You blog. You may blog successfully. You may have a readership that, in all probability, buys things related to the subjects you blog about.
These three facts will alone mean, whether you like it or not, you may have a red dot trained on your forehead. It’s only a matter of time before marketers invade your inbox like cliché-spouting terrorists with shiny shoes. If they aren’t already, that is.
Over the last few years, as marketers have realised that bloggers have audiences and SEO benefits that even outweigh those of some media outlets, unfortunately poor practise has seeped into what is now defined as “blogger engagement,” or “blogger relations.”
I’m going to tell you how these marketers can be of benefit to you and your blog, how to attract marketers if you’d like to, and then, how to work with them to ensure the relationship is mutually beneficial.
In my experience
I’ve worked in PR for about five years now. I’ve blogged for longer, to varying degrees of success. Having maintained blogs related to video gaming, media, and marketing, and one site I think it’s best I don’t say much more about, I’d say I have a good deal of experience in this area.
A couple of years ago, I built a relatively popular fitness blog, which is where I first saw some of the most incredibly poor pitching I’ve ever seen. I’d be contacted with products and services that were of no relevance, and spoken to like some sort of second-rate journalist, as marketers attempted either to cajole or batter me into writing about their clients.
The worst thing was, I knew many of the agencies that were contacting me, and in some cases, I knew some of the PR or SEO “professionals” from Twitter or offline meet-ups. It was clear they hadn’t made the connection.
Aggressive emails chasing me for not responding soon enough, for declining review products or—in the rare instances pitches did hit the mark—trying to dictate to me what I should and shouldn’t write filled my inbox.
It wasn’t just that most of the products, services or clients weren’t relevant to fitness, it was that there was no desire to build any sort of relationship with me from the majority of marketers—despite the fact my readers could be their customers if and when they did have something that was right. As with many bloggers, I wrote because it was a passion; something I enjoyed doing.
Marketers will contact bloggers for as long as bloggers have an engaged audience. A niche audience is a receptive audience. You might not like it, and many, many marketers might be terrible at it, but it’s a fact that isn’t going to change. Therefore, just as journalists have developed ways to deal with pushy PRs, bloggers can either ignore marketers or learn how to work with them in a way that’s mutually beneficial.
And this is where I think I can help.
How can marketers help improve your blog?
Marketers can help you make a success of your blog. Here are five things marketers can provide you with that can help to build your blog. I’ll also give pros and cons for each, based on my own experiences.
1. Competition prizes
Marketers can offer competition prizes in a way that promotes their clients or business, but also gives you and your readers something different.
Competitions are great traffic draws, especially if the prizes or method particularly relate to your blog. I have run many competitions using prizes marketers have offered up for free in return for product publicity, and each did very well—some even drew thousands of additional unique visitors.
If you’re serious about blogging and building your audience, you’ll probably know of other bloggers in your area of interest or expertise. You’ll possibly keep an eye on their posts and you’ll see them doing things that work and things that don’t. One of the things that always worked for me and rival bloggers, in particular for the fitness blog, was competitions with prizes that interested our readerships.
- You don’t have to put your hand in your pocket.
- It’s a great way to reward and pique the interest of current and potential readers, respectively.
- A good prize can draw a lot of traffic, especially where sharing is a requisite for entering the competition.
- They can provide good, regular content if you’re sometimes stuck on what to write.
- You may attract the wrong sort of traffic, such as readers that only visit to enter competitions.
- Prizes that aren’t relevant to your desired audience can dilute your blog and put off current readers.
2. Review products/services/experiences
Receiving a product to review, or being asked to try a service or experience out because it relates to your blog audience is, or was for me, incredibly exciting.
My main tip here is: don’t allow marketers to dictate to you whether the review or write-up should be positive or not. Considering they likely contacted you, you should be giving your honest opinion and not writing something you think will ensure you receive similar offers in the future.
When I was running my fitness blog, I thoroughly enjoyed trying out the newest video games and fitness gadgets. Marketers would offer them for free, and in some cases, asking marketers using services such as those mentioned in the “How to find marketers” section below resulted in some very relevant prize offers.
In short, you will be offered the opportunity to review if the marketer thinks your readers are well suited to their client or business.
- Having a hands-on trial of a product, service, or experience is the only way to write knowledgeably about it. Your readers will appreciate this.
- You often get to keep the products, which, given you likely blog about something you’re passionate in, is very cool.
- Some marketers want the products back!
- You may be expected to write positively, though I’d recommend against doing so just because you feel pressured to.
Building a good relationship with marketers might mean invitations to events, shared information about businesses and individuals and importantly, good content for your blog that will keep readers coming back.
I’ve personally managed to build some great relationships with marketers who are relevant to my blogs, ensuring I’m amongst the first to hear about stories. This is important because being the first with news or information means it’s your blog that’s likely to be shared and linked back to most.
- Knowing information first is what sets popular blogs like TMZ and The Next Web apart. Your blog might not be anywhere near the size of these yet, but everybody starts somewhere. If readers can rely on you for scoops, they’ll come back and share your content time and again.
- You’ll build a base of contacts that’ll be useful if and when you need to verify or research posts.
- Speaking on behalf of PR people everywhere, we’re notoriously gossipy. And the problem with gossip is that it’s not always 100% accurate. Unverified information masquerading as bona fide fact may come back to haunt you.
