Apparently it's that time again when bloggers of all stripes decide to ever so gently remind those of us in the public relations profession that perhaps our outreach tactics are maybe just a tad impersonal.
Yes, I've written about this before - I've apologized on behalf of corporate America and I've even suggested that we just stop pitching bloggers because we look like idiots. And there are a very small handful of folks in this line of work who actually get it - they don't just say they get it, they actually GET IT, but sadly it's a very small group.
Plenty of stuff has been written about blogger outreach. But to be honest, it's actually pretty simple. Just remember the three R's - Respect, Relevance, and Relationships.
RESPECT. Say this out loud: A blogger is not my tool. Say it again, out loud. A blogger is not my tool. One more time, with gusto: A BLOGGER IS NOT, NOT, NOT MY TOOL.
Research from the Pew Internet Project suggests that bloggers are better educated, tend to make more money, and tend to be leaders in their communities more than the general public. They contribute to political campaigns. They join the PTA. They follow the news. They give to charity. In short, they're smart. Probably smarter than you.
So when you start your email with "hey, I stumbled upon your blog - great stuff!" they know it's a crock. They share the generic emails you send them with each other. Blogging is still a very personal medium. If you don't show the basic respect of reading the blog and being honest about why you're contacting them, you will fail. If you expect them to give you product placement on their online property without some kind of compensation - whether it's cash or something else they want - you will fail. And for Pete's sake, if you get the person's name wrong in the salutation, not only will you fail, but you should basically get out of this buisness because you're ruining it for the rest of us.
RELEVANCE. Read the blog, read the blog, read the blog, read the freakin' blog already. In the time it took you to roll your eyes after the previous sentence you could have started reading the blog you want to pitch. Don't give me garbage about how you don't have time to read all those blogs. You're reading this blog. If you have the time for this, you have the time for that.
Read the bio page. Click through the blogroll a bit. See who links to the blogger. Read the comments and see if the blogger is engaging in conversation there. Use your brain - does the product or service you're pitching have ANYTHING to do with what you've just read? Or are you asking a political blogger to attend an advertising conference? Are you asking a Jewish woman to review a book promoting the Baptist faith? Are you sending a person in Colorado news about a product launching in Arizona? (Yes, these have all actually happened.)
Further - and I've seen Susan write about this a lot - can you tell if the blogger has any passion at all for the subject you're selling? Can you answer why the blogger would care at all? If not, don't bother pitching.
RELATIONSHIPS. Most bloggers are not journalists who are trained to look at your emailed press release even if they don't know you well. They're regular folks - ok, well-educated and motivated folks - who are more likely to open the email from someone they recognize. Building relationships depends on (you guessed it) treating people with respect and reaching out with relevant material. It takes time and resources to build relationships. But if you build honest and solid relationships, you can build them with other bloggers more efficiently and effectively.
Relationships are the true currency of the blogosphere. Relationships lead to credibility within communities. And you know what else? Relationships are a big reason working in social media and online outreach is so enjoyable. You have the opportunity to reach out to people you wouldn't otherwise know. You can try to see things from someone else's perspective. You can talk with someone a world away. You can develop some knowledge in an industry sector or an important community, which only makes you more valuable to your company.
If you're an intern - and let's face it, a lot of blogger outreach gets farmed out to interns who have never done this before, which is in itself a big mistake - you should look at blogger outreach as an opportunity to meet new people and have some fun. (It sure beats pulling the daily press clips together for that company you don't care about.)
One final observation about this before I put the topic away for a while. Doing this for the past couple of years I've reached out to bloggers from a variety of disciplines, covering every topic imaginable. The bloggers that respond best to my outreach - and not surprisingly, the bloggers I enjoy working with most - have one thing in common, even with their remarkably broad range of interests.
They're all remarkably entrepreneurial.
They start online businesses with people hundreds or even thousands of miles away - people they've never physically met. They work all hours of the night, but they make sure you understand their time is valuable. They're creative, and they want to protect ownership of their ideas. They're willing to work with you when they see a benefit. They're steadfast and loyal when you show them respect and kindness. And they thrive on what they do.
It's just a hunch, but if you want to know a bit about what makes a really good blogger tick, you might want to read up on entrepreneurship and what the best entrepreneurs have in common.