Does Blogger Outreach Still Work?

In early 2007, the Council of Public Relations Firms (CPRF) and APCO Worldwide partnered to learn more about interactions and relationships between public relations (PR) professionals and bloggers. Findings showed that PR professionals who understood blogger “culture” were having more success in communicating in this online channel than those who do not.

In the study, bloggers cautioned PR professionals that traditional outreach methods would not be effective with them; they were adamant that a smart, well-researched approach would work best. The study goes on to say that “most bloggers tend to write about subjects they are passionate about. And most of the time, the product (blog) is wholly owned by them. Therefore, their blog and the subject matter are extremely personal endeavors.”

I haven’t seen a more recent study of a similar type to show what has changed, but as someone who engages both in blogger outreach with my company and blogging, I feel that the landscape has fundamentally shifted.

I’ve noticed a significant decrease, year over year, in how responsive bloggers are — or more accurately, are not — even to individualized, customized and thoughtful outreach. In 2007, response rates were between 20-25 percent positive (the percentage of bloggers who published information provided to them or responding to our outreach). Toward the end of 2009, I began to see a marked drop-off of in acknowledgments from bloggers, much less actual published responses to email outreach. In my company’s experience, we’ve found the response rate to decrease to less than 10 percent, even less than five percent in some cases. This poor response rate is even despite the fact that our relationships with individual bloggers have strengthened over the years.

The decrease in blogger outreach effectiveness can be attributed to a myriad of factors including

  1. The recent FTC rulings on marketing firms and blogs
  2. A glut of PR requests to bloggers, so most no longer get opened
  3. The realization by many bloggers that they now hold an increasing degree of power and influence in terms of information distribution, so they are becoming more selective
  4. The fact that many bloggers are still not businesspeople, and don’t even look to PR as a source of fodder for their blogs
  5. A continued misunderstanding about blogging culture and what bloggers need or want by marketers
  6. There’s a misconception that all bloggers want to be approached by PR reps or to receive press releases, so firms keep throwing stuff out there to see what sticks
  7. The fact that not everyone who blogs is open to blogging about things other than their own lives or work, especially products they don’t actually use.

Putting On My Blogger Hat

As a professional blogger as well as a personal blogger, I find myself drowning in pitches from PR firms. On the personal side, I find that unless they use the correct email to pitch me and keep the pitches very short, to the point, and on target with my blog topics, I pretty much ignore the emails. I simply don’t have the bandwidth. Plus, my personal blogs aren’t really commercial endeavors.

On the professional side, I look for a prominent mention of the blog they’re pitching me for (such as WebWorkerDaily); exactly what they are pitching (a new application to help web workers do something better, for example); and how familiar they are with what I write. There is nothing more effective in pitches to me than one with a highly targeted phrase like “I noticed your blog post about RSS feeds last week and wanted to let you know about my client’s new app that would really benefit web workers by helping manage their feeds.” Bingo!

I can’t say that I read every email pitched to me — it is just not humanly possible. I can say that the PR people who politely but regularly nudge me several times to gauge my interest in their pitch have gotten a lot farther with me than the ones who threw a pitch at me like spaghetti to a wall. Kindness and consideration along with persistence wins the ink. Getting annoyed that I haven’t responded, or that I’ve had to switch a demo call at the last minute isn’t going to win any brownie points. We’re all just people trying to make a living, and we all have a life.

The other thing I find incredibly effective in terms of pitching me on behalf of a client is not only the thoughtfully targeted pitch but regular pitches that can provide me with ideas for new blog posts. I look forward to those emails and count the PR people who help to make my professional blogging life just a little bit easier as important contacts. That’s the power of relationships. You care, I care, we work together, everyone wins.

Alternative Ways of Engaging Bloggers

Because of the decrease in effectiveness of blogger outreach carried out in the manner of traditional media outreach, there needs to be alternative ways to engage bloggers to help produce valuable and educational content for our clients; build greater awareness of client brands; and have a measurable impact in the blogosphere. Some of these tactics include:

  1. Blog panels. Select bloggers who are knowledgeable in a given area to provide guidance on a company or organization’s blog editorial calendar that can be syndicated on their own blogs in a coordinated fashion. This is a more credible and effective tactic when the participation is a voluntary and non-compensated position; however, there must be a mutual exchange of value and all value exchange must be disclosed.
  2. Blogger pools. Select bloggers who can be guest authors of a company or organization’s blog by identifying a pool of qualified, expert and diverse bloggers who can contribute content – with or without compensation – for the exposure. Again, if compensation is involved, it must be disclosed.
  3. Blog sponsorship. Identify key blogs and bloggers reaching the “right” audience and offering to pay them to sponsor content that meets particular guidelines. For the bloggers who are in the business of blogging, this can be a more attractive relationship, and both parties must make sure a paid sponsorship is properly and prominently labeled as such.

As the blogging landscape continues to change, it is important for us to engage bloggers in the conversations about best practices in blogger outreach and continue to build more meaningful relationships with bloggers similar to the way we’ve cultivated relationships with the media but realizing the differences. If I feel we have a strong base of blogger relationships in a given industry or area, I may recommend blogger outreach to a client in the future. However, building a targeted blogger list from scratch without relationships solidly in place is proving to be a less effective and more expensive endeavor than it was three years ago.

Do you engage in blogger outreach? Or are you a blogger being approached by marketing types? What are your thoughts on the topic of blogger outreach as an online marketing tactic?

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