Blogger Outreach: The right way to do it?

It is not uncommon to have played multiple sides of the field in the influencer game. I’ve been a blogger for fun (hi there!) and for profit, a digital marketer and a community manager. While never working specifically in PR, many elements of the last two jobs in particular have seen reasonable overlaps between my role and that of a PR and communications department or agency.

Something I thought we’d all left behind when so many of us started batting for both teams  is the ‘us vs them’ mentality; bloggers endlessly berating PRs for bad practice, and PRs claiming unprofessionalism in the other direction. In a world where it’s very possible that half of the equation is doing what they do as a sideline, or even a hobby*, there is still a lot of suspicion about how to deal with each other.

Straight off I’m going to say I simply don’t think there is a one way to do this well. I’m slightly wary of “five steps to outrageously good influencer outreach” type posts because all influencers are people, as are all PRs and comms professionals, and people have to work within the nuanced world of, y’know, other people. It doesn’t take much imagination to realise that this is all based on relationships. You can think logically about supporting a good relationship – keep in touch between projects, RT that post – but it makes me very uncomfortable to think of gaming it.  I don’t believe it can even work in the long term, anyway; your inauthentic approach will eventually give you away. If you project frankness and reliability, you’ll get it in return; you might even end up with some new friends. Honesty is everything to bloggers – it’s pretty much all they have to build a reputation on, and I can’t see why that shouldn’t extend to brand partners, too.

Of course, sometimes things will go wrong. The ask won’t be quite right. The timing will be off. It’ll turn out that for some reason you couldn’t possibly have been aware of this was exactly the wrong person to ask. No-one gets this right all the time or even every time. But I think there are ways to avoid getting it actively wrong.

So having said I don’t think there’s a right way, there are some general common sense tips that I would like to think are a part of every decent strategy already. I repeat them because I find it’s sometimes all too easy to overlook the fundamental steps. Below are my observations, all of which I think could grease the wheels on this creaky cart of a parley.

Please note that all of this assumes you’ll have targetted your audience correctly and done your research.

1. Work out what you want

There is simply no point in doing anything if you don’t know what you want from it. Is it coverage? Is it target market research? Is it a review? Whatever it is, work this bit out first. If you don’t, you won’t know how to measure it and, crucially, what to ask for or how to ask for it.

2. Work out what they want

Bloggers are not a uniform crew. There are some that will only work for cash, and this is quite fair enough. Though, as someone who’s done her fair share of writing for free when it suited me, I don’t actually think it is or should be anathema to work without pay. Still it is unquestionably silly to request it of a blogger who sets out a rate card, unless you have a really, really good reason (even charities can stump up something, particularly the bigger ones). And if you’re working with a brand which looks like it should have budget, tread carefully.

If the particular project is a review and you can reasonably assume your chosen blogger is open to not-cash, then you can sail in with the stuff. The obvious starting point is a review sample, but try to sweeten the deal; if you have budget to add value, then do it, and put some thought into what you send so that it complements both the blogger and the brand. Not every blogger enjoys a giveaway, but giving the option – x amount of y if you think your readers would like it – is a nice added extra. I would always recommend pitching first rather than going for the surprise unsolicited gift, unless you’ve established a solid relationship with the blogger in question. It just avoids any possibility of it not being received in the spirit you’ve intended, but is also your chance to lay out your expectations for the project.

On the whole, I’d say that offering bloggers a chance to take part in a competition through blog posts is a shaky business. I’ve seen it work well, but I’ve also seen furious bloggers loudly slam brands for it. I think it can be done – if there is a gift or remuneration for all or everyone involved gets something unique like exclusive access to a product or event – but it can also be done really badly. Particularly for those bloggers for which this is a primary income source, asking them to compete for a prize is a bit like demanding someone puts hours of work into a pitch presentation for a job they didn’t apply for and might not even want.

3. Remember that less can indeed be more

There’s a temptation to think all blogger outreach has to be grand and dramatic, but thoughtfulness goes a long way. It takes a good deal of time to assemble a really nice pack or plan just the right event. Better to go small scale, use your budget wisely and work with just a few people to make something really effective and positive than to end up seeming indiscriminate. Basically, from an initial pitch email to the final denouement, anything that so much as offers a whiff of “spray and pray” will be treated with suspicion. And rightly so.

