When a Blogger is “Bought” How Much Influence do They Really Have?

12
Feb
2009

OK. I’m reviving NakedPR as a one time only thing for now. If one topic has had me burning up over the last few months, it’s been bad blogger relations, and the Molson Brew 2.0 event has been at the top of my shit list (and that’s putting it “nicely”).

I’ve avoided getting into it here, but the discussions just don’t seem to go away – and nothing worth saying at that – just the same few people saying the same few things.

It came up again when Eden Spodek commented on Mack Collier’s post “Are Companies Targeting the Wrong ‘Influencers’ with Social Media?

To say I cringed (at the comment; not the post–which has it spot on) would be a serious understatement. I left a few thoughts there. I was going to followup with more in response to a comment from Brandon Carlos, but the comment ended up practically being a post in itself. So rather than hijack Mack’s post over this particular case, I’m just posting those thoughts here in the hopes that they’ll sink in with at least one sane person out there in SM-land.

Before this, I suggest reading Mack’s post. It’s a great discussion on how much influence those “influencers” actually have, when the company doesn’t bother researching exactly who they have “influence” over to begin with.

I think the real problem is that companies are becoming content with getting bloggers to say “Oh, they’re so nice to have invited us,” or “They hosted a super-cool event,” and completely ignore relevance.

I follow several “influential” SM bloggers for example. When I visit their blog, I expect to read about social media issues – not beer, not soda, not anything unrelated unless there’s a heck of a good reason.

Telling your readers how Molson decided to give you some free beer to pour down your throat isn’t a good reason (unless you’re following a food & beverage blogger, or are in a pop culture kind of niche full of cheap beer drinkers who want to pat you on the back for the great mooch). Even attempting to spin it as “it’s a great example of blogger relations because they “bought” me with free beer” doesn’t cut it – if anything, that’s just sad.

Personally, I stopped following a few bloggers who went on about that event, because frankly they showed me they didn’t “get” blogging’s role in SM enough for me to continue wasting time following them. As a member of the type of audience those bloggers were targeting, I couldn’t respect their opinions on that blog anymore seeing that they could be bought (and there’s no other way to describe it after reading some of those posts). Even a hint of that is a turn-off as a blog reader – the very people those companies are hoping you can influence (not any more sweeties).

Now as much as I despise the BS surrounding the Brew 2.0 event, I’ll at least give Molson a tiny bit of credit for trying. But they should have tried harder.

How could they have done that?

1. Better targeting (more quality over quantity).

2. Actually give the bloggers something no one else has – something worth blogging about that their readers would care about – a story to break, etc. (And “they hosted a blogger event” hardly counts when it’s irrelevant to the bulk of their target market / customers.)

3. Get it through your heads that blogger relations isn’t about kissing the ass of bloggers, parties, and events. Far more often what a blogger wants is advanced info (it’s a big deal for most of them to break even something tiny), or your direct interaction on their blog–those in the food & bev industry or those industries that companies like Molson otherwise sponsor would probably love to have a high-level company rep stop by and leave a comment, offer to do an interview, offer to do a special contest or promotion through their blog, etc. What matters in blogging is the information; not showmanship.

The real key is that it doesn’t matter how generally “influential” a blogger is. If they’re audience doesn’t care about your company or product (or wouldn’t want to hear about it in that particular place), then that “influential” blogger actually has very little real influence over their readers when it comes to that particular post.

Did Molson get some blog coverage? Sure. But I didn’t see anything truly substantive (and I saw a lot of it). It was the same old “ooh, it was so cool they asked me to go,” and blah, blah, blah. Where was the product info? Where was the actual value to each blogger’s readers? Where was there anything truly new? There really wasn’t much, if any.

If Molson were asking people in PR and SM specifically because they wanted them talking about how the event itself was run, that still wouldn’t be good blogger relations, but it would at least be slightly less absurd. But when asked publicly, they made it clear they had no intention whatsoever to get that kind of coverage, or pitch that kind of angle to the bloggers.

“We’re in no way interested in publicizing our social media capabilities, rather we want to ensure that we’re present, and can contribute somehow if possible, when beer or related topics are being discussed online.” – Green Banana

Instead they opted to put on a fake face and say they really expected nothing at all – and I’m sorry, but by telling those bloggers there that you didn’t expect it, you’re bringing it up with the hope of planting that idea in their head. And if it were really about “being present” as a future resource for beer-related posts and nothing more, they wouldn’t have targeted SM “influencers” – they would have targeted people already talking about beer.

That entire thing was a joke and very little more.”

