The current catch-all these days for what I do is ‘social media’. Unfortunately, when what you do is described as such, people tend to think Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and maybe Google+. My expertise, however, is online community outreach and engagement. Back in 2006, I developed a strategy of blogger outreach that allowed me to reach out to more than just 25 top-tier bloggers by hand but to 2,500-5,000 bloggers.
I have always called this long-tail blogger outreach — though I would love your help with choosing a new name for it — because it focuses on the B-Z-list bloggers, the online influencers who are often overlooked by most social media teams at digital agencies.
While I agree that the top-25-50 bloggers do deserve deep, long-term, and personal engagement, spending that sort of time, over time, on “everyone else” would take all the time in the universe. So, what my team and I developed is the equivalent of blogger-brand speed dating.
The ins and outs of mass outreach
After identifying 2,000-4,000 blogs that are topically, geographically, or demographically on target, preparing a content-laden microsite and penning a very short-and-sweet email message pitch, then I send out those 2K-4K emails, each and every one a speed date, and wait at the inbox.
Before long, hundreds of email replies stream in. Some aren’t interested, some are game, and others are curious but need more information. Like speed dating, we’re not interested in the no’s but we’re interested in the yeses.
Of course, we’re courteous and we’re present and we’re always kind — “hugs not horns” I always remind my team — and we’re never anything but earnest and polite — “be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle” — but if they’re not interested, we don’t contact them again. And if they’re very unhappy, we’ll beg their pardon and put them into a Do Not Contact list; otherwise, everyone who replies is taken off the campaign list.
The secret sauce, however, is that this form of speed dating requires email — and email is unreliable. And people are suspicious and busy. And email sometimes doesn’t quite make its way to the Inbox.
So, a week after the initial email outreach, I send a reminder email, but only to those bloggers who didn’t reply at all. No reply results in a follow-up email.
And it works. Too many practitioners of blogger outreach, email marketing, email outreaches, or even triple-, double-, and single-opt-in mailing lists are just too shy, too feeble in their messaging, for fear that they’ll get hundreds or thousands drinks-in-the-face. Nope, not if you do it right.
If you do it right, you’ll get twice the response you did from your first email. So, for instance, let’s say we emailed 4,000 bloggers and a 1,000 bloggers responded. 250 would have responded to the first email outreach, 500 would have responded to the second outreach, and then 250 would have responded to the final outreach.
Yes, a week after we mail the first follow-up email, we send out a final follow-up and thank you, thanking the blogger (who has yet to email us or reply at all — pretty much radio silent) for his or her time, apologizing for the inconvenience, and also to let the blogger know that he or she is welcome to take advantage of the opportunity when and if he or she gets around to reading and responding to the campaign pitch.
Be respectful and gracious
Our rule is to always be friendly, loving, generous, happy, kind, and even respectfully playful with each and every blogger, even the Grumpy Cats. Never rise to the bait, never fight fire with fire, never engage in snark/irony/sarcasm because the only person who is allowed to be anything but completely charming and gracious is the blogger.
Again, “be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle” — our mantra.
And you know what? If we do everything right, we’ll generally earn a couple of hundred earned media mentions directly shared on the bloggers’ blogs. We’ll also earn secondary mentions through Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Pinterest, Tumblr, Google+, digg, and reddit.
Blogger engagement as a strategy to reach new influencers
Blogger outreach and engagement is much more than social media. It could be seen as content marketing, yes, but it could and should be a communications strategy toward discovering and prospecting new and future influencers.
If you can identify a passion player — someone who is already talking about you, your products and services — and you can woo them into becoming citizen brand ambassadors, then you’ll be able to develop a very large pack of proponents and passion players who will be loyal and will have safely imprinted on your attention, your acknowledgement, and your generosity. To be sure, it’s much easier to prospect for new fans when these fans haven’t been wooed by another than it is to woo them away from a secure brand attachment.
And, to be honest, every single blogger anywhere close to the top-50 has already been spoken for in a big way. Generally-speaking, their brand sugardaddies probably have deeper-pockets and are internationally more prestigious that you may well be so it behooves you to play blogger moneyball. Find a large number of very talented bloggers who can personally assist you in your branding goals and bottom-line rather than spending your time and money on a few outrageously-compensated stars, most of whom are too busy and too distracted by an embarrassment of riches to actually give you all the time, attention, and coverage that you, your brand, your products, and your services deserve.
And remember, if you do all of this right, it’ll all be an earned media campaign, meaning you won’t have to pay each and every one of these bloggers to post, to cover, to review, or to promote. That’s not to say this’ll all be free to you — all of this can be expensive, both in terms of client service agency hours as well as in terms of the give, the gift you pitch the blogger with, be it informational, a product, or a service. And you need to make it good. Unless it’s an offer that can’t be refused — give till it hurts — and you just expect a blogger to blog about you “just because,” then you’ll always be disappointed.
Remember: The blogger is always right
As you can tell from my mantra, the blogger is always right. The bloggers have all the leverage. If you don’t make good on your generous offer, each and every blogger has recourse — and we knew they did — and it’s their blog! Plus, their tweets and Facebook posts and their Tumblr and Pinterest and reddit and everywhere else.
So, long-tail blogger outreach is an amazing platform to both discover and engage with a multitude of natural allies and the people who are already talking about you, and giving them all the tools, the copy, the content, the gifts, and the impetus to share information about you all over the Internet (an entire campaign only takes around six-weeks, total). It also allows you to harvest all of the bloggers game enough to mention you and your goodies into your inner-most where you can personally grow your relationship with them now and groom them into the future.
Clearly I had a lot to share. Do you consider what I am doing with blogger outreach to be “social media”? What do you think about the discipline? What about the concept of flirting with bloggers en masse and engaging with them in a very quick “yes/no” speed-dating scenario? Do you think it is worthwhile to reach out to thousands of bloggers — all the way down to “nobody” — instead or in addition to the top blogger celebrities? Let me know what you think in the comments. I am very curious to hear from you and would love to tweak my methods. Thanks in advance!