Over the past few years, I’ve written quite a bit about blogger relations, largely in the context of brands reaching out to bloggers. As I mentioned in my last post, lately I’ve started to think about it more in terms of influencer engagement.
The key to success in social media engagement is to forge strong relationships, deliver relevant content and most importantly, respect the writer and her readers. As a starting point for developing long term sustainable relationships between brands and social media influencers, here are some best practices for your consideration.
Focus on the people, not on your product. Pay it forward — give first, get second.
Effective influencer engagement starts with reaching out to people who will have a genuine and authentic interest in a company or product. That interest is what inspires them to create a story that connects with their (and their readers’) passions. That it also mentions a product or service in some context is only a part of the story; Not all the story nor simply a tack-on mention at the end. For a conversation to be effective for both the brand and the bloggers, the inclusion of the brand has to fit (much like Cinderella’s slipper), not be forced.
Social media leaders should be compensated for their efforts on behalf of brands, and the value should be balanced, with each party obtaining sufficient benefit. In other words, if the product the brand is offering the blogger is a car for a significant period of time, the blogger might consider that sufficient compensation — depending on what the brand is asking in exchange. A few boxes of cereal or tubes of hand cream? Not so much.
Brands are best served by a “clean, well-lighted” space, in which editorial is clearly distinguished from advertorial content, and brand-influencer relationships disclosed. There is no such thing as too much information, too much disclosure in the blogosphere. The FTC imposes requirements on brands and bloggers for both disclosure and accuracy, but those are simply the price of admission. Long-lasting trust demands even more than a simple disclosure statement. To gain, and retain, trust, brands, influencers and communities need to be upfront about their point of view as well as their relationships with other parties. It’s the only way the consumer has all the information she needs to evaluate whether the opinion in a blog post is from a peer, and thus relevant to her life. Or simply an endorsement from an interested party or an advertisement. Both have value in the awareness/adoption process just a different one.
Every conversation has multiple stakeholders – the influencers, the brands and the readers, and you have to keep all three in mind when creating a campaign. Is the content relevant to the readers’ interests? Is it interesting? How authentically does it integrate the messaging into the story without appearing forced or fake? What will the reader experience be? Develop programs that will be interesting for the social media influencers and their audiences – wherever they engage with her — not just an opportunity to get paid for a post, and that support the brand messaging, without being a product pitch.
A sponsored conversation can be just as engaging as a straight-up editorial post, update or Tweet, provided that the topic taps into the woman’s passions, not the product press release.
Less is often more. Reaching out to fewer influencers, but ones that have a genuine interest and desire to support the brand is usually more effective than a larger number of mildly interested folks. A few really good posts by influential women who are leaders in a community can have a stronger, more positive impact than a slew of perfunctory posts. It’s also important to consider how many influencers should be included in a program; a fatigue often sets in when multiple posts about the same thing all appear on the same day. Intended to have a positive impact, such volume actually can have negative impact on a community.
“Keep your friends close. And your enemies closer.” Embrace your critics instead of trying to silence them. This is a tough strategy to follow; it’s hard to invite your critics to take a seat at the table, especially when you know there are hundreds of fans who would be happy to have that seat.
Own your words. When you make a mistake, ‘fess up and apologize. A little humility goes a long way. Bottom line: nothing spreads faster than bad news. If you don’t do social media engagement right, you will face criticism. Better to do it right the first time!
Cleaning out the inbox:
- Check out Blog Marketing to Moms Is About More Than Parenting, an eMarketer study about the momosphere. Full disclosure: I was interviewed for the piece.
- On December 9th, I’ll be speaking at the Massachusetts Conference for Women at the Boston Convention Center. I’ll be doing a session on using social media to build your brand and professional reputation. The session was originally framed as an intro-level session, but feedback from the previous two conferences — in Pittsburgh and Houston — has confirmed that the audience wants more advanced content, so in Boston, I’ll be adding content on building a blog strategy. I’ll also be signing Professional Blogging For Dummies in the bookstore.