Driving a Blogger-Influencer Relationship Program

Last year, I wrote a post – What NOT to do with Bloggers? It received a huge response within a few hours. That clearly states the importance of the subject we’re discussing!

Three years ago, Blogger Relationship Programs were picking up well in India and a lot of technology brands were running them in one form or the other. However, most of them were doing review programs, not building relationships. Many of them could not distinguish between the two and some did not care to.

It was at nearly the same time when I was doing a social media pitch where a section of the deck included a service called – Blogger / Influencer relations. That wasn’t something the brand manager heard for the first time but he had questions about it.

For example – How is this different from,-

1. Inviting a few bloggers to the Press Conferences.
2. Getting the existing PR agency to send out press releases and products for review.
3. Pestering the invitees and those who got the products for review to write good reviews.

I knew the stage was set but the characters involved were not playing a great role. Hence, the brand manager had such questions. The only one benefiting out of this was the PR agency. Everything was unidirectional, yet being measured with engagement metrics, displayed with fancy excel sheets.

Before the pitch, I had looked at a few global brands, which believed in building relationships with bloggers and web publishers. Those were not at the mercy of their PR agencies to get product reviews. A handful of them were doing it right because they believed in the fact that as long as a brand focuses on building relationships and recognizing bloggers, things would fall in place. Sharing classified information with bloggers and knowing what they write and what they DON’T, was equally important for the bloggers to show interest.

It took a while to make the brand manager trust the concept enough to give me an opportunity. I was successful in getting on board.

Today, all that is history. After driving blogger and influencer relation programs for multiple brands and holding multiple Blogger Meets in cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, I look back at the past and see an interesting journey.

A lot of brands have started to connect and involve bloggers for product reviews, launch parties, exclusive meets, etc. Blogging is far more glamorous now than it ever was. Undergraduates in college are catching up with this, brands are spending money to reach out to more bloggers, people are quitting jobs and blogging full time, …you get the idea.

Not just that, the concept of social influencers has also picked up a lot in the last 2 years. Numbers of followers on twitter and social currency measurement indices like Klout & Peer Index have led brands and agencies evaluate a micro-blogger. These services analyze one’s behavior on social media platforms and on the basis of how other people react to one’s updates (like, share, re-tweet, reply, etc.) and they assign scores. The number of followers, fans and shares/ retweets one has under his / her belt helps them predict reach, amplification, etc.

There have been instances where people have averaged out the scores and published top influencer lists in India. It says a lot about how brands are looking at social currency.

What changed the mindset of people towards blogging and the bloggers / influencers?

Our tendencies to share have changed dramatically – What are doing? – Where we are? – What do we love? … and so on. We were never so comfortable sharing these until a few years ago. There is an opportunity to network & connect with people over social networks, because people have a desire to know others’ opinion, discuss and debate. For many, social streams are an important source of news.

Growth in online promotions, giveaways, offline-online integrated campaigns, etc. has added a new dimension to online engagement.
It was never so easy to reach out to bloggers, technologists, foodies, photographers or subject matter experts to get some advice in a real time environment without having to meet someone in person. It’s easy and possible on the move.

Some brands have identified it early and are even paying influencers to talk about them on social networks. This further adds more people to the troupe who would wish to get their bills paid that way. However, that has raised questions on one’s credibility. Plus, this can occasionally backfire.

With ecommerce picking up in India, it’s not just about ‘buying’ goods or services online but about being convinced or influenced by a trusted peer network. This is what brands now need to tap into. The channels may include (not limited to) – social media presence, influencer / blogger relations, etc. Facebook Share / Tweet This button is the first step to that. It’ll be interesting to see how brands leverage social technology to extend the voice of happy customers to their prospects.

Reaching out to bloggers or influencers, offering them a trial of the product or service and asking them for honest opinion is as great as it sounds. However, that comes with agendas of everyone involved in the activity. Provided each of the parties stick to their ethics, this can be a great way to leverage the opportunity.

What should brands do to kick-start a blogger / influencer relations program?

A brand needs to believe in bloggers to start with. Next, identify the goals and allocate budgets. While a few brands (like Nokia) would want to invest into a long term relationship with bloggers and consider it to have a value, others like Mitsubishi often look out for good coverage (Mitsubishi Cedia Challenge is a good example) and go for a one time gig to attract bloggers & photographers to experience the product, talk about it and under a campaign. A brand must differentiate between the same and invest accordingly. One may lead to the other, depending on the impact an activity creates.

How does one differentiate between a relationship program and review program? – Arguably, both of them are about relationships. Just that one is to build a relationship when you need it and the other is to build one beforehand and recognize bloggers as an individual, not as one in the 100-bloggers-list document.

In this day and age of technology, personalization and targeting isn’t enough. A brand needs to recognize and not just reward good work. Sharing everything with bloggers isn’t possible and they are smart enough to understand that. But what’s important is to build a platform for a dialogue and not just share a digitized press release and expect bloggers to edit and publish the same. A platform can be as simple as an email thread or as complex as a web community with various features and sections like Live Chat, Hi-res images, FAQs, etc.

Brands need to understand that bloggers are not journalists with a formal degree but they’re smart. Nor are they interested in what the Press Release says. They’re the ones who would get bored at a Press Conference sooner than anyone. Primarily, bloggers look out for,

1. Product experience and not Press Releases.
2. A platform to have a dialogue with the brand.

They believe in creating a story along with inputs from the brand and not by looking at the release.

Identifying blogs, which have similar target group as the product/ service is an important step. Not just that but following them, sharing their posts, tweets and updates, engaging with them on twitter, etc. This would lead them to recognize you well enough, when you need a story to go out. We all know that this doesn’t happen a week before a brand needs them. Instead, it’s an ongoing process.

The question here is, how many brands are willing to spend on building an ongoing relationship? All this needs time, resource and hence money.

I would like to hear from fellow bloggers and people who are building relationships with them. :-)

Image courtesy: Mike Licht