As I said on Mack’s post, I’m amused to see Molson’s still spiking the Kool-aid. And just for shits and giggles, over the next few weeks, I think I’m going to take on a bit of research some of these folks obviously neglected. I’ve decided I’m going to reach out to two target blogger groups that would have been better targets than SM folks for a beer company: food & beverage bloggers and a niche of entertainment bloggers where my event experience tells me alcohol companies are often the biggest sponsors (and whose readers are huge fans of the general product). That’s to start–beyond that, I’ll consider making it a bigger endeavor covering more “influential” bloggers in a larger sample of popular blog niches. If I take it to that point, I’ll be sure to publish the results, and then maybe we’ll once and for all see what bloggers really want out of your blogger relations efforts.



21 Comments

  • I agree entirely with you in respect of the role of PR/SM bloggers as “influencers” outside of our core area of “expertise”. Of course, some PR/SM folk do have specialist knowledge of particular sectors and so their opinions could carry more weight in that regard.

    However, the majority of what I see as “blogger relations” activities are not innovative at all in terms of what is being undertaken, and so not worthy of reflection by the PR/SM bloggers in terms of the actual campaign.

    Hosting events, inviting bloggers on standard type of launches, providing samples for review, inviting to conferences etc are all the same old techniques used for mainstream media.

    Of course in a lot of cases they are successful, so I have no problem with that. However, the media generally invited on such events are those who have influence or interest to the organisation’s actual audience.

    To invite PR/SM bloggers is no different to inviting a PR Week journalist along. The main reason you’d do that, I believe, is to impress your peers, bosses (or potential bosses if you’re job hunting) or clients.

    Too many SM “case study” (Award winning?) examples are only touted around because those behind them are saying they are good examples. As Mack’s post (and my original post on the Molson brew-haha – sic!) emphasises, this surely isn’t enough.

  • I agree. I can’t recall seeing anything even remotely new in the blogger relations game (as either someone working on the PR side, or as a blogger regularly pitched with crap from PR people).

    The only truly good “blogger relations” I’ve seen at all yet is relatively small-scale. What really annoys the hell out of me though is when these companies and / or large firms really don’t grasp the social media environment that blogging is a part of. Rather than try to become comfortable with social media, too many are trying to take it completely out of its own element (such as acting like face to face with folks active in SM is true SM involvement rather than being active on those SM folks’ turf). That’s just basic old school PR. And there’s nothing wrong with it. Just don’t pretend to be making waves or act like you deserve a pat on the back (which is exactly what the Molson folks did, and that’s what made it so pathetic).

  • It’s too bad it took something like this to bring you back, Jenn. Still, I’m not complaining!

    My stance has always been what I stated on Mack’s post. I can tell you that I’ve had this same scuffle with a number of “influencers” (as deemed by whom, I’m not sure) and I can certainly some of those experiences with you off-line.

    At the base of all of this, though, is this: people like free shit, people like the FEELING of feeling important. Marketing departments know this and, combined with a new space with undefined rules and a group of folks who are out to exploit the space for whatever they can get, we’ve seen some very poor examples of briber… I mean, blogger relations.

    • Brandon – Well, I’m not “back” as of now. (and sorry for the double comment – they don’t seem to be nesting properly)

      And you’re right. People love freebies, and they often lose sight of ethics when they’re presented with something that makes them feel important (even if moreso than they actually are). My initial frustration was far less with Molson than with specific bloggers who were yapping about their event on irrelevant blogs without even making any attempt to tailor the posts on it to their own audiences. My annoyance with Molson stemmed from watching reps’ reactions in blog comments and Twitter where it became increasingly clear they had put permanent blinders on regarding their own targeting issues. Were they wrong in targeting all bloggers they chose? Absolutely not. But I get tired of people trying to manipulate bloggers as much as I get tired of the bloggers who allow them to–and even more, I get tired of seeing what amounts to cheap marketing (giving away freebies of any sort in the hope of some chatter) passed off as anything more significant. It certainly has its place–just don’t act like you’re doing something new and buzzworthy because of it (as Heather and I both addressed already above).

      On a sidenote, I’ve been relatively amused by some recent tweets.

      One noting that you don’t have a right to criticize an event if you’re not giving your own case studies. Well guess what folks – when you’re a blogger criticizing how people are approaching bloggers, um no, you don’t need to cite PR / blogger relations case studies of your own. That would be like telling a blogger in another niche that they have no right to report any criticism about a hotel stay until they build their own hotel.

      In another example we have a blogger essentially referring to themselves as a doer with typical back-patting rather than responding to legitimate issues with what they had to say (in a way that frankly makes no sense and is so laughable it’s not worth harping on). But anyway…

      The truth is that this has never been exclusively about Molson. Why do they get the brunt of the criticism them? Because they’re the ones shouting from the rooftops that their campaign couldn’t possibly be better, while ignoring anything that doesn’t sparkle when viewed through those little rose-colored glasses. Had they been more modest, or acknowledged that they could have been more considerate towards the readers of those blogs being targeted, there likely would have been little to no room for criticism. But instead, I’ve rarely seen anything from anyone on that side of the issue who talks about anything beyond generic “influence” or the relationship with the bloggers themselves rather than the impact of that relationship on the people who really matter – the blog readers (and their potential customers).

