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).
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.
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.
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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.