9 Ways to Engage Bloggers

Mention the phrase “blogger engagement” to today’s marketer, and you’re likely to get an eager response, followed by self-professed ignorance. “We’d love to do that—we just don’t know how.”

To some, this scenario spells new business. (In part, this explains why many agencies separate their “digital” practice from their traditional ones.) Yet an honest blogger whisperer will let you in on a secret: If you can pitch a reporter, producer, or booker, you can pitch a blogger. After all, bloggers are just people—susceptible to the same relationship-cultivating techniques that every PR pro performs every day.

Indeed, the best way to understand bloggers is to view them as members of the media. Think of blogger engagement as public relations, albeit a new kind. Neither straight reporter nor pure pundit, the blogger is a hybrid creature who observes his own rules.

For example, you wouldn’t pitch the Joe Fridays at NYTimes.com, whose practices would make the Columbia School of Journalism proud, the same way you’d pitch the wits at Gawker Media, who aspire to an “angry-creative-underclass voice.” Instead, in order to get the results you want, it would behoove you to treat bloggers on their terms, not your own.

Here are nine of these terms—with the caveat that only after you know the rules is it ok to break them.

1. Write As if Your E-mail Will Be Published

Think of this as Joe Kennedy 101. The patriarch of the Kennedy family famously advised his children not to write “anything down that you wouldn’t want published on the front page of the New York Times.”

Indeed, if your pitch is good, your blogger may integrate your copy into his verbatim, without acknowledging his source. If you pitch is bad, your blogger may forward it to the Bad Pitch Blog. As SHIFT Communications advises, “If you pitch isn’t good enough to be published as is, don’t send it.”

2. Connect and Flatter

Think of this as Psychology 101. Like most things in life, blogger engagement is built on relationships. And relationships that flourish tend to sprout from common interests. As Lisa Barone, of Outspoken Media, advises (my emphasis):

“Snuggle me a little. You know you’re sending the same e-mail to 20 people. I know you’re sending the same e-mail to 20 people. But sometimes you gotta fake it to make me feel special and pretty … Woo me … Talk about how you grew up in the same hometown (only if you did). Comment on a post I wrote that gave you a bad case of the giggles, or how you think my Twitter feed should come with an NC-17 rating … I’ll be a lot more receptive once you’ve stroked my ego.”

In other words, your initial message is your opportunity to demonstrate that you’ve done more than copy and paste the blogger’s name and e-mail address. Show that you’ve taken the time to learn about this guy and are familiar with his work. Show that you’re someone worth engaging with.

A related point. Blogging is a personal and relational medium, so send e-mail blasts only when you must. Ask yourself: Do you treat messages in which you’re CCed differently from those in which you’re the only recipient?

3. Make Your Pitch

Think of this as Public Relations 101. The secret to PR: Make the blogger feel as though you’re doing him a favor, not asking for one yourself. Explain why the blogger should care about what you’re throwing him.

4. Exude Enthusiasm

Think of this as Showmanship 101. If you aren’t jumping for joy about what you’re pitching, your recipient won’t be, either. Enthusiasm is contagious. Spread it around.

5. Don’t Pitch—Talk

Think of this as Communications 101. Hacks have long relied on flacks. But bloggers, especially in tier one, tend to look at PR people askance. As Nick Denton, founder of Gawker Media, puts it, “Our sites are allergic to corporate boilerplate.”

This is understandable. For one, while it’s common to spam a hundred reporters with a press release, bloggers loathe releases. Instead, omit the manufactured quotes and summarize the key points—maybe in bullets for easy reading.

6. Be Brief

We live in an era of texts and tweets. According to blogger Brian Solis, “The escalator is the new elevator when it comes to pitching.” To wit: You now need to be both succinct and brief. This means resisting the urge to cram everything into a single message.

Instead of attaching PDFs and PowerPoints, use links generously. Your goal is to whet your blogger’s appetite, to spur an ongoing conversation, rather than a once-and-done correspondence.

7. Make the Ask

Think of this as Sales 101. Before you close the deal, you need to make it clear what the deal is. In the same way, don’t forget to tell your blogger why you’re e-mailing him. If you’re looking for him to write something, say so.

If you’re just introducing yourself or asking for feedback, say that. Be explicit without being Donald Trump.

8. Exploit the Subject Line

This is Marketing 101. Most people devote all their energy to crafting a compelling pitch, then wrap their labor in a cheap bow. That is, they treat the subject lines of their e-mail as an afterthought.

Big mistake. Your subject line is a first impression, a use-it-or-lose-it opportunity. Like the headline of an article, it has one point: to persuade the reader to open the email. Accordingly, make your subject line do your body text justice.

9. Practice Full Disclosure

Someone’s paying you to talk with bloggers, a fact it behooves you to disclose. Some experts would advise you to begin your e-mail with something like, “Hi, I’m Jon Rick. I do online communications for the Department of Labor.” Others suggest that your signature block serve as your introduction.

Whatever you prefer, remember that not only is transparency important in itself. Transparency also breeds trust.

A version of the above blog post appeared on Tech Cocktail (July 18, 2011) and the website of the American Marketing Association—Washington, D.C. (July 21, 2011).

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