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WOM Tactics: Blogs are Upside Down

WOM Tactics: Blogs are Upside Down Andy Sernovitz

I bet you're having a hard time understanding how to deal with bloggers. It's not your fault -- there is way too much conflicting advice. "Talk to them, ignore them, treat them as press, treat them as customers, do your own blog, comment on their blog." Aargh.

So, to clear up this confusion, I'll give you this one simple thing to remember:

Blogs are upside down. 

Understand this and a good blogger-relations strategy becomes clear. Here's what it means:

1. The last word counts most

Blogs are in reverse chronological order. That's how we read them, and that's how they're archived. A raucous blogosphere debate may have lots of criticism of your company. But if you resolve it well, and make the blogger happy in the end -- that final entry shows up first on the blog.

2. Recent posts get indexed.

Blog search engines like Technorati, Feedster, and BlogPulse default to sorting their search results with the newest posts firsts. This means that the current conversation is much more visible than posts that happened even a few days earlier.

3. Everything lasts forever on Google. 

Consider every blog entry to be a mark on your permanent record. We used to think of the web as this transitory thing, but now we know that every single post is going to be there for decades. Bad press in traditional media eventually fades away. Blog criticism won't. So you better make sure your side of the story is on the record too.

So, what does that mean for you?

You'll never be able to control the blogosphere conversation. Don't even try.

You'll never be able to manage your blog coverage like you manage the press. Don't even try.

But what you can do is participate, earn respect, and tell your story. Jump in, join the conversation, and be a part of it. 

You can make sure that the conversation ends on a positive note, that your views are heard, and that you're part of the community.

Working with bloggers is hard for many PR-trained executives because of the inherent lack of control over the situation. It's about learning to respond and participate instead of plant and initiate.

It's no longer about managing what other people say, but letting your own words speak for themselves. And it's about earning respect (but not necessarily agreement) from bloggers by showing you know how to participate the right way.

Customer service is the secret of blog relations

Customer service people find dealing with bloggers familiar. It's working with a vocal group of individuals who each have their own particular concerns and needs. It's looking at situations, addressing them, and getting them fixed however you can.

You won't do so well if you try to manage bloggers as part of a media campaign.

You will do well if you treat bloggers like important customers, and earn their respect through service and respect. 

The same metrics that are used to track customer service are very applicable to blogger relations. Track how many positive versus negative comments you are getting. Track how quickly you are responding to concerns. Track the percentage resolved successfully. Look for ways to improve that resolution rate.

Five steps to earn a good reputation with bloggers

1. Follow the conversation

You should always know what is being said about your company. Spend a few minutes each day searching on your brand, and take a few minutes to decide which posts are important (or indications of important trends).

2. Participate

Nothing earns more credibility with bloggers than a company that is part of the blog community. The best thing you can do is to have genuine, non-spin blogs written by your team. But it is just as important to be a known participant in the blog world.

Comment. Converse. Don't be a stranger. Become part of the community. Build a storehouse of goodwill in advance that you can benefit from when you need it.

3. Show that you are listening

Many bloggers are (pleasantly) shocked when they find out that a company is actually reading what they write. Post a note when you read something you like. Post replies and comments when you see unfair criticism. Post an offer of help when you hear a complaint.

Always identify your affiliation with your company, and offer to solve any problems. In many, many cases, this is the most important thing you can do.

4. Convert critics when you can

You can't make all people happy all time, but you sure can try. Treat bloggers like VIP customers and try to win them over with good service. You'll get two great benefits. First, you'll have the story of a happy resolution as the most recent post on the sites. Second, much research shows that converted critics are the most enthusiastic fans.

5. Write for the record

In the end, don't expect to win every point in every blog debate. It's not possible. What you can do, however, is tell your side of the story. Post comments or entries in your own blog for posterity. Remember the permanent record, and write what you want history to see.

Choose to be good

The one truth about word of mouth is that the truth always comes out. You can no longer hide bad products or shoddy services with a thick layer of PR and brand advertising.

So if you want a good rep in the blogosphere, you need to be good.

Genuinely good.

Your reputation is the amount of respect you earn, less the number of people you piss off. So choose to earn respect.

In the end, it's much more fun to go to work each day at a respected company that is honest, fun, and treats people well. You might as well work to make that happen.

