It’s not your mother’s marketplace out there. Brands in the Internet age market through bloggers and social media. It seems like a win-win: brands get the word out about their products through the authentic voices of people who really use them, and bloggers get to try new products, build business relationships–and yes, for some types of work, get paid.

 

Often, the relationship between brand and blogger is a fruitful one. Sometimes, due to missteps on one or both sides, the relationship isn’t all that it could be. In The Motherhood yesterday,  Carol Cain of Girl Gone Travel hosted a talk on best practices for bloggers and brands to work together successfully. Carol was joined by panelists Jen Rabulan-Bertram of The Next Kid Thing, Niri of Mommy Niri, Roo Ciambriello of Nice Girl Notes, Corine of Complicated Mama, and Tracy Iglesias of Ascending Butterfly. They held forth on what’s worked well in their blogger-brand relationships, what’s a deal-breaker, and what both sides can do to make the process  better for everyone.

 

 

How to Lose Friends and Alienate Bloggers (or Brands)

 

The blogger-brand relationship is just that: a relationship. Just as you would (hopefully!) reject an overture from a guy who approached you and said, “Greetings, attractive woman. I have an offer I think you might be interested in,”  our bloggers tend to reject generic pitches that start with “Dear Blogger,” and clearly show the brand’s PR person has no idea what the blogger is about. A cursory glance at most blogs will reveal the writer’s name and her interests.  Corine also hates seeing, “I thought your readers might be interested in….. {insert super cool event that you were not invited to when it happened}.” In short, brands that show genuine interest in, and respect for, prospective partners are likely to get bloggers’ attention and best work.

 

Bloggers need to recognize their part in the relationship, as well, of course. Perhaps the most common offense on the blogger end is a lack of professionalism. Carol points out, “Blogging can be a ‘hobby’ for some, but not when you want to work with brands. It has to be more serious than that.” Niri says, “Keep it professional always – if you want this to be a career, treat it as one in everything you do – from your emails to your conduct at events. Everyone is watching. If you would not do it for a regular job, you should not be doing it here.” Roo concurred, musing, “I never understand when bloggers get trashed at parties. I mean, I understand, but I think it’s bad form to puke on your shoes when brands you’re trying to work with are standing right there.” It may be easy to feel that because your work is taking place online, the relationship is more easygoing and casual, but in reality, professional conduct is just as important as in an office setting.

 

That professionalism extends to things like making sure you meet deadlines, doing your research, and not accepting projects that aren’t a good fit for you and your readers. Even if the compensation is great, if a product or brand isn’t a good fit, you won’t enjoy your work, your readers won’t respond to it, and the brand won’t be satisfied with it. If you choose to reject a pitch for whatever reason, at least take a moment to respond to it,  rather than just deleting it. Take the long view of any prospective relationship with a brand. Carol says, “I have learned to take some time to feel the brand (or rep) out. The goal should always be, whether that is the intention of the brand or not, to make them a long term client.”

 

Other things bloggers can do to make it easier for brands to reach out to them: make your name and contact info readily available, on your “About” or “PR” page.  Likewise, set forth things like your kids’ ages as of a certain date so brands will know if a pitch is a good fit, age-wise. Consider including the geographical region in which you live, the types of products you are (and are not interested in). All of these things can help someone considering pitching to bloggers get to know whether a campaign or product would be a good fit, and make a more personalized pitch.

 

The issue of compensation is difficult for some brands and bloggers. Both sides need to be clear on what work is being done and what it is worth. Our bloggers agreed that being paid to do a review feels wrong. But so does being asked to do legitimate consulting work while being treated as a “free message board” for the brand. As Jen points out, “ROI has to be more definitive on both ends, for sure…whether it’s monetary or not.”

 

What Really Works

 

We wanted to hear about the blogger-brand relationship when it’s at its best–what does that look like? Carol cited an atmosphere of respect: “I think any time a brand can treat and communicate with a blogger more as a partner than as an ‘subordinate’ the relationship tends to work well.” Roo values flexibility: “Sometimes the typical review/giveaway combo isn’t the most effective way to reach an audience. When a brand is amenable to veering off their usual course of action and listen to ideas, that’s always awesome.”

 

 

Genuineness and goodwill, even moving beyond a campaign, rate high with Jen: “I wrote about how a baby seat from 4moms helped my family out while the baby was in the hospital. It was a sample product that became invaluable. The company has since offered to donate to the hospital.” Tracy is currently in a well-run campaign that feels like a true partnership: “The agency (rep) that stands as the go between for the bloggers and the brand is a blogger herself; she gets what we need to make the campaign work for us. And the brand has truly taken the time to get to know us and give us all opportunities to know one another, so we are a team of bloggers working on this project together in every sense of the word.”

 

Our bloggers were mixed on the utility of press releases. Some never use them, many use them to generate story ideas and as a jumping-off point for an interview to gain more in-depth knowledge.

 

Likewise, the bloggers had varying opinions on the effectiveness of brand engagement at conferences. While, as Tracy observes, conferences can provide “the opportunity to really get to know the sponsors on a more intimate level,” Corine points out, “The people managing the booths almost always aren’t the decision makers that you would work with in the future anyway.” Carol says, “The follow up and communication after is really what solidifies the partnerships.”

 

Carol concluded with this thought: “The last thing I would want to say to brands, and to bloggers, is to hold out for the opportunities (and bloggers) that really speak to your niche and voice. I am most willing to work with brands who I know had to vet the hell out of me before selecting me. It lets me know that whomever else is on board is worth it too. No blogger, like no brand, wants to be associated with anything below their standards of work or professional ethics. I would rather be overlooked than selected with the masses.”