The “blogosphere” has grown up. Yes, bloggers are still self-publishers. It’s what distinguishes them from traditional media. But today’s top bloggers can wield enormous power and influence over purchase decisions. According to one study, 41 percent of consumers say that blogs are among the top three sources that influence their purchase decisions, beating out branded websites and magazines.
All this growth has led to some confusion over what bloggers want from their relationships with brands, and how they want to be reached. So, we called up Liz Gumbinner, co-publisher and editor-in-chief of Cool Mom Picks and Cool Mom Tech, rated by Real Simple as one of the best three blogs for parents. She’s also author of the nine-year-old personal blog Mom-101.com, and makes numerous appearances on television to discuss parenting trends, gear, tech and culture. Here, she offers the low-down on what she looks for and how marketers can do a better job working with her kind.
1. Know your blogger.
First things first, you need to understand the difference between paid media and earned media. Email someone like Gumbinner and offer a gift card in exchange for a positive product review, and you’ve not only insulted her, she’s likely not going to work with you going forward. But on the flipside, many bloggers do in fact function that way. Between disclaimers, style and bios, you’ll be able to figure out what type of blogger you’re dealing with, and how their content portal is governed.
“One of the challenges for brands when they’re creating an influencer program is that bloggers are this strange mash-up of publisher-writer-spokesperson, and I think the challenge is to understand in what capacity you’re working with them,” Gumbinner says. “Are you using their site as a publisher to reach a particular audience? Are you leveraging their name and likeness? Are you looking for them to be content creators? The best programs probably take advantage of all three, but that’s separate from editorial content.”
2. Be specific.
How you approach a blogger should be similar to how you approach a traditional journalist—don’t waste their time with irrelevant and unclear pitches. Exclusives are good, but don’t oversell something. Gumbinner says she often sifts through 500 or more pitches each day, so she’s not lacking for content. Ask bloggers what they’re working on. Ask questions about their different verticals. Gumbinner says the first emails she opens are from contacts that have worked to establish a relationship with her based on what she needs.
3. Giveaways are old news.
There was a time when giveaways were a strong incentive for bloggers to drive traffic to their sites, but Gumbinner says that strategy today is too much work. There are so many other ways to boost traffic. In fact, bloggers are increasingly charging a premium to host a brand giveaway if that blogger has to take over responsibility of it and pick a winner.
4. They’re not a spokesperson, yet.
Be mindful of those promos. Gumbinner says one of her biggest challenges is the assumption that as an influencer agreeing to attend an event, that she is automatically a brand ambassador. “It’s one thing to be thrown into the crowd of reputable publications showing up to the event, but you have to be really clear about your intent if you’re inviting a blogger with the hopes of taking their picture and leveraging their name and likeness,” she says.
5. Consider all of the touchpoints.
Bloggers want to hear about partnership strategies that help them serve their audiences across multiple platforms. Some simply leverage Pinterest or curate an Instagram journal. Consider visual assignments, or YouTube channel sponsorships. “Even though our website may be the hub, we have all these spokes at the wheel that goes to social or off-line events or videos, so there are a lot of touchpoints for us to be able to reach our readers,” says Gumbinner.
6. They’re a brand, too.
Bloggers have worked hard to build a following and build trust, and the way they maintain that trust is through transparency about what is sponsored and what is not—and by choosing content they believe in. “We always say to brands, you know your brand the best, but we know our readers the best, so if we can put our heads together we usually come up with something really strong,” Gumbinner says. “I think the partnerships between the brands and the bloggers can yield amazing results if they listen to each other and trust each other’s expertise.”
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