The growth of blogs, attributed to the ease of access and the simplification of publishing, has signaled a change in PR strategies for businesses both big and small.
We already see major brands integrating bloggers into their new PR strategies, treating them equivalent to major media. Consider TechCrunch and Mashable, both high value earned media targets for tech related businesses.
In aggregate, a number of smaller blogs can command the same audience as major publishers. It’s the reason blog networks were born, to leverage the audience of multiple sites to create one huge audience.
PR experts leverage this opportunity to connect with a number of smaller blogs, to get their message out. The advantage to this strategy is that, given the manpower, the likelihood for success can be better by reaching out to multiple small blogs versus one large media outlet.
Most major media outlets are difficult to convince to cover a small business and sometimes even a large brand. They require some kind of hook, something truly newsworthy, or something special.
With smaller bloggers, however, the PR moment can be a lot smaller. Depending on the niche, a basic contest or in-depth article can be enough to justify coverage from smaller sites.
Realizing that connecting with small, targeted, blogs can still achieve the audience size you hope to is the first step. Let’s start to dig deeper by first looking at why businesses should start a blogger outreach program.
There are a number of reasons for reaching out to bloggers, some touch upon increasing the value of your website’s search engine optimizations and others are about increasing your brand’s visibility.
Building Links to High Value Content
When search engines rank the importance of a page compared to its competitors, it looks to a number of metrics. Some of these elements are on-site, the way your site is coded, and some are off-site, how people interact with your website.
One of the most important elements in off-site search engine optimization (SEO), is the inbound link. To search engines, when someone links to your website they see this as a thumbs up, a vote, for your content. The more people that “vote”, through links, for your content – the more important Google considers it.
Because of this value of links, befriend the people that can vote for, by linking to it, seems a natural strategic advantage.
Make friends with relevant bloggers, connect with them, and inform them of new content or campaigns your business is doing. This kind of outreach has valuable impact on your authority in search engines like Google.
Increasing Visibility within an Industry
Just as important as visibility in search engines, is visibility among consumers. The idea of branding is not new, but using bloggers in a strategy is. There are two ways to build brand visibility through bloggers: guest posting and outreach.
Guest posting is the act of writing articles to be published on a blog you don’t own. For example, sometimes, I guest post on Mashable or ReadWriteWeb. This increased my online presence and grew my personal brand.
Outreach on the other hand, is similar to link building, but instead of focusing on having the blogger link to your site, it focuses on just getting a blogger to write about you. This could mean, gifting product, giving insider information, or any other type of exclusive access, so the blogger dedicates an entire post to your business.
Convincing bloggers to cover your business requires some ingenuity and hard work, but coverage from bloggers acts as a testimonial for you and your business.
Consumers trust their favorite bloggers (as a blogger, I’m invested in making sure my readers, you, trust what I say and that my reputation stays strong) and as an extension may trust the businesses bloggers cover.
Creating Relationships and Friendships
Finally, an often-overlooked yet just as important aspect of blogger outreach is the relationships you make. Bloggers are influencers, thought-leaders, and popular people in their industries. They reach their readers and community on a personal level, compared to journalists who usually reach their readers through the publisher brand.
Befriending a blogger means befriending their community as well. Having access to this network means your next event, sale, or promotion has a community within easy reach.
It’s fairly clear the importance of partaking in blogger outreach and connecting with these bloggers. For small businesses, the impact a blogger outreach program can have can be the same as a traditional PR program.
Business owners are busy, so although blogger outreach may be inexpensive, for some it means either hiring a community manager or adding the community manager responsibilities to an employee.
Community managers are invaluable; they are a supplement to your PR person. They should work with PR and marketing to grow the brand’s network and continually engage with the online bloggers.
The Optimal Community Manager
Generally, the community manager should be someone that lives and breathes your brand; someone who’s exciting to be around and easy to talk to. It’s all about being personable and fun.
Don’t skimp on a community manager, when you hire one, look for a full-time person. I repeat, this is not a position for a part-time employee or intern. Your community manager will be creating relationships and making first impressions for your business – give them the respect and attention you give your best sales person.
Finding a good community manager is not always easy; one place to start is the online job boards at sites like Mashable, Marketing Pilgrim, or ProBlogger. Another place to look is bloggers in your industry. Hiring a blogger means hiring their community and their network, sometimes it’s the easiest way to get a passionate community manager.
Once your resources are in place, it’s up to them to start doing the outreach and creating the relationships. Being organized, at this point, is of utmost importance.
Organization is important because there are hundreds of blogs and only so much time. Outlining an outreach list lets you easily determine how to allocate your resources to reach the most bloggers and create the largest impact.
When creating your outreach list, you’ll obviously want to include the blog title, URL, blogger’s name, and contact information.
Aside from the basics, however, you should also include notes on previous conversations, important information on the blogger, and also some information about their blog.
What kind of writing do they do? What do they truly dislike? How amiable are they to working with you?
Overtime you’ll begin to learn whom your favorite bloggers are and you’ll be able to create tiered lists.
Identifying Valuable Targets
Once you have a template for information you want to include in your outreach list, it is time to actually start filling it out and finding high value bloggers.
With the number of bloggers, you would think it would be easy to find hundreds of relevant ones for you to reach out to. In some industries, this may be the case. However, you’ll quickly realize that there are really only a handful of professional and effective blogs in each industry.
Two places to start the search for valuable blogs are in the DMOZ Directory and Alltop. DMOZ is a hand-edited directory that is broken out by topic. It is considered the top directory and Google imports the data to populate their own directory.
Alltop is a user suggested outline of blogs by topic. It’s great for finding not only the largest blogs, but some smaller and newer bloggers as well.
These two are great starting points. The rest of the list comes from reading your original blogs and seeing whom they interact with and link to.
As you become more ingrained in the online community, you’ll begin to know who the new players are and which bloggers receive the most attention.
Outreach is a game of numbers and patience. The bigger your outreach lists the more likelihood for success. However, building large lists takes time.
Surprisingly, the easiest part of outreach is the actually outreach. Most people are afraid of reaching out to bloggers because you hear the horror stories of bloggers that have posted bad pitches. It’s true, we hate bad pitches, but it’s only because a good pitch is so simple to make.
Treat bloggers like your friend, write short personable but professional emails that are tailored to us. Bloggers are not low class journalists; we appreciate the same respect and time you afford a journalist.
Please don’t send a blogger a basic press release – these get spammed or junked instantly. Send an email that outlines important information that is easily skimmed.
Although it seems scary to pitch bloggers, don’t forget that bloggers need brand contact as much as businesses need blogger contact. Brands can give bloggers exclusive access, information about upcoming events, and promotions to gift their readers.
Good blogger outreach programs create symbiotic relationships that help both the blogger and the business.
The impact a good blogger outreach program can have is multifaceted and immense. It affects search engine optimization, branding, and the business’ online reputation.
It’s an extremely powerful tool and gives a great competitive advantage. It’s simple to start and relatively inexpensive to excel at.
Have you ever created a blogger outreach program or campaign for your business? Whose responsibility is it to connect with bloggers? Have a favorite outreach letter? Share it with us and let us know!