Having mentioned events, I do think these a particularly interesting area all on their own. I work largely with bloggers like me, and when approaching parents in particular I would consider the following questions before setting any plans in stone.

  • Is it offering something exclusive, unique or especially worthwhile? (Is dropping everything going to be worth it?)
  • Can the kids come? (Do I need to arrange childcare?)
  • Is there any budget to offer help with travel? (Are you giving me enough time to get cheaper tickets?)
  • Could it be held somewhere other than London? (For God’s sake, the world doesn’t end outside the M25…)

I’ve spoken to quite a few bloggers about this and these things come up time and time again. Although I live on the outskirts of London myself, I know many bloggers outside the Home Counties who get fed up with routine requests to drop everything at the last minute and bolt down to London, without any financial assistance.  It’s particularly irksome if this also excludes the very people they spend most of their time writing about – unless, of course, the whole point of the event is, for example, pampering time away from the kids.

In a way, I shall feel quite pleased if people get to the end of this post and think “I already knew that”, because it means that the job is getting done properly. I’d like to believe most of the criticism I see is because of the natural inclination to complain more than we praise, and I know there is really thoughtful and excellent outreach going on all the time. So in the spirit of that, I’d love to invite anyone reading, whether blogger or PR, to give some examples of really excellent influencer outreach that they’ve seen. I think spreading the love can only be a good thing in this industry, so let rip – in a good way!

*Contrary to popular belief, this does not preclude professionalism. No, really.

Out with the old…*

So, things are changing here at Goldstein Mountain. It’s really hard to believe, but in two weeks I will be hanging up my bright yellow logo for good, and heading off to join the team at TMW as a community manager.

I don’t really want to focus on what I will be doing yet as I haven’t started it and there’s a lot to take in and I will need time to adjust. But a brief look back at a little less than five years at Dogs Trust seems appropriate. Indeed, I could hardly stop myself.

Dogs Trust has been really key to me working out where I want to go. I arrived as a bewildered tech blogger, and am leaving as an experienced digital marketer who’s been allowed to experiment, learn and develop on the job, knowing for sure that I want to specialise more in social and communities. The amazing freedom and respect that the digital team has always been granted here has, I think, been the envy of various discussions held at NFP Tweetup and similar events. I’ve been proud to help contribute in my small way to the reputation for openness and forward thinking that Dogs Trust carries in the digital world.

I’ve been very privileged to work with two excellent digital bods, who will be friends for life. And though I needed to branch out and challenge myself and learn more, it is wonderful to leave with utter fondness and on a totally positive note.

I really think whoever nabs the currently available role in the digital team will be a very lucky person. It is not exactly my job as it is / was – a slightly restructure means it’ll be a bit more admin, and a bit less strategy – but for a junior marketer looking to take the next step, it’ll be a golden opportunity to make that leap in a supportive and fun environment.

A few fabulous memories I’ll be taking with me:

Rehoming our first dog through Twitter

– Finally hearing that Bentley, a Canine Care Card dog whose first owner passed away and who was then returned to us due to his second owner’s illness, had settled into a loving home for good – thanks to a Facebook post.

– Speaking in front of a huge crowd of dedicated animal welfare professionals at ICAWC in Stresa, Italy, after only a few months in the job.

– Attending two Dogs Trust Honours award ceremonies.

Although I only have a couple of weeks left, I’m still leaping on every opportunity to be 100% involved until the last possible moment. I was chuffed that my first go at Vine for the charity got quite a bit of positive attention – feels like as good a parting shot as any! (And I just happened to brainstorm a load of other ideas and email them to people because I’m that kind of colleague.)

At the risk of sounding like Joey Tribbiani and his giving and receiving, the next fourteen days are going to be a lot about endings and beginnings. With all the strangeness, sadness, delight, excitement and confusion that come with them.

I can’t wait.

*I was going to call this “Winds of change…” but then I thought of The Scorpions and that song that was EVERYWHERE for one apparently endless Summer and whose opening lines (allegedly “I follow the Moskva down to Gorky Park”) actually sounded for all the world like “I follow demosquat, and down to Bonkly Ponk”. So… yeah.

