Monday, November 16, 2009

Using Bloggers as Means, Not Ends Unto Themselves

I work in public relations. I have never called myself a social media guru, or anything of that sort, because I have never believed that social media needed to be something special or different. It's a tool in the toolbox and those that are presenting themselves as social media gurus or experts are tools as well - ones that need to be locked into a toolbox and ignored.

Good social media is integrated into a marketing, public relations or communications campaign (yes, I ignore advertising as that is paid media, and I include marketing because of the border skirmishes between PR and marketing). It's nothing new, I've written (and spoken) about it before. And while I believe that internal social media people are important for corporations, they should be there quarterbacking and driving strategy, not just doing social media. Large picture.

The smart public relations campaign is going to integrate a community - whether it is an online community, or a neighborhood event. My favorite examples are from a few years ago, but they stuck in my mind: Breyer's ice cream held neighborhood ice cream socials, where the company would have full sundae bars in a neighborhood for everyone to enjoy the ice cream on a hot Phoenix summer day. Great community outreach, smart and a way to bring a neighborhood closer together. For Cold Stone Creamery's opening in Times Square, the big hit for the PR firm was Daily Candy. While I love Daily Candy, wouldn't the smarter hit be to the large companies in the Times Square area with a discount (like, oh, large media companies), create a huge buzz and then get lines ... that would bring out the local television stations? I'm just saying that it goes beyond just media to reach the community.

The Los Angeles Times article - Blogging moms wooed by food firms - hits upon that. The Mom and foodie (but mostly Mom) community has grown to be quite strong and powerful. It is a key demographic, the chief operating officer of the home with the full purchasing power who is also influential with other mothers, friends and family.

From a blogger perspective, Liz Gumbinner wrote an amazing post. I'm writing this post from a PR and blogger perspective. And from a PR perspective, the article shows corporations are reaching out to Mom bloggers ... but with no real strategies, just the usual junket mentality: invite people with influence and wine and dine them, and they'll write about you. And, according to the article, that's pretty much true.

The other thing that I'm getting from the article? Yes, the economy sucks. And, we're going to do whatever it takes to get ours. But that doesn't really work, does it? No, not asking to give the milk away for free, so no one buys the cow ... but demanding payment for everything is not going to work either.

But the pay-me mentality has a few issues, well a few truths that bloggers might not want to acknowledge:
  • Not everyone can write
  • Not everything is monetizable
  • Your audience is your audience, not a commodity to be sold and bought
  • And, there's only one Dooce (in other word's, you ain't gonna be the next Dooce)
The issue here is that this is old thinking, from marketing and public relations. It's the "let's do a junket!" mentality that doesn't work for long-term relationships, but is good for a short-term bump. It's the junket applied to a newish form of content and media. And, while it might work for some blogs (in particular, consumer electronics), it really does not work well with other verticals.

But both bloggers and public relations/social media people need to take responsibility for what is happening here. Is this getting worse, because of the economy? Is the media taking these opportunities to attack bloggers as unethical, and showcase their ethics? Or, is there bigger things at play, such as the FTC that PR and blogging continues to ignore. As I recently noted,
... the FTC will have wider repercussions than people realize, and will stifle much of the social media outreach done by marketing firms - think giveaways, etc - and will lead to tax implications from the IRS that have not been touched upon so far.
Just reading the article, those of us that follow Mom blogs and Twitter will easily remember the attacks on the Nestle bloggers - until the end of the day, Nestle left those bloggers out to dry and let them take the blunt of all the attacks.

That is not building a good, working relationship but leaving your partner out to take all the heat. A good relationship would have seen the corporation - or, at the least, the PR firm - offering air cover for the invited bloggers and taking the heat. While those Nestle attendee's seemed to be fine with the attacks (well, to survive), there was no reason for that to happen. They were just trotted out to Pasadena for a one-time gig, with no long-term strategy. One time dog-and-pony show, that ended fairly for everyone.

The old doesn't work. Well, it does work if it's done right (long-term thinking, strategy, relationship-based) but the old thinking doesn't work in today's world. The old thinking is also just lazy thinking, where you get junkets, short-term planning and not taking responsibility. And, unfortunately, I hear many PR firms recommending bringing Moms and other bloggers out to corporate HQ ... but with no thought of why beyond bringing them out there. Is there a reason, a long-term thought to the junket? Are you putting together a focus group/Mom board? If that is the reason, that can be the basis of a good relationship.

Now, I will be the first to admit that I am not infallible. But PR firms need to change their thinking - and marketing needs to stop looking at social media as earned media that is easily manipulated - and get back to building relationships. That means going to events for in-person relationship building, creating long-term thinking and strategy for campaigns that are not one-off stunts or events, and relationships based on mutual respect that bring value to both parties.

Is PR up to the task? If this article is indicative, not at all. But bloggers also need to not be so easily bought and sold - there's no value if you put out for everyone. There needs to be a middle ground found, but I don't have the easy answer.

And, yes, I misquoted Kant's Categorical Imperative (second maxim) for the post's title.
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