Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Media Relations: Reaching Out to Bloggers

When I first started talking about blogging to my colleagues in back in 2003, few wanted to hear it. Most felt the blogosphere was about a bunch of geeks talking to themselves. My sessions on the topic were sparsely attended.

I kept thinking about Monster.com. Back in 1994 when I was just out of grad school, a friend told me about another friend of his who was starting this small site. I looked at it and found only tech jobs, then ignored it. I also didn’t bother to try and find a job there either, which I think was my friend's intent.

Just one bonehead move of many during the early tech days.

Flash forward to the early days of blogs. Yes, at the time it was just a bunch of techies, but it felt like Monster.com all over again.

So here I was talking up the idea of having our clients start to blog. Those of my colleagues who didn't run for cover when I started talking, dismissed the idea of starting one and only wanted to know “how do you pitch a blogger?” Media relations people are, in fact, media relations people. They pitch.

In the blogosphere that’s the wrong thing to do. We tried traditional methods and unless you want to cultivate a long-term relationship with each individual blogger, it just doesn’t work. For some, like Robert Scoble, this isn’t a bad thing. But for others, it becomes a cost-benefit analysis and in most cases, the long-term relationship gets tossed.

So, how do you get taken seriously by bloggers? The easiest answer is to jump into the pool and become a blogger yourself, but use your blog strategically and join in with other existing conversations.

For a good example of what works, let me introduce you to Buzz Bruggeman. If you’re a power blogger you know him already. Buzz is a former lawyer who runs a company named ActiveWords--I heard him speak about how his blog strategy is driving business at the Blog Business Summit in San Francisco last month. The heart of what he talked about is basic customer relations using the blog as a tool. On his own blog, he responds to all his comments, responds promptly to customer queries, but also also comments on other people's blogs.

He had two very interesting stories. In the first, he identified reporters he wanted to be in front of, then did the research to determine what blogs the reporters were reading. That enabled ActiveWords to get good reviews in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal without doing major media relations outreach. His tools in this weren’t the phone and email, but comments and links. Once he identified the key bloggers, he carefully commented on their sites and created trackbacks to his own. This wasn’t spam, but relevant additions to the conversation at hand.

He also wrote about topics on his blog that would be relevant to the blogger he was targeting to attract their eye.

This is a careful and long-term strategy, it’s not for everyone, but effective.

The "comments" and "trackbacks" help build both credibility and influence. Most of the bloggers I’ve spoken with agree that a comment on a site is personal validation. One presenter equated it to having a stall in a marketplace in which a person walks up and says hello, it's a very personal relationship. So if a client wants to get in front of a blogger, a basic suggestion is to encourage them to add relevant comments to the site. In other words: get into the conversation.

In another story Buzz relayed how he regularly received emails from a customer with technical questions that he answered and/or forwarded to his technical people, always resulting in a prompt response. One day he started to see links in from this guy's blog that resulted in several downloads. It turns out that the customer was a blogger and he spent a bunch of time writing a five-part review of the product.

Amazing “coverage” by someone with a following, and it took nothing more than than good customer to cultivate that kind of evangelism.

Another interesting offshoot of this strategy is a piece written by InfoWorld editor Jon Udell back in 2002. Jon is a good reporter and tends to write about topics and ideas he finds of interest (including my client). But if you read his story you find that he quoted other bloggers about ActiveWords. So endorsement begat endorsement. Powerful stuff.

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