June 27, 2012

Blogger outreach is earned media not paid, right?

Chris AbrahamMy definition of blogger outreach has always been about acquiring earned media coverage from bloggers and online influencers.

My definition–and my assumption–has always been that blogger outreach is public relations and not paid media. I may well be mistaken.

Earned media (or free media) refers to favorable publicity gained through promotional efforts other than advertising, as opposed to paid media, which refers to publicity gained through advertising. Earned media often refers specifically to publicity gained through editorial influence, whereas social media refers to publicity gained through grassroots action, particularly on the Internet. The media may include any mass media outlets, such as newspaper, television, radio, and the Internet, and may include a variety of formats, such as news articles or shows, letters to the editor, editorials, and polls on television and the Internet.” (Wikipedia)

I recently had a Twitter chat with Serena Ehrlich, Director of Marketing for Mogreet during which we discussed the fine points of blogger outreach.

We agreed on everything except on whether blogger outreach was pay-per-post or earned, what bloggers wanted from a marketing pitch.

To quote @Serena, “Just smile, pay and disclose,” in response to my post, “don’t roll your eyes at social media influencers.”

I quickly responded, “Funny. I am an “earned media” social media marketer. There’s never “pay” so much as “gift” which is generally access, info, news,” and Serena asked, “do you find them moving towards pay? All blog conference preach payment (but I’m earned too so I get ur point)” and I responded “Don’t forget, most bloggers online have never been corrupted by blogger conferences :)” and, finally, “You don’t NEED to be sneaky in social media. You cannot CONTROL the conversation and you had better be as open as humanly possible.”

And that’s really the reason why people prefer the blogs and bloggers that offer predictable and controllable paid-content. Because you can control them by virtue of contracting with them over currency and sponsorship.

That comforts many but it lacks a number of important things, the most important of which is penetrating deeper into the conversation online, engaging with the newest talent–bloggers who have never been kissed or who have been blogging and sharing with their small circle of compadres in perceived invisibility (“what am I even doing this for, didn’t I start doing this so that I could get free review swag from Brooks, Nike, Saucony, and Mizuno?”) and in utter desperation (“I don’t have the time for doing this any more–I should be running about running instead of writing about running”).

What my version of long-tail blogger outreach offers is the ability to efficiently get deeper into the conversation, move further down the list of bloggers, into a social media conversation that’s a hell of a lot more like the blogosphere circa 2006: a cloud of conversations, reviews, insights, editorials, and exposures that reflect something and someone a lot more in touch with what they believe rather than the political and commercial give and take associated with the slick, safe, produced, and programmed world of mainstream media.

In my experience, bloggers want content that’s fresh, relevant, and germane to their topic of interest or expertise; they also want to be associated with something cool or flattering: a brand they like, a company they respect, or a product they have always loved, have been interested in trying, or have never heard of (or have yet to be released).

Being offered exclusive content, getting to be first kid on the block for something, or having the bragging associated with being identified, tapped, and invited, openly, into the fold of a worthwhile organization.

If you need to pay a blogger a posting or linking fee in order to get them to write about you, your social media agency is not doing their job; in fact, they’re just spending your money and they’re getting easy and safe posts but they’re certainly not doing right by you when it comes to identifying, engaging, and building a true relationship with the taste-makers and influencers in your space.

And, because you don’t have to earn their coverage based on the merits of the pitch, it calls into question the quality of the gift.

First, let me define “gift:” a gift is anything that a blogger considered valuable or germane to their news cycle. It could be exclusive content, it could be unique access to a person or technology, it could be the generous use or advance access to a product or service with the express intent of giving them time to experience, review, and critique it to share it with their readers.

It can even include exclusive blogger access to giveaways, discounts, membership, or coupons for the blogger’s readers.

But no, apparently every single blogger who has ever been to a blogging conference has been convinced–conned–into holding their posts ransom to a fee card. I mean, I see it all the time: folks who respond to any query with a fee sheet, be it their price for a “sponsored” post or even for just a keyword link.

I can understand offering me a price list for advertising space in the form of a banner or sponsorship credit, but these bloggers, who I will not name, are impenetrable when it comes to working on building a relationship, on becoming a preferred news channel, or even taking the audition towards becoming an official permanent member of one or more communications programs. This is a pity.

Why is this a pity? Well, most of the true A-list bloggers do not put such a mercenary barrier between companies, organizations, and brands–which is how they became A-list bloggers–by being likeable, accessible, having character, being popular, and having integrity.

