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Thursday, 10 January 2013

Three ways to get bloggers interested in your brand

Our colleagues and friends in the blogging community have told us that they are increasingly being contacted by brands or by blogger communities, to participate in brand marketing. Recently we were approached by a blogger who also happens to be a good friend, to offer our advice on what to do about the offers. Her dilemma was "I get dozens of these offers to feature various brands on my blog. Half of them are stuff that I am not interested in. The other half expect me to feature them for free or nearly free in return for them cross-linking to me.What should I do? I don't see clearly what I gain in this. And I blog about things I love and which interest me. Won't I lose my reputation by blogging arbitrarily about brands even if they don't match with what I think and feel? My readers come first for me."

We think her words echo the dilemmas of most bloggers very well. 

In the standard classification of digital media, we distinguish between owned media (your own company website, blog or social media platform), paid media (ads or SEO) and earned media (blogs, consumer driven forums and social media). It is significant to note that blogs are classified as 'earned media', meaning that it cannot be 'acquired' as a medium. In that sense, the term paid blogging is a misnomer. 

When you look at approaching bloggers to feature your brand, it is good to keep certain things in mind:

1) Bloggers have to be passionate about you, or at least interested in you, to write about you.

Blogging is time consuming. It's sustainable only if you have a passion that is strong enough. Those of us who have started and abandoned blogs in the past, can testify to that. Therefore, it stands to reason that a blogger has to feel passionately about your brand, product or service, to write about it. How to find these people?

Maybe you need to first search among your customers. Among your online customer base, do you have bloggers? They are going to be much more likely to write about you in earned media if they are happy. Are there people who have spontaneously written to you expressing their happiness with your brand or service? Hunt for them on Google. Know and own the customers who are already passionate about you.

Failing this, try to see how you can make yourself interesting to a potential blogger. Your brand concept or idea may not be intrinsically interesting to him or her. A great way to approach them is to spark their curiosity or interest. Introduce yourself, not with an email about your brand, but with a gift hamper of your products. Offer a free trial of your services. Hop across and meet them, take them out for a meal or cup of coffee and talk to them. Take a chance to reach out and see if they like you and what you offer. IThey may not want money or fame to mention you. They  will do it because they like you, and that should be the ultimate goal of being featured in a blog. Bloggers don't sell your brand by just writing about it, they sell it by being passionate about it, or sold on it.

2) Approach the blogger as an individual, don't approach blogs as a medium

A blog is written by an individual, and all individuals/ blogs are different and unique. While you may aspire to be featured on multiple blogs, ask whether it is really necessary, or feasible. Quality is the key in earned media, not quantity. Equally, this means that the blogger with the biggest following may not be the best fit with your brand. Instead, look at the influence of the blogger, which is not measured purely in reach and readership, but  by the topics he/she is considered an expert on. To find this out, go through posts on that blog over time, and the comments. What questions are commenters asking, what posts are most popular? This will help you to identify not only which blogger is influential, but also what is the best way they can feature you.

When you contact and interact with a blogger, treat him or her like a VVIP customer, rather than a person you want to have a business transaction with. Building this relationship is critical. Do not just send an email, which reads 'Dear So and So, fantastic blog, can you feature me?'. Several bloggers we have spoken to are irritated by such emails, or have no clarity on what to do next.

3) Be open to different ways that the blogger can promote you, and see how it can be mutually beneficial

The golden pot at the end of the blogger rainbow is that the blogger writes a post about you, and it does not appear like a paid endorsement. Unfortunately, this may not happen always. Be open and flexible to explore different options, always making sure that the blogger is compensated in a way that he/she is happy about the transaction. 

Paid blogging is a new phenomenon in India and we do not have  any benchmark of how much a marketer should pay a blogger, or whether the compensation should be in cash or kind. One thing is clear, marketers need to be flexible in this discussion and need to use common sense. If you offer Rs.1000 as a fee per blog post, the blogger may rightly feel insulted. Don't rush to fix a value or price for 'buying blog space' - instead spend time to mutually agree on the cost. The cost need not be monetary, but you might have something that the blogger values. Try and find out what it is.

If a full post about your brand is not working out, try asking the blogger to hold a contest or giveaway of your products. This will draw traffic and comments both of which are important for the blog owner. Otherwise, pay a small sum to be featured as a sponsor, and ask the blogger to feature a post acknowledging 'sponsorship of this week's feed'. This is useful for a cash-strapped writer and does not compromise his or her credibility. Offer a blog exclusive like a discount coupon code as a sponsor. Or work out a system of earned compensation where X clickthroughs from a link or ad on the blog will earn money for the blogger. 

A blogger who cannot feature you on their blog, may still be willing to give a shout-out to the brand on Twitter or Facebook. Explore all these options during the dialogue.

It may be a long journey to get featured on a blog, but if you find the right fit between blogger and brand, and kindle that spark of interest in a blogger, it can be deeply rewarding.