As the public affairs units of most organizations are starting to dedicate staff resources to reaching out to bloggers, what are the rules of the road? In the world of PR, this is a new twist on the traditional job of working with the mainstream press and as a practice area it requires skills and tactics that can be quite different.
If the voice of old-line PR was known for spin, a professional tone and “official” content likely cleared through many layers, the voice of a blogger is authentic, spunky and timely.
When a roomful of online activists – some blog producers and some blog consumers – traded their wisdom, a useful list of do’s and don’ts emerged. The scene was an early gathering of RootsCamp in Washington, DC.
The session’s facilitator was Tracy Russo, who has years of practical experience under her belt as former chief blogger for the DNC and the Edwards for President campaign, making her one of the veterans in the field. Tracy raised many of the same tips at another forum hosted by the Internet Advocacy Roundtable.
DOS AND DON’TS IN THE BLOGOSPHERE
Here is the top dozen dos and don’ts. It is a worthy primer on the rules of the road for working with the Blogosphere.
- Read the blogs before you engage. Reaching out to a blogger without being familiar with their passions and work is a mistake. Begin with the basic homework of learning about the blog you want to engage with.
- Leave comments on blogs you want to work with. When you join a blogger’s community by engaging in the debate on their site, they are likely to remember you. That means when you reach out offline with ideas for the blogger to write about, traction is possible.
- No attachments. When you email information to a blogger, DO NOT send them an attachment. Given the nature of computer security, most folks will not open email attachments from strangers because they don’t want to get a virus. Moreover, with the volume of email in their inbox and the speed that they’ll make decisions on what to focus on, you want to grab their attention quickly with email that gets to the point and doesn’t demand lots of research.
- Target the blogger who works your issue. Remember, there is no assignment editor in the blogosphere. Nobody needs to pay attention to your topic of the day. You increase your chance of success in getting coverage if you’ve zeroed in on a blogger with a track record covering your issues.There is also no formal press directory of blogs. The most frequent tactic is to develop your own by looking through blog-rolls, lists of like-minded blog links, found on the home page of most blogs. Technorati, which provides real-time search for user-generated media, can also help you source what’s being read and what’s popular.
- Always source material. This sector values honesty. Help them do their jobs by putting the fact-check information inside your email or story idea, with hyperlinks to the source wherever possible. Be traceable online. That way you are transparent, not suspicious. A trend that makes it easier to read and use links is to create your own footnotes by putting numbers in brackets (like ) and then placing a list of links at the bottom of your online communications by the number.
- Stop spinning. This relationship must be grounded in truth. If you don’t believe it, drop the company line and tell it like it is.
- Don’t tell them what to write. If a blogger isn’t interested in your topic, they will stop opening your email, simple as that. This is not a mutual back-scratching world, and buying an ad won’t necessarily help. Most bloggers have what Tracy called “huge BS meters”.
- Use multi-media so your story has many dimensions. If you’ve got a Flickr image or a YouTube video to go with your story idea, send it along. A story idea with multi-media handles can rise to the top of the inbox. You’ve made their job of producing it for their Blog easy by giving them multiple ways for their readers to experience your ideas.
- Be brave. User-generated content is turning the tables on newsmakers who remember a time when they controlled the story. Today, its best to not worry about parody. If you have the video, put it on YouTube. At a panel on the online 2008 Presidential campaign, Mindy Finn who worked with Gov. Romney’s campaign told a story about taking risk. They received accolades for letting their users produce their own mash-up videos. Internal resistance was overcome by reminding detractors inside the campaign users were able to build anti-Romney videos with or without the campaigns help, so why not put it out there and see what happens?
- Fear not the “blogstorm.” According to Wikipedia a blog storm is “when a large amount of activity, information and opinion erupts around a particular subject or controversy in the blogosphere’ At the day-to-day level, negative comments when “trolls” are on the attack screaming and shouting on your site doesn’t mean that people believe the worst is true. Readers understand that the most passionate are those who comment, and they tend to discount comments that are too loud or shrill. Most people will “lurk” on the site as invisible readers who don’t comment.It is considered an amateur-hour to get into a “flamewar” with someone bent on leaving negative comments on your blog. Recent example of one? ABC News blog, the NOTE, which got nearly 20,000 comments posted in two days after the debate, largely from readers who were “embarrassed and ashamed” at the performance of the journalists who moderated.
- Complement your Blogger outreach with an ad-buy. In addition to getting your views included in a blog, you may reach as many people with an effective ad-buy in a blog network that shares your point of view. The Blogads firm is dedicated to making this an easy and inexpensive route to get your message out on 1500 influential blogs, and is targeted by ideology. And it can be very inexpensive to boot: as little as $45 per week, according to one participant who liked this strategy.
- Include a disclaimer and be transparent about your background. Whether you are blogging — or pitching the blogs — it is understood that everyone has a point of view. Put yours up front. If there is anything that can look like a conflict of interest, make sure you put it out there and let readers/blog-owner be the judge. As a semi-related point, the idea of “ghost blogging” where a staffer writes the blog for the group leader was pretty well panned as against the ethos of the blogosphere, and pretty ineffective outreach.