The entire culture of the blog is supposed to be more authentic, more honest, and less under the thumb–and in the pocket–of the products and services about which they write. Right?

Long-story-short is that my long-tail strategy for blogger outreach, influenced heavily by the Cluetrain Manifesto, digs much deeper than just the top-50 or even to top-600 bloggers; in fact, my strategy doesn’t care anything at all about Klout, Compete, Google PR, or even page views or age of site. The only thing my strategy cares about is whether they’re topically-, linguistically-, and geographically-appropriate, targeted, and viable.

When you have a list of 1,000-9,000 viable and germane blogs for any particular campaign, you can readily dismiss anyone and everyone with a hand out and spend more attention grooming, encouraging, and rewarding those bloggers who are interested in being part of an interesting campaign, and innovative product, a special appeal, a new opportunity, or hot (exclusive) news.

At the end of the day, I will certainly collect a spreadsheet of all the folks with their hat in their hand, asking for payola for a positive post or a pre-written link through (they’re explicit that the link is a follow-me Google link-juicy link and not the hated “nofollow” blockade).

I will deliver that spreadsheet to the paid content and paid advertising folks–if they exist or are interested–along with their price sheets and offers. But when most of my colleagues and I, in our sundry agencies and associations, are hired to engage in blogger outreaches, our tasks are very similar to the tasks associated with traditional PR: connect with journalists and see if they’ll be willing to cover you.

These campaigns don’t have a discretionary bribery fund. We’re lucky if we even have the kinds of endless review copies that we want to circulate to all interested parties.

Our mission requires that we simply thank the folks who get back to us with their rate sheets and their requests for links and sponsorship, put them aside, and move on to build a connection, a conversation, and a relationship with all the other bloggers who are willing to enter into a conversation–a negotiation, if you will–first, before you shut me down before I even have a chance to make my appeal or to reach a mutually-beneficial agreement.

What I had to say, in appreciation, is that my team and I don’t need to waste a lot of time–these bloggers surely do get to the point right away. There’s not a lot of resource-intensive back and forth: it’s very clear what you’re getting.

But it comes right back down to what I thought blogger outreach and blogger engagement was: earned media public relations campaign wherein you pitch bloggers cum citizen journalists and they decide whether or not what’s in it for them or their readers is consistent with the quality of news, offer, or “gift” that my team and I are willing to give.

And I don’t even know what is valuable anymore, really. I understand the desire for revenue and the desire to not be taken advantage of by big brands (with deep pockets, assumedly) who should really be willing to put up or shut up. Fair enough, but there’s a lot of opportunity and future associations that are dismissed out of hand as a result.

What these brands, associations, nonprofits, companies, and their associated advertising, marketing, and PR companies want is earned media even though they could very well afford the $150 link fee or the $250 sponsorship in any single blogger’s rate sheet; they could probably afford a thousand of those, presumably.

The reason they come to Social-Ally or an agency like mine is because what they get for that money up front is PR garbage. They’ve all been through IZEA, they’ve all been through the SEO link-buying frenzy, and they’ve all bought sponsorship and ads just about everywhere.

What they haven’t found is authentic journalism from someone who is not paid for nice things; someone who has the integrity and character to offer balanced, quality, reviews and insights, be they good or not so good, consistently and over time–and these folks, the folks that my clients are looking for when they look for blogger outreach are not the folks who sound like car-salesmen or infomercial pitchmen when they write a client-friendly (or even client-doting) sponsored post, they want someone who is really passionate for Mizuno running shoes for example or has had a relative build a Habitat for Humanity house of has hosted a child during the summer for the Fresh Air Fund.

They’re looking for taste-makers, of course; they’re also looking for brand ambassadors; they’re looking to get married rather then just getting lucky; and they’re hoping that the enthusiasm of being associated with a real PR campaign from a recognized brand is enough (for now).

And, what they’re really hoping–all except a very few clients (and those are really just in it for the links, I’ll be honest–is that that boundless pride and excitement really translates into an irresistible, passion-infused, post that no longer ever happen in mainstream media.

They’re not looking for neutrality or objectivity–they’re happy with fanboys, fanbois, and bona fide enthusiast-obsessive, but they’re more excited that the end-result is organic, hearth-felt, and extemporaneous–what each earned media blogger wants so say rather than saying what he or she thinks we want to hear (which, like I said before, almost always sounds like the forced song-and-dance of a veteran used car dealer).