Content Planning: How do you do it?

Excuse me if you’re here to read about toddlers, baking and cats. There’s plenty of that about, but sometimes one needs to talk of other things. Not cabbages and kings, though.

In fact, I’ve been thinking quite a bit recently about planning content.

In the last year, as well as creating content I’ve been increasingly planning, editing and scheduling posts from multiple sources. Combined with greater access to tracking tools that enable me to hone our output, this has meant that a more formal structure was needed than we’d used in the past. From January, I implemented my social content planner; it’s already gone through one iteration and will doubtless see further changes. It’s certainly already made me feel an even greater sense of momentum in my work, so it was definitely the right choice to go ahead with this.

I then got into some conversations about this on Thursday at a Charity Comms social media event where I was running a workshop on intermediate-level day-to-day Twitter use – mainly for newcomers to social media with limited time and many departments to appease. This last part obviously raised questions about the role within the organisation that a community manager holds – from digital department existence / status, to the attitudes of senior management towards digital media. Clearly that impacts  both content creation and planning, because other departments need to place value on what happens online in order for the organisations digital channels to be relevant and vibrant.

Following that, on Friday the subject of planning arose with Jack Ashman, and an interesting chat ensued about how complex or sophisticated planning should be, touching on things like the size of the department, number of content-creators and the nature of the platform being planned for – I mean, who hasn’t noticed that their communities on Twitter and Facebook act very differently from each other?

I’ve heard descriptions of every system, from ad hoc mental notes to complex three-month multi-departmental spreadsheets, and every one seemed appropriate to the budget, time resources and scale of the department or organisation. And that combination is great inspiration to get one’s own house in order.

So, really, what I want to ask, in the style of a certain fondant-filled chocolate egg, is: how do you do it? 

Is there, indeed, a perfect way?

Note that I’m not saying we shouldn’t track. In an ideal world, I’d have the time and resources to track more than I do, and I keep tweaking that to try and get more information to analyse. So it’s not that end of the process I’m thinking about really (obviously, the results from that will feed into the way that the content is actually entered into a planner, and that could have some influence on the way a planner is designed, but I suspect not a fundamental impact).

My system, which involves both a digital document and pencil and paper, works for me for now, but I know it’s going to have to keep evolving and being polished – though without me getting so attached to it that I lose the ability to flexible and spontaneous online; I’m a big fan of keeping a natural tone of voice, which is why I plan the content topics and not the posts, unless they’re requested and approved by another department (usually with our input). But in order to keep tweaking and adjusting, I’d love to hear some tips and links that are personally recommended, rather than drawn from hastily created ‘top ten’ posts that social media blogs are tiresomely littered with.

I’ve got to admit, all this planning and tracking talk really speaks to the part of my soul that arranges my DVDs alphabetically – thought separating out all those that can be grouped by director and putting those chronologically.

What? They’re easier to find that way…

Update: Thank you to Sarah Jackson for this post (also eventually came through as a comment below). I’ve already taken a couple of ideas from it for getting our blog tidied up and more regularly posted on!

IDM Complete Digital Marketing Course

On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, I scuttled to the wilds of Teddington (South West London) for the Institute of Direct Marketing’s Complete Digital Marketing course. While the IDM offers some of the few respected qualifications for marketing in Europe, this particular course was not a qualification but an intensive, ambitiously comprehensive introduction to the foundations of digital marketing.

Of course, I am already a digital marketer, having been doing it for a year. But I had no marketing background and a lot of the time knew what I was doing and that it worked, I just didn’t know why. And I didn’t have an entirely confident grip of what I should be testing and how. This course aimed to begin to address this, and now I’m thoroughly set on doing the Certificate in Digital Marketing qualification as soon as I can find out whether there’s anything left in the training budget (if not, I’ll work out a way to do it privately).

The CDMC (as I shall henceforth refer to it) is three days covering the tools in the digital marketer’s arsenal – email, mobile, display / banner ads, etc – as well as the techniques they can use to keep honing their methods, always aiming at best practice.