  • Ferg Devins says:

    Jennifer. I’m sitting here smiling to myself reading your blog. What’s more important for Molson, that you judge what we did and have an opinion, or that we feel that we were successful through our blogger outreach ? We continue to do it and have seen what we deem as great benefits and connectivity with people. More bloggers for Molson, please send them our way. We’re in a business where we want to engage with influencers, customers, consumers and anyone interested in beer. I do respect your opinion and perspective. Hopefully you’ll maybe be open to the fact that Molson feels we were quite successful with botg Brew 2.0 events. It not only developed relationships with a lot of people at those two events, but it has taken us to developing relationships far beyond these events with opporutnities in communities coast to coast…which by the way, is a big part of our strategy at Molson…”community”. Thanks for the post. Hopefully any bloggers out there or SM folks will feel free to connect with us at Molson. Perhaps we will connect with some people at Twestivals in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal where we are parcipating. Cheers @MolsonFerg

    • Ferg – First, I have to give you kudos. Taking the time to stop by and comment on blog-based criticism–now that’s good blogger relations, and something I can both respect and appreciate.

      That said, I certainly don’t expect that Molson takes the criticisms seriously or that it’s “important” to them. It’s been relatively clear that no one involved who has commented on any criticism or suggestions for improvement to the events / targeting has cared about doing much more than continuing to toot their own horn and say how great they are. Well, to be fair, one or two did try to answer a few legitimate questions on Heather Yaxley’s post months back (especially Adam Moffat).

      You actually kind of prove my point when you say “we want to engage influencers, customers, consumers and anyone interested in beer.” As for customers and consumers, good for you! Those are relevant audiences. I’d be very surprised if you didn’t invite some relevant bloggers to the events, and those aren’t under any kind of scrutiny.

      The problem is your openly-admitted target of simply “influencers.” That alone doesn’t make someone relevant to your event. And the event itself really hasn’t been criticized on the whole – it’s how you targeted bloggers.

      How much time did Molson reps spend on each of these blogs, to figure out whether or not the blogger’s audience (the people you’re ultimately hoping to have “influenced” favorably towards your product or company) really care about beer or Molson in particular?

      Did you bother to see if they were already brand advocates?

      Did you take the time to see if they had ever actually posted about beer before on their blog, and if so, how their readers reacted to the post via comments?

      I’m not saying you didn’t do those things. I sincerely hope you did (especially from the perspective of a blogger who’s sick as hell of all the lousy PR pitches for products, news, and events my readers couldn’t care less about). If you did, then those are the kinds of things I’d like to see Molson actually talking about, to back up all of the self-centric claims of great blogger relations.

      Like I said, the problem most of the criticism of Brew 2.0 addresses is not so much the event itself. I’m sure it was a hoot for all involved. The problem is in the targeting – who you pursued, and more importantly, why.

      Without that targeting, you’re really not offering much of value to the blogger and more importantly their readers. It becomes all about you. Good blogger relations has to be about more than that–about more than making nice face-to-face. It has to be about the end audience you’re trying to reach, and what your relationship with these bloggers can do to improve that.

      Results worth bragging about are the ones that stretch far beyond that initial effort – when those bloggers stop talking about your event and instead start talking about your company news, products, etc. without you having to reach out each time. When you’re converting bloggers into brand advocates and they’re actively talking about you to an audience that genuinely cares about your company and products (as in that “influence” actually means something), only then should any company be tooting their own horn saying how great their blogger outreach efforts were.

      As for Twestivals, I sincerely hope you do connect with a lot of bloggers–relevant ones that that.

  • BGR says:

    When anewspaper is bought how can it be trusted?

  • If you’re referring to advertising, I don’t think that plays a role in all cases (and that goes for blogs as well). Beyond that though (kissing their ass, sending them constant freebies, etc.), then they couldn’t be trusted. Then again, those reporters have editors and others to answer to, so I have to imagine it’s less likely (than with bloggers) that they’d be attending events or reviewing products completely unrelated to the target readership. (Precisely why I still put plenty of blame on the bloggers themselves – and working in both a writer and editor capacity for large networks online in the past, I know even on the Web that “supervision” does play a role in the pitches you accept and the relevance in what you publish on blogs or other content sites where you answer to more than yourself and your readers.)

