I participated in a Webinar audio conference on June 26, 2007 called The Inside Scoop on Blogger Relations which was sponsored by Vocus. The conference was moderated by Jiyan Wei, Manager of Social Media Strategy at Vocus and the other panelist was Susan Getgood, blogger and founder of GetGood Strategic Marketing, Inc.
You can listen to the replay of the conference here. A review of the event was posted by PR Couture "Fashion PR's Haute Spot".
We ended up having way more questions submitted by attendees than we were able to answer, so Jiyan, Susan and I divided up the questions we didn't get to and we answered them in writing. Since this was a group effort by the three of us, you won't know who answered which question. (But perhaps alert readers of this blog can guess at some of the ones that I answewred...)
It is interesting for me to reflect on the answers from the three of us here. I wouldn't have answered all of the questions in the same way that my colleagues did. But I can learn from the slightly different perspectives they bring. That's what cool about this blogging thing. Nobody knows all the answers and we can learn from one another.
Q: Can I raise my profile on Google's first page by posting comments on blogs appropriate to my industry?
A: You’d have to ask Google this one. I suppose if your name is linked to your blog or Web site, it might be considered a link by Google’s algorithm, but instinctively I doubt it. But forget about Google for a minute. The more important answer is that you can raise your profile in your industry by commenting on blogs, full stop. That's really the goal, isn't it?
Q: What would you say are the benefits for state agencies in establishing and using their own blog?
A: Humanizing the organization and reaching out to your constituents. Finding out what’s on their minds. Dealing with negative perceptions and complaints before they have a chance to build up steam. The IBM Center for the Business of Government recently commissioned a report called The Blogging Revolution: Government in the Age of Web 2.0, which would be a great resource for you.
Q: For those of us working in an industry where we're not necessarily looking at customers who have blogs, but rather "influentials" and reporters, what outreach tactics tend to work best with these folks?
A: It's really the same recipe. Good blogger relations practice is not that different from good public relations practice. The goal is to tell interesting, relevant stories to people who care about what you have to say. Keep in mind, that customer doesn’t have to mean the actual user of the product. It could also be someone who influences the purchase, whether it is a purchasing agent at a company buying office supplies or a mother buying disposable diapers and baby food.
Do your homework on the bloggers, reach out with a relevant, interesting story and give first. Keep "WIIFM" front and center in your plans – tell the blogger what's in it for them in your story.
Q: What advice do you have for nonprofits?
A: Start a blog. Yesterday if you can. Non-profits depend on the largesse of their constituents – both as donors and volunteers. A blog is a great way to talk with them about the issues you mutually care about. And give them some airtime – write often about your volunteers. Ask them to be guest bloggers.
Q: How can an agency person find the time – and the budget – to daily monitor 20-30 blogs for each of five different clients?
A: If your customers are blogging, whether on their own blogs or commenting on others, you have to monitor blogs. It is no different than reading the papers every day. You have to be where the conversation is.
Set up keyword tracking like Google Alerts and Technorati Watchlists, and use those to monitor the blogosphere for mentions of your company, competitors’ hot issues and so forth. If you have the budget, you can engage a measurement firm and they'll give you all sorts of extra analysis, some of which will be useful.
For the 20-30 top blogs in each space, skim and read stuff that interests you, but don't feel you have to read every blog every day. Do make sure you read more comprehensively just before you launch an outreach, so you don't make the mistake of an inappropriate outreach. If someone blogs on Monday that a good friend is seriously ill, the last thing you want to do is send a cheery email about your new product. It would be like walking up to someone at a funeral and handing them a product sample.
Q: What is the best way to get in contact with a blogger who does not offer up any contact information, such as an email address? Is it best to comment on a post and try to develop a relationship that way?
A: Most bloggers do publish an email address of some sort – if not their main one, a gmail or yahoo address. And if they don’t have any info, absolutely comment on a relevant post or two; show that you want to talk. But if they don’t engage, don’t stress too much about it. If the blogger is truly, really very important to success for you, focus on establishing relationships with some of the bloggers that he reads such as the ones on his blogroll. Over time you might find the blogger approaching you.
Q: But do bloggers want to hear from corporate media professionals? I understand the importance of being "transparent", but once you identify yourself as a public relations professional, how credible is your point of view to these bloggers?