Some of it is covered at breakneck speed, and it was unfortunate that email marketing and constructing a solid digital campaign plan were rushed through at the end (with a session on online-offline integration not being covered at all). Search Engine Marketing (SEO + PPC, basically) was covered in just two hours with some very crowded slides. But then I understand that the IDM is up against it; any longer than three days and it feels like too much effort, yet there’s so much more to cover every year. I did wonder if it would be worth cutting down the initial introductory segment, or having one extra optional day to cover the areas that get missed.

The course tutors are generally excellent, field leaders who have worked with the IDM for years and know their onions. Though there was a slight lack of interactivity, bar one useful card-sorting exercise with Tobias Misera of user experience specialists Foviance, discussion was encouraged. Main course tutor David Hughes of Non-Line Marketing is engaging, interesting and invites any question or challenge.

The best session was probably a toss-up between one focussing on the importance of testing (David Hughes) and a rather complementary session from Matthew Tod of Logan Tod on web analytics. The latter really did serve to open my eyes about just what I’m tracking and why I’m tracking it.

The weakest session was probably one from Eric Mugnier of Inside Mobile who, to be scrupulously fair, had not been the original speaker and had to fill in at the last moment for his MD. Mobile’s been the future for, oh, the last ten years, and although Eric convincingly argued for its eventual dominance, he also ended up assuming a level of understanding about the mobile marketing arena that most of the course attendees (myself included) didn’t have. That said, it was a worthwhile two hours, even if I was left believing that there’s still a way to go before we as an organisation will find a really effective use for mobile marketing.

The most useful thing I learned was a good sense of how to implement a constantly moving, rolling series of tests and improvements. I hope to be able to put that into practise soon!

In the end, despite some hasty sessions and content compromises that had to be made to fit the format, this was still a very useful way to spend three days away from my inbox. The facilities of the IDM are comfortable and more than fit for purpose. The comprehensive set of slides that are given as both paper copies to annotate and later sent as electronic copies are very useful. The booking process for the course, which costs roughly £1,400 is swift with judiciously timed follow-ups by post, email and text (as well they might be, given the source, eh?).

In short, if you’re new to digital marketing or don’t have a formal background in it, this is an excellent choice.

A Year @ Dogs Trust: What I’ve Learned

Yesterday marked my first anniversary at Dogs Trust. Among the lovely, supportive comments about this that I received was one that really made me proud, from Howard Lake of UK Fundraising writing on the Dogs Trust Facebook page:

In that case, congratulations on all you’ve achieved in that time. I have to say I’d assumed you’d been there for much longer, given what you’ve done for the charity.

I practically did a Ribenaberry jump when I read that. It’s totally testament to the welcoming, supportive, creative atmosphere here. We do have an exceptionally open-minded Marketing Director who will sell the idea of social media to the rooftops if you give him good reason to, and the Digital Marketing Manager practically created the web department on her own some time ago so keen was she to go into this area. We’re a passionate bunch, and I like to think that seeming like I’ve been around forever is a side effect of that.

Anyway, enough about what I’ve done, what I’m more interested in is what I’ve learned about social media since I joined the team. Some of it was not new to me, but allowed me to form stronger opinions about what social media are and aren’t, and strip the jargon away to get to the communications heart of it all.

I could go on about this until the virtual cows have given up and tipped themselves, but I’ve picked my top three social media soapbox subjects.

1. Social media are the perfect platform for personalised customer service

I’m not just talking about the personalised email, but about the comments, responses, conversations and Q&As that take place on social sites all the time. I’ve often said I’m better at the Q&A than the presentation, despite being a passionate talker, because I’m at my best in a situation where real two-way communication is taking place. The presentation is the website: glossy, informative, nice looking, easy to understand and approachable. The Q&A is the meat on the bones, the questions, the criticisms, the real people behind the organisational front. That is what using social platforms is all about. If as a business or charity you don’t get that, you should stay away. The penalty is not failure to be noticed, but being noticed doing the wrong thing.

2. Naming names is powerful

Every time I’ve replied to someone, I’ve tried to use their name: “Hi Jane” “Hey John” “Thanks Chris”. The vast majority of the time I’ve done this, people have said “wow, you used my name.” That’s them up there – it’s them the ‘voice’ of the organisation is talking to. It’s so vitally important to respect someone’s offline reality. They have names, families, pets, jobs, interests – lives. Mentioning their name is a small, easy and never-forgotten way of showing that.