Anyway, there are loads of mommy bloggers, sports bloggers, gadget bloggers, tech bloggers, and sundry other topics and categories–none of whom are in their top-50–who have decided that they’re not citizen journalists but something more along the lines of the paid circulars in the paper or the “paid advertising” or “advertainment” section of most commercial magazines.

That’s fine. But because most blogger outreach campaigns are resource poor and their agencies a little lazy, the experience of most blogger outreach campaigns don’t go very far down the list of bloggers–or are restricted to just a certain class, PageRank, Klout, or Compete score, all they ever get is a load of jaded mercenary bloggers who readily hold their posting ransom, posting–or dropping links–only for the highest bidder.

The reason is simple: most brands are not national or global enough to command the attention of the real top bloggers. These bloggers have mostly maintained a semblance of journalistic and community integrity–being honest and open in their review, coverage, or sharing; however, they also have a strong level of discernment as to what they will cover, when they will cover it, and what sort of terms their article or post will follow (first right of refusal or first post or an ability to leak before an official announcement, etc).

TechCrunch will only cover your startup if you’re willing to reveal financials to them in a big way; Om only covers it if he things is personally cool; etc.

I am not saying that these top guys are saints. There is a lot of money going on. There is a lot of access. There are a lot of business class tickets and flights to corporate headquarters being offered, but none of these things (should) effect the quality and comprehensiveness of the copy, be it a review or announcement or just the editorial commentary.

Below them, there are the folks who have been able to accrue the correct metrics–the semi-pros or the advanced amateurs. To them, their “blogs” have become businesses, which is cool enough, I get it; however, they’re exclusively pay-to-play.

They’ve sold their souls to the real market of the Internet these days: keyword phrase links designed to transfer Google juice from a blogger’s blog directly to a company’s site, product, service–or to deposit an affiliate link into an advertorial review designed to drive a direct sales funnel to a commissioned sale.

These strategies are part of my previously-mentioned social media robot armies and zombie hordes: link-farming, affiliate marketing, and inbound marketing.

That’s all well and good but it is not blogger outreach. And if it is, maybe we need to rename blogger outreach to blogger relations instead. Or, rather, I think we need to make sure that we call these payola blogger outreach what they really are: inbound marketing campaigns with a blogger component.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what we at Social Ally call it, it’s what you hear (thanks, Frank Luntz). Let me ask you: what do you think of when you think of a blogger outreach campaign?

Do you think of earned media first–traditional PR mapped to bloggers–or do you think of blogger outreach as a way of identifying bloggers who would be amenable to sponsorship, paid posts, or bough links? Or, both?

I really like to know how that phrase is used circa 2012 instead of 2006, when I started Abraham Harrison, RIP, and if I should even be using blogger outreach to represent earned media blogger relations campaigns on the Social Ally website. I would love to hear your feedback in the comments.Chris Abraham is a partner in Socialmedia.biz. Contact Chris via email, follow him on Twitter and Google Plus or leave a comment below.

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8 thoughts on “Blogger outreach is earned media not paid, right?

  1. Thanks Chris! Yes, there are a few of us that are not for sale. Not trying to be for sale, just trying to give a voice to those that do not have one. While our voices may not be big enough to buy, they do matter and they do reach people. So thank you for acknowledging us, we are making a difference…quietly….just the way we like it.

  2. Although traditional PR contacted Journalists who are paid salaries CAN be compared to those to bloggers for major blogs that are also paid, that is a totally different business model than a small blog. Then or now, though, only the very naive can truly believe advertising dollars do not determine media coverage – not only amount but what is – and more importantly – IS NOT – written about a brand.

    You are arguing that YOU should be paid for your work coordinating blog outreach, but that bloggers should want to work for you for free for what? The prestige? Because they love the big brand that is rolling in profit who would prefer not to pay anyone fairly – not their employees nor their suppliers?

    These companies want to argue they deserve “earned” media coverage when what they are really doing is BUYING that awareness by paying PR agencies to go out and sell it for them. They aren't earning it by some good deed or being awesome – they are spending money to get a PR agency to talk bloggers into working for free on their behalf.

    In my experience there are NOT thousands of exceptional blogs in ANY niche. The few bloggers who have high integrity, write well, have something worth reading to say, who have the audience you wish to reach, and know how to use social media DESERVE to be compensated for their time.

