I've long cultivated a love-hate relationship with coffee. About twice a year I quit it. I go cold turkey. No coffee. No caffeine. After a month or so, I decide the coffee detox had its desired effect and then I jump way off the wagon and start consuming my americano's with gleeful abandonment. This year, I'm going all the way with my addiction. I've been planning it for years. This year I will go so far as to buy a Nuova Simonelli Oscar Espresso Machine. It's a thing of beauty. Only then can I truly spoil my vice.
A month ago I had no concept of good and bad espresso machines. So how did I fall into a yearning for a particular brand of espresso-maker? The internet, of course.
My buddy Matt has a coffee consulting practice called Espresso 101. He's one of these lucky individuals who has been able to harvest earnings from vice. The man flat loves his coffee. Don't laugh. Matt makes a pretty good living. You could say coffee business consulting keeps Matt fresh and in the black.
Matt's job takes him to places like McDonalds, where suits pay him to tell them what it takes to make a premium cup o' jo. Matt is what Malcolm Gladwell calls a "maven" in his seminal viral marketing book "The Tipping Point." Matt stays up on the trends, and knows everything and everyone in the business worth knowing. He may not know them personally, but he knows enough to talk shop with Micky D's, get paid doing it and help connect the buyers with the sellers whether its B2B or B2C.
In that sense, Matt is also "connected." Matt knows distributors, manufacturers, baristas, importers, growers, roasters, biologists, chemists and economists. That's what makes him a maven, after all. And if his website weren't so darn search engine friendly, you'd have to meet Matt like I did (back before he had a website): through a connector. A connector like Joe Crawford. Joe doesn't know much about the art of making jo, but he does know a lot about other things. Joe knows ColdFusion. Joe knows respiratory therapy. Joe knows blogging and bloggers and how to get around the blogoshpere. Joe knows about Franks and Beans, Frank Zappa and Frankenstein. As a by-product of knowing people, places and things, Joe also knows those who really, really like their coffee. People like me.
So when I get a serious hankering for spoiling my vice, there are a couple of people I can turn to. I can turn to other coffee drinkers or I can turn to Joe. I choose the latter.
In the marketing business, manufacturing this kind of connection has many names-- viral marketing; word-of-mouth marketing; one-to-one marketing. A marketing method by any other name would have the same full-bodied aroma. It's been said before, but it bears repeating: People like Joe are the key to online PR.
Public relations online is not necessarily conquering a network of coffee mavens but rather working your way up the ladder of accessible mavens. That is, find connectors first. Then your mavens will fall into place.
For example, if your client makes a product that the editors of wired.com might find newsworthy, set your aim on bloggers who are "near" it. It takes a lot to impress a writer at Wired. If you impress their friends, you stand a chance of impressing them too. Now all you need is a map of the connectors connecting you with your dream hit.
That's where a tool like touchgraph comes in handy. Use it to map the network of sites correlating to wired.com (as dictated by the Google search API). You'll notice that sites like Gawker, endgadget, gizmodo, Slashdot, and writers like Jeffrey Zeldman, Evan Williams, Jason Kottke all have the same search engine visibility and loyal readership. And guess what? Each of those sites and each of those writers in the realm of wired.com are blogs maintained by bloggers of more or less modest means.
Maven-mapping is nothing new, but it bears repeating. Back in October, I cited a study about blogging for business by Edelman and Technorati that asked bloggers what they thought about companies who sought out bloggers to help get the word out about their products. Bloggers don't mind. Nor do their readers. While Joe may know nothing about making jo, Joe knows people and people know Joe. Joe is the north star of a local constellation known as San Diego Bloggers.
Joe may not be able to help McDonald's develop a business model around premium coffee, but he can write about it and perhaps create some foot traffic in the process. More realistically, Joe can help Café Moto, a San Diego independent coffee wholesaler, connect with Matt and any of the suppliers in his network of influence. Why? Because Joe is connected to me and I write for you. Because I'm connected to Matt and San Diego is connected to Joe and Joe's connected to our local media.
So, if you want to appear in iMedia Connection or the San Diego Union Tribune or the San Diego Business Journal then you would do well to address us directly-- send some coffee to me and Joe; we'll try it out; we'll start our own little coffee cart at work, perhaps, and donate the proceeds to charity and document the process all online. We're connected, we're energetic and we're easier to impress than journalists. We have little to lose by playing favorites. We have vices we love to spoil and do so gleefully online. We're not mavens, but we have a certain unadulterated connection with those who are.
