them you can build on over time, and your client has a blog to aggregate all of this attention (build subscribers, get reviews, create raving fans, bring them into the process, listen to their feedback, put bloggers in the spotlight).

Blog Action Day will be even larger next year due to the very nature of them taking ownership of a day in the blogosphere and the coverage and commitments continue to build for them over time.

As an aside, much of what I have learned from both personal experience in online PR/marketing and studying the success of others are what I based my post on 10 skills all PR pros need for 2009 and beyond.

2) Direct outreach – pitching influential / popular sites

Startups, public relations people, and established brands all want to be talked about by influential bloggers.  Let’s be honest, even bloggers want to be talked about by other bloggers.

I’ve written some tips on pitching bloggers previously, and I do still think those are good tips for potentially reaching bloggers.  But it may be even simpler than all of that if you are trying to pitch a popular blogger whose work is frequently shared across social media.

Assuming you have a good relationship with that person already and know their blog and niche well – I think it goes beyond giving authors content that merely “fits” their blog.

Fitting their blog is nice but that’s no guarantee.  Plus it is easily put off, ignored, or replied with “yeah that’s cool, I’ll have a look.”  Even when you know the blogger personally this can be the response.  Face it, bloggers are busy.

As both a blogger and a PR pro, I’ll be honest:  I frequently get pitches for this blog, think “that’s neat” but never get around to writing on it.  What happens is I finally get into my writing for the day, consider their pitch, but realize while it might be mildly interesting it probably won’t be as successful as something I can think of on my own.  So what happens is I’ll end up skipping it for something that I think will be more interesting to write and more interesting for you to read.

It’s not that the content I’m getting isn’t a fit, it just isn’t anything that is going to break through the clutter.  Bloggers don’t build and keep the attention of thousands of subscribers by being boring, and they are extremely weary of writing something their audience will view as dull or even seen as selling out.

Here is some direct insight into how much we value our blogs.  This is from a comment left on WinExtra, a popular blog covering the social web:

I’m reminded that a few years ago someone offered me $50,000 for my website. I laughed and said I’d need more like $5 million. He laughed and said something like “That’s ridiculous, your stats don’t support it”. That’s true, but I’d have to pay taxes on that money and then invest it to pay me something equal to what the site does, and THAT would take appx $5 million – and THAT is what matters, not fb stats, Analytics or anything else.

Think about that for a minute – to the site owner mentally, the valuation of his site is $5 million dollars.  What is a blog, really?  A collection of posts.  Each post has huge value to us, we are personally vested in all of them.  I would think many of us feel similar to the WinExtra commenter, and I doubt any of us would take $50,000 for our blogs – I certainly wouldn’t.

This may sound like I am oversimplifying it, but if you want to pitch influential or popular bloggers, here is my advice:  only provide content that is both remarkable and marketable.  Resist the urge to give them anything else.  This ensures three things:

  • You personally, as the PR professional or company, will be seen as having a high degree of signal
  • Greater chances what you sent them will actually get published
  • When the blogger does publish the story, if it successfully spreads, that will motivate the blogger to use more of your source material.

If you can’t (honestly)  see what you’re sending a blogger as something which could be made popular on StumbleUpon/Delicious/Digg, or at the very least re-blogged by other blogs in the niche, why are you pitching it to the blogger in the first place?  Put yourself in the blogger’s shoes – if you were that blogger would you honestly publish this?  If you’re already reading blogs in the niche and are yourself a blogger, it’s not hard to see what is worthy and what is not.  Look at it objectively, don’t mix emotion with it.

Bearing you followed this advice and gave a blogger only remarkable content, which when published was successful, they would have a hard time turning you down next time as they know you have an eye for what their readers want and fits the essence of their site.  This is a great way to forge a relationship with a popular blogger who is getting a constant stream of pitches.  When they see your material is always marketable, you will eventually get green-lighted to the front every time.

Make yourself a PR professional with a reputation for a high degree of signal and resist the urge to bother your influential contacts with news that is boring and you’ll win every time.  Sometimes you have to get creative here, but hey let’s be honest, that’s half the fun of PR.  There is always a way to package content in a way someone will find interesting – that is your challenge.

Of course, there is always my idea of creating a startup to connect bloggers and PR people.  ProfNet is so web 1.0 it hurts, someone could step it up and do something better.

In the end, I don’t think bloggers care if the inspiration for a good story comes from a Google search, another blog, a PR person, or their own brain, it just has to be something that moves them (which will inevitably move their readers).

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