    Yes, they need to produce quality content but it doesn't have to be about what YOU want so if you want them to dedicate their time to really understanding a company's products and services that company should be willing to compensate those bloggers who have great interest in what they offer for their time.

  3. I like to think that when I approach a blogger for an article, which I am happy to provide, it gives their blog more gravitas in terms of content (which Google wants right?)

    Bloggers caught wind that companies were buying up links like crazy and this is most likely where it all started. Now everyone thinks their blog (either established or not) feels they can charge $150 per post, its crazy.

    Anyway I really liked the article as its something I have been thinking about for a while now.

  4. Hmm. To pay or not to pay, that is the question. Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune, Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles.
    As we know, SEO’s have been getting away with paid links for years until Google decided to reign havoc, and let slip the furry animals of war to penalise site owners for doing so. However, if Google state they don’t like paid links and as such will devalue them, where do we draw the line between paid links and paid blog posts? Will paying for blog posts ultimately become part of the Google SLAP? Well it’s turned in to more of a full on assault than a mere slap.
    If we are to work within Google guidelines we need to build relationships with people in order to provide valuable content but I fear that blogger outreach will inevitably become yet another devalued resource as more and more bloggers begin to charge us for the pleasure of sharing our wise words of wisdom.
    Or should the proverbial shoe be cast towards the mighty Google. Surely they know that if there is money to be made from blogging then it will be made.
    I feel we are walking along the narrowest of cliffs with the big G on one side and it’s army of ancient critters and the horde of money making swines on the other.
    Perhaps dear sirs, as we walk together along this perilous path of righteousness, we will find a common ground and do the only thing that’s right and true. We will not follow the path. We will instead go where there is no path, and leave a trail for others to follow.

  5. There’s a huge, huge misunderstanding here.  Blogs are the new form of newspaper.  In order for a blogger to make a living in a World with a lot of content consuming eyeballs, the money can’t come just from ads.  Sponsored posts have to be part of the equation. If you really stop and think about it, paid journalists were the sponsored bloggers of their time the minute an editor said they had to write something positive about a person or firm because they were an advertiser. Just because the advertiser wasn’t readily visible then doesn’t mean the same relationship dynamics don’t apply.  Also, when you’re working with a daily blogger who’s blog is hooked up to a vast social network, you’re asking for a free-ride on that person’s distribution system.  One post may automatically go out to as many as 10 different platforms, or up to 30, at once – and you want that for free?  Increasingly, that’s not happening, and it should not. In the end, it’s better to have a few sponsored posts, and not just to craft a message, but to make sure it’s distributed.

  6. This is so disappointing to read. I’m not sure which bloggers you’re referring to or if this is a blanket statement to be applied to all of us, but the level of disrespect is stunning.

    I do want fresh, new content – so this is what I produce for my blog daily. I no longer accept guest posts, because I have developed a voice/tone that my readers come to expect. The time I put into tying a sponsored post into the message of my blog is valuable. Why shouldn’t I be reimbursed? When I do a product review, I take my time thinking of all aspects of a product, I ask follow up questions to the brand to ensure that I’m sharing accurate information, I write a post that will excite people about a product, I market my posts heavily, and I follow up with reading questions/comments. Why shouldn’t I be reimbursed for my time?

    As a professional blogger, I promote my blog online, locally and at blogging conferences. I maintain an updated media kit, I submit proposals to brands weekly that I think will not only benefit their products, but my site as well, and I monitor my ranking keywords daily (yes, obsessive) and my analytics weekly. I’m always learning what I can do to improve my reader experience, because this makes my blog a better home for brands and businesses. Why shouldn’t I be reimbursed?

    And blogging isn’t free! I pay for multiple domains, my hosting, FB advertising, not to mention all of my marketing materials. There are annual blogging conferences, summer dog festivals, and local marketing and sponsorship.

    When a brand or business works with a quality, professional blogger, they’re paying for brand awareness. I can’t promise sales, but if I do my job, I can plant a seed in my readers so that when they need a tough dog toy (or a friend brings it up), they’ll refer them to my blog.

    I don’t have a degree in marketing (it’s in business) or years of experience in marketing or PR (it’s in accounting), but I am a professional and I take my blogging very seriously. It’s a labor of love, but this is a business; it’s disappointing that bloggers are viewed with such disdain.