I've been blogging since before they even called it a "web log." (Did you know that the phrase "web log" is where the word "blog" comes from? True story!) What I'm trying to say is that I was blogging before blogging was cool. (Blogging is cool, right?) But what was once a small niche of the internet has transformed into an expansive and effective form of digital marketing. No PR or digital agency can possibly stay afloat for much longer without at least a small list of bloggers that they consider to be in their stable. These are the guys that they can usually count on for coverage.
Blogging is a diluted form of celebrity -- perhaps that's the appeal. Like a celebrity's love-hate relationship with the paparazzi, a blogger depends upon the press to supply him with some, or in many cases, nearly all of the news stories and content (photos, videos, press releases) that appear on his blog. But in order to get to the good stories, a blogger must wade through an endless pile of worthless baloney that comes from these same PR contacts. Boring press releases ("Bobby's on Main is now open!"), PDF attachments, full collections of hi-res photos, etc. It's this pile of nonsense that separates the marketers who understand bloggers from those who just don't get it.
Many brands know they need a blogger outreach program, but too few of them give advance thought to the ways that these programs can backfire. Bloggers are a diverse and often particular bunch. Here are the sometimes-not-obvious ways that brands can piss them off.
Mistake 1: Getting the blogger's name wrong
As a marketer working on blogger outreach, your primary job is to create a relationship with the blogger, even if it's for just a single email exchange. Just like a cover letter for a resume, the fastest way for your email to find its way to the trash is by flubbing your recipient's name. Another tip: Do your damndest to figure out whether an androgynous name belongs to a male or female person. If you can't, use non-specific pronouns.
There are essentially two methods for blogger outreach:
1. Scattershot: Email as many bloggers as you can and hope that some of them agree to publish your story.
2. Focused: Pick a smaller group of bloggers for whom your story is relevant.
"Focused" works better in most scenarios, but the "scattershot" method is more common. As a result, the emails that are sent to bloggers are often loosely customized templates. So the name and any other language that personalizes the template are usually filled in right before hitting "send." These emails often read choppy and sloppy.
Extra embarrassing: Getting the name of the blog wrong. It happens all the time.
Mistake 2: Reaching out without understanding the industry niche
If you don't know what you're talking about, the blogger is going to notice. You don't need to know the innermost secrets of the industry that you are marketing, but you should at least understand:
For example, if you are responsible for the blogger outreach effort for a new bakery ("Bobby's on Main!"), you might approach a baking blog like JoyTheBaker.com. If you say something bone-headed like "I love the smell of muffins broiling in the stove," Joy is probably going to ignore your email. (Actually -- that one would probably be a keeper.) But shooting the moon is a tough sport to play in blogger outreach. So play it safe and only talk about what you know. If you're about to start a new full-time job, at least read the Wikipedia page about your industry before your first day. And do your best to stay current.
Extra embarrassing: Misunderstanding the point of the whole blog. Don't email a vegan blog with coupons for discount chicken.
Mistake 3: Not respecting their need to review products honestly
Since 2009, the FTC has mandated that bloggers who receive compensation for their opinions must disclose that financial relationship. In other words, if a blog post is sponsored, you have to say so. Nowadays, enforcement of this regulation isn't really necessary. The blogging community self regulates. Readers expect honest, expert opinions. Bloggers walk a fine line between effectively monetizing their content with advertising while being careful not to betray their core messages.
All of this just means that bloggers are going to give you their honest opinions. They really have no other choice. So don't ask them to lie. It's rude. Plus, you approached them in the first place because of the credibility that they have built with their audiences. It's important that they maintain this credibility.
Extra embarrassing: Following up with a blogger to tell him how much you disliked the review -- because your complaint is probably going to end up on the blog.
Mistake 4: Disrespecting their time
Unnecessary meetings, tight turnarounds, and multiple revisions are all on the "not cool" list of things to request of bloggers. Most bloggers don't make a living blogging -- only the very talented and lucky ones do. Since blogs are usually passion (aka, "side") projects, and you are probably not paying them, cut 'em some slack.
For all you know, the genius behind Dwayne Johnson Central has to pick up his kids from Taekwondo practice before he can post your exclusive behind-the-scenes pics from Dwayne's latest project, "Drivin' & Cryin' 2: Wheels Unleashed."
Above all, just remember that the blogger, ultimately, is offering you access to his audience. An audience that he potentially spent thousands of hours building. If he ever seems standoffish about mentioning something that you consider important, just remember that it could be because of his intimate understanding of his audience. A poorly chosen word could have an effect that you didn't intend. So do your best to defer to the experts (the bloggers) when appropriate.
Extra embarrassing: Giving a hard deadline. It's OK to have a cutoff date. But be flexible, whenever possible.
Mistake 5: Not even considering good old-fashioned advertising
If you desperately want to get in front of a blogger's audience and that blog offers advertising or sponsorship opportunities, give serious consideration to those opportunities. And if you're working with a PR team, empower that team to suggest sponsorship and other opportunities that your brand might want to consider. Of course, not all opportunities are a fit, so if there's a reason you can't or don't want to pursue these opportunities, be honest with the blogger.
Most reputable blogs are not pay-to-play. But don't insult bloggers by telling them that their audiences aren't worth reaching with real dollars. After all, that's how these people make a living (or are trying to make a living).
Extra embarrassing: Putting a blogger in a position where he will be forced to spend his own money. If you have invited a blogger to an event and you expect there to be costs associated with the visit (parking, cover charge, drink minimums, etc.), do everything you can to pre-imburse them. At a minimum, warn them and tell them exactly what to expect. Don't forget that bloggers can have loud and powerful voices, and hell hath no fury like a pissed off blogger.
None of these examples is an excuse for any blogger to be a jerk. We're all human people, so let's act like it. Good bloggers follow the rules of polite business etiquette. And good PR and digital agencies learn to identify these professionally composed bloggers. As long as there is a mutual respect, bloggers can continue to enjoy their diluted celebrity with the help of responsible agencies.
"Furious frustrated businessman" image via Shutterstock.