3. Moderation needs a balance between disclosure and distance

Being a community moderator is a bit like being a teacher (and here I speak from experience). You want to be friendly, approachable, informal and, hell, even liked. No harm with wanting people to think well of you. But you also need to be the respected voice of the website gods, who can enforce rules. When you get the balance right – and everyone slips at times – you need only deliver a quick reminder to get people into line. Then again, you need to be confident in pulling out the big guns quickly and efficiently if you genuinely need to, and this can mean a no explanation approach. Allow me to explain before you think I’m breaking Social 101 commandments.

Suppose you ban someone. No-one else on the site has the right to know why  – that’s between you and the banned person – and you shouldn’t have to justify yourself all the time. This is not the same as saying you’re not accountable to your community – you are, without them the site fails – or that their feedback should not be seriously considered. But if you’ve got good, transparent, sensible and reasonable rules, you shouldn’t have to justify them again every time. Just direct people to the right place.

That’s not even slightly a summary of 12 months in a handful of paragraphs, but this is what’s at the forefront of my mind going into year two. Well, that and Disney World.

Reasons To Be ‘Social’: Part Three

I’ve been having a very interesting exchange on Twitter which – as usual with such exchanges – has enabled me to clarify what I think and raise questions in my own mind to chew over. That’s half the beauty of Twitter right there, really.

Here’s the exchange:

@bounder:”conversational media” a better term than “social media”?

@dogstrust: Is it all conversation? Arguably Flickr & YouTube isn’t. Social encompasses conversation but conversation leaves some out, I think.

@bounder: flickr is, youtube can be – i think leaving the bits out where people are using the same tools to broadcast is a good idea

@dogstrust: I’m still not sure why “conversational” is better. Conversation is a vital part, but is it all of it? What’s wrong with ‘social’?

@bounder: it doesn’t really mean anything is the problem (and it has the same odd connotations as “community” has picked up)

@dogstrust: It doesn’t? Doesn’t it just mean interacting with others? That’s all the definition I ever wanted… Open to alternatives, tho.

@bounder: i really don’t think the word “social” means anything at all – it doesn’t describe an action – conversation does.

@dogstrust: Does ‘social media’ need to describe an action? Isn’t it describing the platform for action? Not arguing, genuinely interested!

@bounder: i think the description of the platform is too fuzzy to understand, and nave never been happy with the term

@bounder: for example, i’m not a YouTube expert, but I think a lot about how people use it (the action rather than the platforms)

@dogstrust: So they’re using a particular medium in a conversational way. The umbrella platform is still a group of media that are social, no?

The conversation is still ongoing, so by the time I finish this post, it might well have changed what I’m thinking right now. Still, I’ll launch ahead.

I’m not a fan of jargon. I appreciate that there are some uses for it, particularly in scientific or philosophical contexts where there is the possibility of cutting through a whole load of unecessary explanation if you use a handy jargon shortcut. Sometimes the term appears as if by magic . Social media is just an evolution of the term “social networking”; an evolution that happened, in my opinion, because people generally aren’t actively networking in the professional sense but just having a conversation. This is of course @bounder’s point. But I still don’t see the need for a change of jargon.

There are two reasons:

1. Changing the way everyone thinks of something is near impossible – think how long it takes to reclaim a slang derogatory term. People are now thinking “social media”. We can call it whatever we want, but the wider world won’t catch on and it just makes us focus on correcting a linguistic point somewhat unnecessarily. This is the minor reason.

2. The major reason is that ‘social’ is a perfectly good and reasonable description. Conversation is a large part of how human beings -a social animal – communicate. It is the cornerstone of my professional social media approach. But where ‘conversation‘ still has a strongly implied sense of verbal communication (that’s not the entirety of it, of course, by a long shot but that is how it is still widely read), ‘social‘ includes lots of elements which I think apply particularly well to web 2.0. It’s about informal gatherings of groups with a common topic. If that’s not social media, what is?

As I see it, social media are not the activities but the platform for the interaction. If it’s an inaccurate term, by all means campaign to replace it. I’m not married to the term; if there’s a good reason to bin it I’ll help lead the charge for more accuracy and meaning. I’m just not convinced that that good reason is really there.