Wednesday, March 17

Understanding Bloggers: Why PR Doesn't Get Them

While working with a record label on the release of a movie soundtrack that included a new single from a popular actress/artist with a loyal fan base, it only made sense to reach out to the dozens and dozens of fans who had built blogs in her honor. It made sense, especially since fans saw the star differently than most in the mainstream.

The general thinking was, as fans, who had a loyal following of more fans, they would be receptive to a relationship one step removed. However, had I adopted a common public relations practice, the tactic would have been to collect a list and pitch them, perhaps laced with all those faux personal courtesies too.

Fortunately, I already knew something that most public relations practitioners do not. Pitches are not introductions. They are pitches. And bloggers, well, they are as different as passersby who use the New York City Transit, which serves as many as 1.6 billion riders every year, or perhaps the Tokyo Metro, which serves more than 3 billion. They are all different, and most of them do not see blogging like social media experts or public relations pros do. Their motivation or combination of motivations have little to do with the motivations of public relations practitioners.

Ten Motivations Of Modern Bloggers

Media-Centric. Whether they are journalists who happen to blog or bloggers who aspire to provide content like citizen journalists, these bloggers are the most likely to be interested in a pitch. They are the most likely to consider their audience, have an interest in insider news (even if it is spun up by public relations practitioners), and be most receptive to push content provided in a new release. However, they are also the most likely to make fun of blind pitches and point out erred efforts.

Profit-Centric. They blog purely for the purpose of monetization. They generally pick and choose their subjects based on a pay rates (e.g., pay-per-post, etc.) or, sometimes, are contracted to write stories at rates that range from $25 per post to $250 per hour, depending on the blogger. They are only interested in peddling public relations content for cash.

Popularity-Centric. They are the most likely to look for every traffic tip and tactic imaginable. They are most concerned with creating the illusion that they are popular based on various measures ranging from page rank to link love. They may be interested in public relations pushed ideas if they are reasonably exclusive and they think it will inflate their numbers.

Affiliate-Centric. Whether they are serving a company or are part of an affiliate program makes little difference. The primary purpose of the blog, even if it adds value and is well read, is to market a product, service, or company. It's that simple. They are rarely interested in content unless it directly connects to their business or affiliate program.

Incentive-Centric. They like freebies, coupons, discounts, contests, product samples, and write content around the various incentives offered up regularly by public relations professionals. It's not that different from profit-centric bloggers, except cash isn't king. Gifts, praise, and follow-ups filled with gratitude will win them over.

Education-Centric. It's surprisingly rare, but there are some bloggers whose primary purpose is to educate existing students and anyone who happens to drop by and visit from time to time. Popularity and profit are secondary to education because the motivation sometimes requires them to be unpopular. The only way to connect with them is to deliver something that they think would be useful for formal or informal students.

Cause-Centric. Some bloggers are cause-centric, which doesn't necessarily mean non-profit. While some are related to altruistic causes, others' causes range from political affiliation, fan clubs, television show cancellations, and other pursuits. In the six divisions of modern media, they are the most likely to have an agenda. If the pitch supports the agenda, they may be interested.

Interest-Centric. Special interest bloggers still dominate the greater space of social media. These bloggers are simple enough to understand. They have a hobby and want to share their passion for it. It might be any number of hobbies, ranging from poetry and photography to bead work and being a mom. There is 25-75 split in whether they are interested in a pitch.

Relationship-Centric. Some bloggers are interested in developing deeper relationships with like-minded people online. Generally, traffic is less important than the friendships. Sometimes they'll develop 20 or so friends online and off. If they happen to have any popularity spikes, it's generally by accident. They are usually not interested in pitches, preferring to focus on their own personal topics while making or retaining friends along the way. They don't care about your client.

Ego-Centric. Some bloggers like the sound of their own voices, and there is nothing wrong with that. Any other measure might make them feel validated that their ideas and opinions have merit, but it doesn't really matter. True ego-centric bloggers are just as happy being misunderstood or undiscovered as much as they appreciate the occasional praise. Engage them at your own risk.

If you or your public relations firm don't understand these sometimes subtle and often mashable motivations, you have no business attempting to pitch bloggers or developing a blogger outreach program. Besides, most bloggers do not consider a pitch as being the most acceptable introduction. It basically advertises your aim to use them right from the start. It's best to avoid the pitch, anyway.

When it came to introducing the movie and soundtrack, it was a simple enough. One of the biggest questions about the film was which working title these fans might expect. The introduction was simple enough. We publicly engaged them with the answer. And, once we publicly engaged them the first time, most sought connections with us based on their terms.

The only bloggers we didn't engage were profit-centric bloggers (beyond direct paid advertising). Even with disclosure, pay-for-post arrangements are risky propositions in terms of outreach, credibility, and occasionally ethics. Otherwise, we did not discriminate based on popularity, reach, influence, or any other measure — even when one blogger successfully circumvented our relationship to secure an exclusive clip with the record label (it was the first and last time the label made that mistake).

The results were proof positive. Among some 45 films the studio intended for DVD, the film we worked on moved from last place to first place in terms of receiving more distribution outlets. And, once released, it captured higher than expected sales rankings via online stores, almost all of it driven by social media over mainstream media.

In conclusion, the takeaway is simple enough. Engage bloggers publicly on their terms because most of them will never engage public relations on the terms that those pros are used to nor do they have any interest in learning about advertising or public relations. Think win-win or no deal, without judgment on the outcome because all bloggers are different.

(Hat tip: Jason Falls for the inspiration on this subject.)

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