Last week I asked my management team if what we do at Abraham Harrison is inbound marketing. Sara Wilson, my COO, told me yes, that our digital PR strategy of identifying thousands of topical blogs and then pitching them on behalf of our clients with the goal of securing hundreds of earned media mentions is surely the definition of inbound marketing–and maybe even the way that God intended. Or at least the deities who wrote the Cluetrain Manifesto, where markets are conversations.
Earned media is hard. How do you get loads and loads of unpaid citizen journalists to make a gift of their valuable time and platform? It must be just short of impossible. Far from it, and we have been doing it again and again, week after week, since the Fall of 2006, about a half-decade ago.
This commonly-held belief, that earned inbound marketing is well-nigh impossible, has caused “fickle and unreliable” bloggers and influencers to be avoided in place of predictable but artificial inbound marketing. This new version uses technology and SEO, fake review sites, fake blog sites, fake news sites, affiliate marketing, monetary incentives, text-link-ads, link trading. and entire “informational” sites similar to Wikipedia, distributed globally, on many different servers and under many different domains and sub-domains to emulate its “impossible” counterpart.
That natural flow of emergent citizen-sharing was supposed to be the original source of everything online: real reviews, real stories, real communities, real comments, and real content at the end of every real search. But until recently, when Google did a big check and adjustment to its algorithm, fake inbound marketing was outdoing the real thing.
What inbound marketing has become, in many instances, is a very elaborate and convincing hoax, a simulacrum, that aims to create an artificial world of viable content, at its cheapest and most shameless, to very useful content, at its best, but which has the single-minded goal of acting as a sales and conversion channel of commercial or political products or services.
Yes, earned media outreach and engagement also has an agenda. Yes, when I engage online, I am not reaching out in order to just meet new friends, I am also interested in convincing citizen journalists and online content providers to report on what’s going on with my client on their own personal or collaborative blog to their precious readers.
The most important difference between the simulacrum of entire virtual online content cities being formed intentionally by networks and affiliations to emulate as perfectly as possible the emergent and organic reviews, reporting, discussion, recommendation, and experience and true earned media is that only earned media is authentic.
Authentic, you ask, are you serious? Yes. Let me explain. My friend Pamela has known me for years. She was under the illusion that Abraham Harrison and I had the blogosphere hypnotized. To her, under my hypnosis, these zombies would be at my very command, writing and blogging anything and everything I decided to feed them, no matter how salesy or shilled. She believes that hundreds and thousands of bloggers were at my bidding, awaiting my call.
This is not how it works at all.
Controlling only the front end of the messaging
What really happens is that we take what our client has–their assets, graphics, copy, products and services, agenda, and message–and we deconstruct it into component parts and then reconstruct it into as simple and clear a message as we can and no simpler. We construct a very terse and very clear message model that evolves into a a pitch email, and then we come out the other side of the tunnel with a social media news release (SMNR)–rife with copy and videos with embed codes and photos and images that are easy to copy and paste, sometimes going so far as to include image embed codes–and three outgoing pitch emails.
We do the best we can with this because this is really all we control at this end–the front end–of the messaging. The only other thing we can control over the course of the campaign is how we react to initial blogger response, be it in the form of an email reply to our pitch or a blog post, a tweet, a video response, or a wall posting.
I won’t go into the art of dealing with blogger email and blog responses in this post; however, it does require the patience of Job and a constant reminder of the sage words of Philo of Alexandria, “be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Sometimes this isn’t so easy to remember but I have a professional team that does an amazing job of always being decent, respectful, responsive, and generous. Also, my COO and CEO like to remind me that it is very rare that a blogger ever bites us. Things can generally always be handled and addressed well before anything embarrassing or untoward evolved. These days, after really sorting out a series of best practices, there is rarely if ever a crisis.
Using clearness, kindness, and responsiveness, we are routinely able to garner hundreds of earned media blog mentions in addition to the hundreds of tweets and wall posts. Do we care about the relative popularity and readership of these hundreds of bloggers and tweeters? No, not at all. We don’t care about their compete.com score, their Google PageRank number, or their Alexa ranking. We don’t care where they show up on Technorati or on Guy Kawasaki’s AllTop. We really don’t care where they rank in Klout or Empire Avenue.
We just care that they have their very own platform, be it a blog, a Tumblr, a Posterous, a Facebook Page, or a Twitter profile. Full stop. That and a high probability of topical relevance, which is to say we take great pains to make sure we only reach out to people for whom our message, our email pitch, is at least minimally topically relevant and neither surreal nor out of left field.
In PR and with blogger outreach, as with everything, be a gentleman and everything else will follow. No tricks. No sleight-of-hand. Just honest reaching out with relevant material. Just the way God intended.