Scoring positive media coverage has long been one of the key indicators of a strong public relations campaign but, for the past few years, marketing and communications professionals have been balancing their efforts to include a new powerhouse of influencers: bloggers.
In the early days of blogging, many were hesitant to give these writers the "cred" they deserve: They often weren't perceived as journalists, which, in many cases, meant they were not taken seriously. Even more important, many businesses did not expect the audiences these writers spoke to would grow as large and committed as they have.
But today, good marketers know the value of a popular blogger that speaks to a brand's subject of interest. A nod from an online influencer offers something you simply can't get anywhere else: authenticity.
"When people are writing blogs, the subjects they are writing about are their passion," says Rob Ostfield, chief executive officer of andPOP, one of Canada's most visited online pop culture sites. "They're not always doing it because it is their jobs. They are doing it because they are genuinely excited about what they're writing about."
Mr. Ostfield and his team are a great example of a group of Canadian entrepreneurs who have put significant effort into both communicating with and servicing the needs of their blogger followers. The entertainment site provides its readers with behind-the-scenes glimpses of their favourite celebrities, and the multimedia content often feeds other chatter online.
"We're always trying to reach as big an audience as possible," says Mr. Ostfield, whose company distributes content to audiences across North America through XM Radio Canada, AUX TV, CHCH TV, D ose.ca, Rogers On Demand Online, and, of course, its online portal and social networks.
"When bloggers embed our videos, it expands the reach for andPOP, and, at the same time, we're helping the blogging community by providing content."
Mr. Ostfield and his team have even taken the extra step to engage online influencers by inviting them to actually be a part of the content-creation process.
For example, before interviewing the cast of The Fighter, andPOP reached out through its channels to ask people what questions they would like to hear posed to the actors.
This strategy was smart. AndPOP not only included the audience to better its work but the engagement also increased overall interest in the final product.
What works for a pop culture company may not work for you, so here are some tips to get started on a strategy for engaging your industry's online influencers:
1. Do your research
Make sure the bloggers you intend to communicate with align with your brand and speak to your target audience. Just because a blog is extremely popular doesn't mean it is a good fit for your company. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the writers and their content before beginning to plan your outreach.
2. Be unique in how you reach out
The standard press release or form letter is not a good way to start and develop a strong relationship. As with journalists, you should take the time to be sincere.
3. Provide something of value
Online influencers are not your advertisers. Share valuable content, exclusive news, informative resources and interviews to give the blogger something unique to write about.
4. Work together
Bloggers are experts on their own audiences, so team up to determine the best way you can serve each other.
5. Have reasonable expectations
Online influencers are free to write what they choose, so do not expect to review their posts before publication, unless you agree to these terms in advance.
The great thing about online influencers: With their passion and talents, they have already done a lot of the work for you. They have established a connection to a loyal following that just might be your exact target audience.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Mia Pearson is president of the Canadian region for Fleishman-Hillard Canada and its sister company, High Road Communications. She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing award-winning communications agencies. Her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle. She works in partnership with her clients to build brands, mitigate risk and shape communications strategies.