A: You are a person. If you answer questions thoughtfully and without all the usual PR gobbledygook, then you will be taken seriously. If someone asks what your company does in a forum or blog comment section and you say "We provide flexible, scalable solutions for improving mission critical business process using cutting edge technology" you will be laughed out of town and have no respect. If you say "we make routers" then maybe you will be listened to.
Q: Many clients ask for financial 'metrics' to determine the ROI on PR dollars spent. In traditional media you can calculate circulation numbers. How do you provide tracking / ROI for blogging outreach?
A: Clip books and other traditional PR metrics don't matter. What matters is achieving business goals like launching a new product and selling 200 units in the first two months or increasing sales by 20% in Canada. Blog outreach can help to achieve those goals. You can measure how many bloggers write about you today and set a goal for the future and measure that. If you have your own blog, you can measure comments, links and subscribers.
Q: What do you recommend if a blogger attacks you -- especially if the attack contains information that is wrong, untrue, libelous etc?
A: Respond immediately. Do not wait. Try emailing the blogger first or perhaps posting a comment. Don't try to pick a fight, instead deliver the facts. You can also reach out to friendly bloggers who may post on their blog supporting you. But the most important thing is do not wait. Do not "sit on it overnight".
Q: If you build a blog, how do you get them to come?
A: It takes time to build an audience for your blog. When you’re just getting started, make sure people know it is there and can find it! Create links to your blog from your home page, product pages or online media room. Mention your blog in your e-mail or offline newsletters, and create links to your blog as part of your e-mail signature and those of other people in your organization. Commenting on other people’s blogs (and including a link to your blog) is a good way to build an audience. If you comment (and trackback) to blogs in the same space as yours, you might be surprised at how quickly you will get visitors to your new blog.
Q: Is it a good idea to send an email to a blogger who you've cited in your own blog just letting them know that they appear in your blog that day? Does this rudely imply that you want them to reciprocate?
A: Nearly all bloggers monitor the links they get or the people who blog using their name. So they are likely to see it anyway. It is OK to email, but you should try to add something that you didn't say in the post. "I like your blog." or "I had been thinking about writing a post pointing to your blog for a while, but I finally figured out an angle."
Q: At some point, can you please discuss when / whether a company – say a meat-processing plant – should blog, and how?
A: One of the truly amazing things that happens with Internet communications is a broadening of the scope of topics that are up for discussion. This theme is explored in Chris Anderson's 'The Long Tail,' which is a great read. At any rate, I would suggest following the first golden rule of blogger relations – do your research and study the terrain. See who is blogging about your industry or your area of interest, and what sort of feedback they are getting. Chances are, there is an audience for people interested in the meat industry and, provided you are willing to put forth a dedicated effort online, there will be benefits to launching a blog.
Q: How do you balance being honest with protecting business proprietary information with bloggers?
A: I don't think honesty and protecting proprietary information are two mutually exclusive things. Honesty is about being open with regard to who you are and what it is that you are saying. I would never recommend publicizing proprietary information that you wouldn't feel comfortable sharing with a journalist or the general public.
Bloggers understand that a company can't release proprietary or confidential information on a Web site or a blog. They just want to be treated with honesty and respect. Disclose your interests and tell the truth.
Q: What do you say to a client when they get a spike in hit to their site due to blog PR efforts, and they still make no sales?
A: I think you could look at this a number of ways: First, I would be interested in reviewing the interactive marketing efforts – is the Web site optimized for conversions? Can people be easily bought into the purchasing cycle? If a blog is generating a great deal of traffic into a Web site, then I would say it is accomplishing something substantial. It should be the role of the Web site to educate potential customers on the products and how best to purchase.
Another possibility is that the value proposition isn’t being carried through. The readers come to the site expecting something from what they read on the blogs, and they didn’t find it.
Q: Does Vocus PR Workflow offer support for tracking and communicating with bloggers on a regular basis outside of the press release process such as has been described here? Or is it back to the goldmine... in other words how much CRM capability does Vocus offer in this regard?
A: Yes, with Vocus PR you can track your communications and interactions with bloggers just as you would track your communications and interactions with any journalist.