  • I received an email this morning that for me sums all this up. It comes from a blogger who wanted to run an idea past some other bloggers (needless to say, I emailed back my thoughts, which were not supportive). It said:

    I tell some of my friends who work in PR and publishing that they should take bloggers more seriously and let us have review copies of their books. They are beginning to recognise that the way blogs receive things can often be as influential as the way that they are formally reviewed in the dead trees.

    They always ask me to suggest names and get e-mail addresses – which is too much like hard (and unpaid!) work for my liking.

    Anyway, I’ve just had the idea of setting up a community website for bloggers where they can register, say a bit about themselves and what kind of stuff they’d like to be given (free of charge, natch!).

    I’ve set it up, and I’m going to make it ‘invitation only’ shortly to make sure that only bloggers join – but if you’re interested, you can get in without a direct invite for now. You can see it here:
    http://www.serendipstick.com

    To get it going, there are two offers there already – first come, first served on both of them. I’m going to start finding more stuff, but in the meantime, join up and let me know what you think? There are only a handful of members and a few offers for now, but the more members, the more stuff I reckon we can get for each other.
    Anyway, let me know what you think about it?

  • Good conversation about blogger relations. I see a lot of seemingly randomness online on Twitter and on blogs — experts in social media commenting on things unrelated to social media.

    But, judging it irrelevant is to overlook that those SM experts are also consumers themselves. They might not be experts in beer but they may be beer drinkers and through their social media expertise they reach a wider audience than a very specialized blogger. This is where social media competes with the so-called mass media. And maybe among their circle are real experts.

    Any type of PR and marketing is measured by two things — reach and results. (You can also further detail your results by measuring the effort required to achieve them.)

    The question we should be asking ourselves is how we can find balance. Is it better to invest corporate marketing resources on reaching an expert beer blogger who has an audience of two, versus a more generalized blogger/social media expert who reaches thousands? Among those thousands you may find many people who are even more expert than that beer blogger. Those people may engage with the non-expert SM blogger through comments, further educating the larger audience.

    In the end, how many people go out and actually buy the beer based on the effort invested by the blogger relations team? What’s the return on the marketing investment? What’s the goal of the campaign? Relationships with expert beer bloggers with a small audience may be the right path if you want expert product feedback, for example. You may decide on a mix of different types of bloggers as your targets — non-expert, widely read folks who may or may not represent your overall target audience AND experts. And, hey, maybe you can get everything you want/need in one cool package — one blogger with a wide reach, a diverse audience and expertise in your subject. Then you give him/her an exclusive! This is a pretty standard media relations practice.

    One final note: Traditional PR practices aren’t bad just because they are “traditional PR practices”. A lot of them arose through the application of sheer common sense.

  • I couldn’t agree with you more, Jennifer. I was one of the ones who posted criticism after the event, can’t remember where, though. My point was that they could have reached out to actual beer lovers at sites like Bartowel.com. I even cited a case where the late Steelback brewery invited these beer nerds to a tasting and tour.

    The Molson example, even though it involves a few people I know and like, seems to me to be an attempt for Molson to say they’re “doing something with bloggers” and the fact that it keeps getting mentioned as a success baffles me.

    By the way, I have been a blogger since 2000 and do not work in the PR industry, though I have become interested in how PR is using “social media”. I think there’s a very real danger in only speaking to other social media practitioners (ie. the echo chamber) and this might be a good example of that.

  • Judy Gombita says:

    Oh come on, James. Surely your real beef is that you were consumed with jealousy that you weren’t one of the “community” bloggers that Molson “reached-out-to” with its-fun-free-event-for-influential-locals-thatyoudidn’tneedtodoablogpostabout.(Remember, being in the beer/food/entertainment/PR biz apparently was *not* the criteria for the invitation.)

    At least that’s how I was painted. Jealous.

    Then, again, take anything I say with a bag of salt, because apparently I (also) tilt at windmills. Plus ghost-write other people’s blog posts/comments, at least when they are “critical” in nature. :-)

    Jenn, please, please, please start posting again on Naked PR on a regular basis. You are SO missed in this space.

  • Mack Collier says:

    Jennifer thanks for mentioning my post, and thanks for an interesting conversation here. I wasn’t familiar with Molson’s efforts to connect with bloggers before this, and still don’t feel I know enough to comment on those efforts. So I won’t. But from my experience, the problem isn’t with the events themselves, it’s with the lack of followup. Most companies make mistakes when they first start using social media, and at first, I can see how many companies would think they should be targeting ‘influential’ bloggers.

    But I also think the company should be listening and observing this space and their customers. They should be wanting to improve their efforts, and look to create relationships, not just ‘build buzz’.

    Anyway thanks for the conversation and pushing the discussion forward!

    • I believe I’ve said all I have to say on this one, and thanks to all of those who took part in this discussion. Since there have been no more additions to the conversation here in the last few days, I’m going to close this one up and put the blog back into hibernation. Thanks all.


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