Access to experts
Experts within your sector can add credibility to your posts and blog as a whole. Marketers can give you access to their clients or people within their organisation that you otherwise wouldn’t have a hope of reaching. They’ll do this either because they think the experts could be useful to you or, as mentioned, because you ask specifically for an introduction using one of the methods mentioned below.
In my experience, these experts are also likely to promote the posts they’re mentioned in. They often have good audiences in terms of social media, meaning your post could find its way into the streams of many potential readers.
- Quotes from experts can only strengthen your blog, adding credibility to posts.
- Access to other people in your areas of interest can help build a roster of people who are happy to guest post for you. This means you have a body of people generally willing to help with good content—if that’s something you’re happy to receive in return for them plugging their own businesses. These experts are likely to have their own audiences, too, which they’ll likely promote their guest blog—and therefore, your blog—to.
- Not all “experts” put forward really are experts. Some may be simply touted by the marketer in a bid to achieve a plug on your blog.
Given that many bloggers post in their own time about subjects they are interested in, the dream to make enough money blogging to do it full-time is an unsurprising one. Marketers can be the middlemen you need to make this happen.
Some bloggers don’t accept payment for posts; some only post for marketers when they’re being paid. It’s a personal choice, and one you’re likely to consider the more prominent your blog becomes.
There are a number of ways of monetisation in blogging, many of which Darren has already covered in his make money blogging section, such as advertising, affiliate marketing, and speaking fees. Some bloggers also choose to only post for brands if they’re paid to do so, whilst others will post dependent on relevance.
The key is to lay this out to marketers at the beginning of a relationship. Online payment services such as PayPal make accepting payment simple.
- The most obvious of all: you get paid!
- Accepting payment for links is a dangerous game that can have your blog fall off the face of Google quicker than you can say “black hat SEO.” I’d recommend you steer clear of any marketers, mainly SEO people in my experience, who ask that you give them a live “do follow” link in return for payment
- Your blog suddenly becomes a business and you are responsible for the administration and legalities that come with that. I list this as a con because many people don’t consider it.
How to find marketers
If you’re sold on the idea of working with marketers and they’re not yet contacting you, there are ways to make yourself more visible.
I’d always advise you to look at best-practise guidelines where possible, because naive requests for free products when your blog is just a day or two old with next to no audience are likely to be ignored. They could even hinder your chance of building relationships before you start.
Here are a few ways you can find marketers (or allow them to find you):
- Use social media. In particular, Twitter is a great way to find and interact with marketing agencies and individuals.
- Peter Shankman’s HARO is a great way to make queries that will be seen by PR people.
- In the UK, Response Source’s request service gives you the chance to ask for everything from competition prizes to information for an article.
- Sign up to my very own service, bloggabase.com.
- Attend events related to your area of interest. I’m often at industry events where I get the chance to meet journalists and bloggers, trading contact details in a bid to provide them with information that’s relevant to them.
- Ask fellow bloggers for introductions. Chances are they’ll be only to happy to help.
Whether you’re being contacted now or hope to be speaking to marketers in the future, please do be aware that as with good, old-fashioned media relations, where there are good and bad PR people in the eyes of journalists, there are good and bad blog pitches. To help you make the best of it, here are a few things I’ve picked up by being on both sides of the fence.
Top tips for fielding pitches
- Tell the truth: Lying about the number of unique visitors to your blog or the number of subscribers to a newsletter is not the way to build a mutually beneficial relationship. Looking at your Alexa rank, Google page rank, the number of Twitter followers, and the number of times your blog comes up in a Twitter search over the last week or so are some of the ways I’ll validate a blog’s popularity, especially if quoted figures seem inordinate.
- Be upfront: If you aren’t likely to post about something without being paid to do so, let the marketer know before speaking further. They may not mind, but they’ll need to know because inevitably, it’ll have to come out of their client’s budget.
- Be friendly: I’ve worked with many bloggers who have, at least at first, treated me with very little respect no matter how targeted my approach. If you appreciate that marketers can be of benefit to you too, in all the ways I mentioned above and more, you’ll hopefully appreciate that respect is a two-way street. The junior agency employee contacting you might one day soon be in charge of the marketing for a company you’d very much like to work with.
- Don’t be a walkover: Some marketers will, conversely, treat you with little respect. If a pitch is irrelevant, you can either ignore it or politely tell the marketer so. Some will try to ensure you write positively about their clients. Again, you don’t have to put up with that. The second they contact you or send you a product to review, I believe marketers relinquish the right to dictate what you can and can’t say. For instance, I know certain bloggers or journalists wouldn’t like some of my clients’ products or services, so I just don’t contact them with them.
- Ask questions: Ask the marketer if they have any other clients that are relevant to your blog. Ask them if there are any events coming up that might be of interest to your audience.
Have you used marketers to help build your blog and meet the needs of your readers? Tell us how it went in the comments.
Rich Leigh is a public relations professional, blogger and also co-founder of bloggabase.com, a service launched to help improve bloggers and marketers connect. Bloggers can sign up for free to receive targeted pitches, review products, guest blog offers and monetise their blogs. It’s an opted-in way of inviting marketers to make contact based on relevance.