On 29 June a bunch of PR people and food bloggers got together to discuss blogger relations in response to some recent and very public PR stuff ups involving food bloggers and journos. At the meet up, a panel discussion was held with Helen from Grab Your Fork, Reem from I Am Obsessed with Food and Ed from Tomato.
- continue to blindly send corporate press releases to bloggers
- are failing to read the blogs and truly understand their target bloggers’ communities
- seem to expect bloggers to post corporate material, demonstrating a lack of understanding of the medium and the very reason why bloggers blog
- treat bloggers as they would journalists – not as influencers which is more appropriate
Based on my conversations with Helen, Reem and Ed and from the discussion on the night, I’ve put together some tips on blogger relations for PR people.
- Question if blogger relations is appropriate. It might seem like a good idea at the time (you know, tag blogger outreach onto the back of your traditional publicity efforts to increase exposure – after all it’s a cheap way to generate some online buzz and impress your clients on how PR 2.0 savvy you are), however blogger outreach shouldn’t just be done because it looks like it can be done quickly, cheaply and easily. Any PR activity must help to achieve overall objectives.
- Understand the medium. A blog is essentially an online diary of someone’s experiences. Blogging is a very personal endeavour, mostly undertaken in personal time. The point of blogging is to have an opinion about something, share it and engage in two-way dialogue with other bloggers and readers. Bloggers are driven by their own instincts and interests, they are not necessarily into the PR or media agenda and they are not mouthpieces for PR messages who can be easily bought.
- Realise that bloggers don’t need PR people. Text100’s report highlighted that most bloggers get information from other bloggers or RSS feeds. In addition, bloggers usually have a backlog of content they’d like to post so they don’t need PR people to provide content or news; they have done well enough without us for the last few years.
- Understand a blogger’s needs. Interesting, valuable, remarkable content or experiences are important to bloggers; in this regard they are like traditional media. Bloggers also consider what their readers would like to hear about. In addition, having time to post is a factor when it comes to blogging or not and for food bloggers in particular, having great pics is a necessity for a post.
- Do your research. Take time to thoroughly look at and learn about the bloggers you wish to contact because they are not homogenous; they all have different interests, motivations and approaches. Read the blogger’s ‘about’ page, read the ‘archives’ and use the ‘search’ function. Learn what their interests are, how often and when they post – really get to know them and what they’re about.
- Realise you can’t control bloggers. Bloggers are entitled to blog as they see fit and they are without external constraints (editors, stakeholders etc). Just because you provide a product or experience and a blogger accepted it, it doesn’t mean they will write about it and it doesn’t mean they will write positively about it. Many bloggers feel uncomfortable with the sense of obligation implied or otherwise by accepting things, when it comes to being approached by PR people.
- Realise you can’t control the message. In an industry built on managing or moulding messages, relinquishing control is often uncomfortable. In some areas of PR and for some clients, having negative comments in the public sphere can be a bit of an affront. Know that while bloggers will make corrections to errors it is inappropriate to request that negative posts or comments be removed. As Mel from Fooderati said “you can’t ‘un-have’ an experience” so why would a blogger remove a post they have written? As a PR, you can certainly respond and seek to rectify any issues but don’t expect posts or comments to be removed.
- Take a personal approach. Do not send blanket ‘dear blogger’ or <insert name> emails and expect to get a reply. When approaching bloggers, make a personal introduction – you’re trying to build a relationship after all – and don’t hard sell or waste people’s time with lame PR ideas. In addition, realise that some bloggers welcome PR contact but others don’t. If a blogger hasn’t included their contact details on their blog, this would imply they do not wish to be contacted, so respect this.
- Invest the time and best resources to do the job right. Constructing personal pitches and building relationships takes time and as Ed commented “intelligent targeting is labour intensive.” Blogger relations requires time and competent, sensible, personable PR people. If it’s a job given to junior staff, they will need a thorough understanding of the medium and the best way to approach bloggers.
- Always explain and disclose. Saying “I do the PR for so and so” doesn’t mean much to someone who doesn’t know what PR is in the first place. Go to the effort to explain who you are, what you’re doing, who the client is, how you see bloggers fitting into the picture; whatever you think will help the blogger understand why you have contacted them. Always disclose and expect that if you provide something to a blogger, they will publicly disclose too.
- Think about what you’re offering. Bloggers like to link to other blogs and many readers will read multiple blogs under the one area or topic. It can be pretty boring if everyone is writing about Barry’s Biscuits in the one week, so think about what you’re offering and how you can offer something unique to each blogger. Bloggers also want to be able to distinguish themselves from other bloggers.
- Think about the content you’re providing. Many suggest that content for bloggers should be more conversational, should avoid corporate speak, and should be more web friendly. Reem however made the point that bloggers are mostly all professionals so they’re familiar with corporate speak and don’t mind press releases. In any regard, clear, concise information is best and sharable, condensed, web friendly content is recommended.
- Be careful who you offer freebies or payment to. Some bloggers will not accept any freebies because they feel it compromises their credibility. It comes down to a personal choice so be mindful of this when approaching people. In addition, it’s not appropriate to offer payment to bloggers. While this does happen, in the States for example, and while you could probably find a ‘pay for post’ blogger somewhere, it’s certainly not considered appropriate or ethical.
- Follow up with manners not expectations. A great way to follow up with a blogger is: “is this of interest to you” not “when do you think you’ll write about this.” As noted above, bloggers are not obliged to write about your product or service, so don’t assume this. In addition, if a blogger has written a post on your client, sending a thank you email never goes astray.
- Understand that bloggers talk. Food bloggers in particular are a large, tight knit community of people who regularly socialise together, link to each other’s blogs and talk all day (and night) on Twitter. Know that if you spam them, are rude or inappropriate, or make unreasonable demands, they will all talk about you and your PR agency (within a matter of minutes) and it’s likely that your email will be circulated and possibly even published online. Public naming and shaming has happened before.
That’s all for now. I hope I’ve done the topic justice and I would love to hear feedback on these tips. If you have any additional points, let me know.
Here are some additional blog posts you might like to check out:
- Last Appetite: 4 tips for food blog PR
- Not Quite Nigella: 10 things you should know about food bloggers
- Time Out London: When are food bloggers just meal blaggers?
- The Guardian: Food bloggers and PRs to meet
- The Guardian: When the food bloggers met the PRs
Last but not least, thanks to everyone who came along on the night and thanks to Helen, Reem, Ed, Restaurant Arras and Glen Frost for the photos.
Posted by Renee Creer. Photos by Glen Frost, Frocomm