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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15 comments

  1. This is a really interesting point. I think everyone think they're going to be the next Dooce when, frankly, that ship has sailed.

    I think creating resource blogs, on the other hand, is a method of working through your blog.

    I personally use blogging to augment my work and to try and make a name for myself in my chosen industry. It is hardly rocket science, but it does appear to be working.

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  2. Is there only one Dooce? How about The Pioneer Woman? I don't know how her stats rack up against Heather Armstrong's, but she is #1 on the NYT Bestseller list and she gets hundreds, if not thousands, of comments on each post and seems to do it with much less vituperative criticism than Dooce gets...Pioneer Woman's trick was offering something absolutely unique and gorgeously presented. Very few people have that, though.

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  3. We (the consumers.. i.e. ALL of us) want to have a conversation and buy from people we know, like and trust. That really never changes.

    The tools today make it so easy to LISTEN to the market and LOVE (show that you care enough to listen and respond).

    Handouts and payoffs are just quick fix, like dropping in on your kids and handing them a toy. Real relationship with people take time. Now that we have tools, we can do that for more people.

    If you LISTEN and LOVE, your marketing and PR will work better. If you try to fake it, we'll figure it out and break the toy.

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  4. Love the part about getting out for in-person meetings. As a long-time blogger/social media participant, and someone just entering the world of PR, the immediate value that I have always seen is using social media to lead to personal, face-to-face relationships.

    Social media is a great way to connect and build relationships. But long-term relationships require more. They require being social in-person as well.

    Solely sitting behind a computer will only get you so far in relationship building.

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  5. I think you've got some good points. One thing I'd add is that you've got to start somewhere.

    We're trying to ease a client into a long-term WOMMA / CRM strategy that leans hard on social media tools (because they're effective for that). In helping them to build the "snowball core" of enthusiasts that we plan over time to develop into a thriving community, we did something like the "junket" you mentioned.

    From the outside, it looks like the same old, same old, but from the inside, we were clear that what we and the client are looking for is a long-term relationship.

    The "junket" was a safe, "we understand that" entry point for the client and the new media folks. But it was always planned as an entry point to a longer term relationship.

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  6. Smart post. I agree with your core points: not everyone can write, not everyone is going to be Dooce. I would add that the element missing from a lot of corporate social media strategy is respect. Companies need to respect the bloggers they want to woo and value their ideas, opinions and input, and not just consider them sheep who will be swayed by a swag bags and a nice meal. (Although, to be fair, I think a lot of companies are doing this already.)

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  7. You're right to say that if the model was stupid in traditional media, it's not going to work in social media either -- and PR persons should value these relationships absolutely with the same respect and care as they would any other outlet, and build relationships accordingly.

    Until I read you post, I hadn't focused on bloggers likewise taking the long view -- nicely put.


    Also, though I know you've made this point before, I'm glad you made it again -- the FTC blogging rules do change everything. Not just about money and pay -- but verifiability. Think about the Mom bloggers who write about alternative health cures, for example, and the implications are startling.

    It's going to be interesting. Thanks for the gentlemanly call to attention.

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  8. Good stuff in here Jeremy.

    I'm glad to hear you talking strategy, because my fear is that the blogger junkets don't have the intended effect (in part because the strategy and goals aren't all that thought out) and then suddenly everyone decides oh well, blogger programs don't work.

    Good PR can work, and bad PR can fail. Not sure how that's any different here than anywhere else.

    I also am worried about the pay-me stuff. I think Kelby raises some really great points on her post though - like the idea that consultants should be paid for expertise. I can't tell you how many times I am asked to give free advice, and I've worked in advertising for 20 years. Of course that shouldn't be confused with being paid for reviews, but of course the comments are veering in that direction.

    That said, not every blogger is an expert.

    In fact not every expert is an expert these days.

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  9. There's only one Dooce...so funny and true! Just like there's only one Seth Godin and one Perez Hilton. Honestly I kind of stopped reading these blogs because as a blogger myself, I finally realized trying to rip off other people's writing style is futile. These blogs are all popular because they are ORIGINAL... they were the first of their kind, which mean copying doesn't make much sense. Instead of thinking "If I could just master Seth's profound tone..." just write like yourself and start something new. It's the only way!

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  10. Hello. Thanks for this post. I'd just like to make a few points. One, I do not believe all bloggers should be paid nor that all work bloggers do should be paid. As Mom101 brings up, paid reviews are a horrible model. I would hold companies or bloggers who do that in rather low regard. I can think of very few examples of editorial being paid that wouldn't leave a bad taste in my mouth.

    I do find it kind of amusing that PR bloggers always feel the need to point out that not all bloggers are worthy. If they aren't, why are they being pitched? Why are they being asked to have their brains picked for free? I know mom bloggers who have been asked to, essentially, run a full blown marketing campaign without any pay. If they offer no value, then why are you trying to work with them at all? I think one could easily make a case that a blogger a company WANTS writing about it must have something of value to offer in some manner. That, or the PR person didn't do their research before pitching to find a blogger that offers value.

    A couple of points you make:

    "Your audience is your audience, not a commodity to be sold and bought"

    OK... so you're telling me traditional media doesn't use its audience to sell ads? Why are there audited ABC numbers? Viewership numbers? Why are these in EVERY rate card on the planet?

    You also say:
    "And, there's only one Dooce (in other word's, you ain't gonna be the next Dooce"

    There is also only one New York Times. Should all other newspapers give up on getting advertising? Of course not. They set their rates accordingly.

    I am sounding snarkier than I mean too... I really do think you made some great points. These junkets and many social media plans are done with little thought to the big picture.

    But I also get irritated with so much devaluing of what bloggers have to offer. On the one hand, people argue we are insignificant. I agree that many are untrained, but that is the nature of the ease of self-publishing with a blog. On the next hand, they are dying to know what we know and reach who we reach. It can't be both ways. Either we're valuable or not. Maybe not all of us, and maybe for not every situation. But clearly there is value.

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  11. I think that one of the reasons why social media is often seen as separate by PR firms is that it is a relatively new phenomenon and the older generation PR practitioners may not feel comfortable reaching out this way. Leave it to the youngsters to take care of.

    I entirely agree that social media is not enough, integrated strategies work best. I often think of social media is an added on bonus, not to be used as the main strategy, but more of a secondary tactic that can help get more publicity. PR firms should take a holistic approach with whichever campaign they're working on.

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  12. You have made some really good points here. Thanks for sharing them here.

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  13. I think you have made some interesting points.

    I am a PR student and as part of our course we have to create an online profile using a blog and being pro-active on micro blogging sites such as Twitter.

    I use my blog to establish myself as a brand but also a a vehicle to educate myself and learn independently from my course.

    As part of the blog sphere I have learnt a lot from other bloggers. Most importantly I have seen which blogs are successful and which are not.

    It's all about creating a conversation and connecting with like minded (or not) people.

    A good debate is healthy!

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  14. Hey Jeremy...I just discovered this post (thanks to Buzz).

    I really appreciate your perspective. I do outreach to mainly social media types, and as a blogger myself many of your points resonate.

    This is a great perspective.

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