Kelly Abbott is the director of information strategy for Red Door Interactive. In this role, Abbott analyzes, evaluates and ultimately recommends innovative third-party solutions that befit Red Door’s technology-agnostic and standards-driven approach to Internet Presence Management. Outside of Red Door, Abbott divides his personal time between Mama's Kitchen -- a non-profit which feeds people living with AIDS -- and other various inspiring internet-based projects thereby contributing to the greater internet good. Oh, and drinking coffee.
Williamson: Frigidaire's Test Drive Team, coordinated in part by Mom Central Consulting, gave 40 blogging moms Frigidaire appliances to test and review over a three-month period in 2009 and again in 2010.
General Mills has worked with mom bloggers for more than four years via its MyBlogSpark program, usually offering products to sample and review. The company also works with bloggers through events and content sharing. One outreach effort involved sending boxes of Nature Valley Chewy Trail Mix bars to bloggers to review and to promote in a giveaway offer.
Kraft in 2009 named five blogging moms its "VELVEETA it! Kitchenistas," charging them with coming up with 25 meal-time ideas over a five-week period. The kitchenistas also participated in a Velveeta-branded page on Facebook, answering questions from other moms. Kraft continued the outreach effort again in early 2010, asking moms to develop recipes themed to the Super Bowl.
iMedia Connection: What's your favorite example of a brand-blogger partnership that benefited the blogger, marketer, and readers alike?
Williamson: Mabel's Labels of Hamilton, Ontario, makes name labels that moms can stick to their children's clothing, sports gear, household items, and more. Much of Mabel's Labels' marketing strategy revolves around public relations, and the company has placed its products in numerous magazines over the years. It also employs Google AdWords ads, Facebook ads, and magazine advertising. But the company has found that working with mom bloggers has had dramatic impact across its business.
Among the successful strategies Mabel's Labels has employed:
- Providing merchandise for bloggers so they can run contests and giveaways.
- Sending out free products for bloggers to review. A summer 2010 program touting a back-to-school combo pack netted more than 200 reviews.
- Linking with Facebook. The company encourages bloggers and people who read blogs by moms to join its Facebook page. Mabel's Labels uses the page to interact with customers and link to its own company blog.
iMedia Connection: What faux pas are we still seeing brands commit when it comes to connecting with and partnering with mommy bloggers?
Williamson: It is questionable whether marketers and bloggers really understand the new FTC guidelines. In a survey from advertising company IZEA, more than a third of PR, social media, and marketing professionals had not heard of the rules at all. Only 29.9 percent said they had read and understood them. This is more than a faux pas -- it's a critical necessity for brands to understand and to act on.
iMedia Connection: On the flip side, what faux pas do you often see bloggers commit when working with brand partners?
Williamson: Some bloggers still aren't disclosing their relationship with brands. Again, this isn't just a faux pas -- it goes against the FTC guidelines. Bloggers must be ethical and accountable for what they write. And in order to be the best partners with brands, they must play by the rules.
iMedia Connection: Do you have a good example of a brand-blogger partnership that you like to point to in terms of what not to do? If so, what is it?
Williamson: When I spoke to Tricia Mumby of Mabel's Labels last year, she told me an unbelievable story. A company that marketed expensive slippers asked a friend of Mumby's to review the slippers on her blog. The friend happily agreed and waited expectantly for her package to arrive. When it did, she opened the box and found only one slipper. The company hadn't even bothered to send both slippers!
It's a funny example, but it shows that companies need to think things through completely before partnering with moms who blog. How hard would it have been to send both slippers?
iMedia Connection: Beyond what we've discussed above, what is the single most important insight into forming mom-blogger partnerships that you wish all digital marketers were aware of?
Williamson: Marketing via moms who blog requires daily effort and regular participation. Successful marketers create real relationships with blogging moms and work hard to make it easy for moms to support their marketing initiatives. This means understanding that moms have different points of view and don't always focus on the same topics. What's more, having an influence means more than simply flooding the blogosphere with coupons and giveaways.
Lori Luechtefeld is editor of iMedia Connection.