Additional resources:

Wired's Chris Anderson on Corporate Blogging

WOMMA's Auction for Charity

Andy Sernovitz is CEO of WOMMA, the Word of Mouth Marketing Association. WOMMA is a non-profit association that is building a word-of-mouth marketing industry based on ethics, measurable ROI and best practices. More than 250 companies have joined the organization. Learn more about how you can master word of mouth at womma.org.

How to find your IM audience

  • Location, location, location
    IM applications use ad servers, which allow advertisers to slice and dice their audience to target demographics by geographical location. Advertisers can be more accurate in reaching their target audience through user information, vs. IP address targeting, which is less precise. Talk to your rep and tailor your campaign to your target audience.

  • Day segmenting:
    Instant messenger advertisers can also use day segmenting for more effective advertisements. IM is prevalent both in the corporate and social atmosphere. Audiences on IM platforms tend to vary throughout a given day: kids hop on IM after school, corporate users sign on at 9:00 am, parents get their chance after their children are asleep at 9:00 pm.

  • Use multiple instant messenger platforms
    Most users use one IM application or another; few are exposed to all of the environments, so buy ads on all the properties. You will spend the same amount of time on creative and reach an extremely large, semi-engaged audience with very little overlap.

Creative cookbook

  • Keep it fresh: Vary your creative to keep ad units engaging
    As I mentioned above, using fresh ad units at different times of the day can increase your audience exposure and also your interaction rates. Create different versions of the ad to run at different times of the campaign (like coming soon, starts today, now playing for the movie new releases). You're reaching a lot of consumers, but if the campaign is running for several days, you'll want to vary creative to ensure the user is engaged. Try placing the ad on a three- to four-day rotation so there is a new experience every day for three days before seeing the first creative again.

  • Think outside the box: Use expandable ad units
    Unlike traditional ad campaigns, IM ad campaigns have significantly less space available to engage the user. Thus, mouse-over expandable ad units (MOEs) are especially useful for driving interactions and creating an experience despite the lack of real estate that is accessible. Expandable panels enlarge the area for stronger and clearer creative to engage the user when the ad is rolled over. Users can watch videos, email the ad to a friend, download or set an AIM icon, download a brochure, or play a game directly in the rolled over window.

    Sony used an expandable ad to promote the James Bond pic "Casino Royale." Rolling over the ad produced a movie preview, while clicking on it took viewers to the site.

    Keep in mind that when designing an expandable ad, your controls and navigation should be as far from the sides of the ad as possible so that the user doesn't accidentally rollout of the environment.

  • Engage: Use a strong and descriptive call to action (large and persistent)
    The traditional banner space in the IM environment is very small, usually 120x90 or 234x60 depending on the application. If you are creating a mouse-over expandable, be sure to use as much space as possible to let users know that they will have something to interact with if they roll over the ad. Remember that your call-to-action is the first and only immediately visible section of your ad. Be specific about your call-to-action. For instance, don't say "Roll over," say "Roll over to Play Now" or "Roll over to See the Video" or another specific action that is appropriate for the creative being utilized.

  • Reward the user: widgets, coupons, downloads, etc.
    Everyone loves free stuff! The IM environment is already extremely interactive; users are downloading custom sounds for their login/logout alerts, creating characters for their profile pictures, and sending text, video and audio to their friends. Brands are contributing to this interaction by enabling users to download a variety of widgets, coupons, etc that are a product of the user's interaction.

    Try integrating with the IM environment by sponsoring a custom skin or icon. Depending on the environment, you may even be able to allow users to change their icons or skins without leaving the ad. Also, try adding a widget. Making these takeaways IM specific, like icons or avatars, can further promote interaction.

  • Keep it simple: Structure ad with clear content
    Since the space is rather small, we suggest keeping your creative tactic simple and being dedicated to a single technique. For example, within an IM campaign, use the mouse-over expandable to show a video, download an icon or allow users to embed a widget into their profiles. Do not implement all of these features within one ad unit. Try one feature; see how the ad performs, and make changes to it. Change your creative, switch your call-to-action, but don't overload the ad unit. Instead, combine this tactic with keeping the creative fresh and rotate through different creative concepts on multiple days.

I hope these tips for success assist your instant messenger ad campaign in driving interactions and surpassing campaign objectives. Instant messenger campaigns are popular, user-specific, and continue to attract advertisers and brands. They are the new hub of interaction for users of all ages and demographics. Brands and advertisers are eager to join the interaction to share ideas, experiences and products through this promising medium.

Erin Coker is director of advertising services for EyeWonder, Inc. Read full bio.

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