Need Blogger Outreach? A Case Study in How NOT to Do It

How not to do blogger outreachBlogger outreach is an important component of both marketing and PR strategies. And there’s a right way to do it, and some very wrong ways. More on that in a minute.

Measuring influence (or trying to) is another key component of digital strategy, for both brands and agencies, not to mention a multimillion dollar business. There are many players in the market and, in our opinion, none of them have got this influence measurement thing completely figured out yet. And they won’t until they factor sentiment analysis into the equation.

But this post isn’t about influence measurement, really — it’s about blogger outreach. And how to do it in the most respectful, most effective and most fruitful manner possible. My longtime friend Fernando Fonseca had an experience that might broadly be called “influencer outreach” or “blogger outreach” recently that inspired him to blog about it. He was nice enough not to call the brand in question out on their tactics publicly, but we’ll use Fernando’s experience as a case study in what not to do when you’re engaging in blogger outreach. And please, for all that’s holy, heed this advice.

Here’s Fernando’s story:

A company that has a platform focused on influence measurement contacted him by way of that ever-so-wonderful cold call. Here’s what he thought about that, and what happened to him along the way:

I was contacted by an influencer measurement company recently and what happened is a case study in blogger outreach. Or, more specifically, it’s a case study on what you shouldn’t do when doing blogger outreach to an audience you consider to be an important segment for your business.

From the first approach to the communication that ensued, every single element of the blogger outreach process failed. Tell us if you agree:

The Email Cold Call

The process started with what I like to call an email cold call. Reaching out to someone via email because you have their email address in your database because they subscribed to your service is tricky. And it could annoy someone. I know it did me. By subscribing to a service I don’t invite you to email me at will, so you should respect my privacy in that regard. The solution is a simple one. When you’ve identified a blogger you want to potentially work with, you can reach out to them via social networks like Twitter, LinkedIn or even Facebook. This allows you to make contact publicly and invite them to want to know more and to take the relationship deeper. Chances are good they’ll be glad to share their email address with you (in spite of the fact that you might well already have it), and be interested in more information from you and potentially in being a part of whatever it is you’re looking for in your blogger outreach campaign.

Don’t Start Our Relationship With a Lie

When doing blogger outreach, be honest. Don’t try and pump me up and make me think I’m super special and one of a select few if that’s not really the case. I’m smarter than that. In this instance, the first email I received told me that I was selected because of my “big” role in the Android community. Five minutes later I walked across the office and discovered that my wife had received the exact same email from this company as part of their blogger outreach campaign, and she’s not nearly as involved in the Android market as I am. Liar, liar, pants on fire. Oh, and you’re lazy, too. I think it’s probably pretty obvious that this didn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy about this blogger outreach campaign. I just went from big deal to nobody special in 0 to 60. BAM. Not the way you want to make me, or any “influencer” feel, especially when you’d really like for me to do something for you.

Be Clear About Your Expectations

I can’t stress this enough when it comes to best practices for blogger outreach. The first e-mail asked me to check an Android-related list and give my feedback about it. I was already slightly aggravated (see above), but nonetheless, I went ahead and spent some time reviewing the list I’d been sent and providing feedback. My feedback: their list was incomplete, it was full of inconsistencies and there was a lot of work to be done. The reply I received from the person responsible for blogger outreach: “blog and tweet about it and give more feedback.” Right. I’ll get right on that.

Maybe You Should Think About Compensation

After investing time and giving feedback, when I was then asked to “blog and tweet about it” and then to give more feedback, well, I felt more than a little taken advantage of. As such, I replied that I would be able to do additional work and then write a blog post about it for a fee. After all, fees are how I make my living.

I would’ve appreciated if the first contact had been clear about what the company in question wanted from me. It would have saved us both a lot of time. Lesson to brands: If you are contacting professionals and asking them to help you, you might also expect to compensate them for their services. Treat them like professionals – because they are.

And asking a professional to do something like “blog and tweet about” whatever it is that you’re doing is work. And you’re also asking them to stake their reputations on whatever it is you’re hawking. Most bloggers (and I realize this is a sweeping generalization) are pretty picky about the products and services they give their thumbs up to. And expecting them to allow you to use their time, intellectual property, influence and collective social media status to benefit you and your brand – that’s a business relationship. And one that merits compensation.

Don’t Be Stupid and Add Insult to Injury

When I offered to do what was asked for compensation, the response from the blogger outreach team was that their budget was $25. Super! Now I feel even more impressive. They compounded that insult by saying that it would surely take me no more than 15 minutes to write a blog post about this, and that was fair compensation. You know you’re loving this.

Obviously the person doing blogger outreach in this particular instance has no idea how much time it takes to research, write and edit a blog post. In fact, just writing this one has taken me considerably more than 15 minutes – and most do. But their staffer telling me that the process of reviewing and writing a post about their product should only be expected to take 15 minutes actually told me a lot about their company. And made me even more certain that I really wanted nothing to do with them.

Follow up! Follow up! Follow up!!!

If you do blogger outreach, remember to treat the influencers you reach out to as professionals. And with respect. If you decide you’re unable or not interested or don’t have the budget to work with them, do them the courtesy of sending a follow up email and thanking them for their time. You never know when you might need an ally, and burning bridges by treating bloggers with disrespect – or even with disregard – really doesn’t do you any favors. Don’t be short-sighted about this.

Final Thoughts

Don’t you love Fernando’s story? We talk about blogger outreach a lot. We write about this a lot. We work with agencies on blogger outreach a LOT.

Blogger outreach to influencers is not something that anyone should do without having a proper strategy set in place backed by solid research. If you are engaging in blogger outreach and using some form of influence measurement to drive that blogger outreach, you should make sure that you are ready to establish a serious business relationship before making any kind of contact with people you consider to be influencers on a certain topic.

Do your homework. Identify your influencers and the target group of people with whom you want to work, then get off your butts and go get to know them. Read their blogs (and this is more than just skimming the front page of their websites). Leave comments on their blogs, talk with them on Twitter, check out what they’re doing on other social networks. Understand them, understand what they are passionate about and what makes them tick. Don’t just rely on their Klout score or their PeerIndex score, go see for yourself whether or not they’re a fit for you and your brand.

Understand why their communities (and their opinions) are valuable to you and respect them. We can promise you that they do.

And when you approach them with an opportunity to work with you and your brand or agency, be clear about what success looks like. Be clear about what it is you’d like from them and what kind of a budget you have allocated for their services. Don’t try and blow smoke up their you-know-whats, they’re too smart for that and they see these shenanigans every day of the week.

Blogger outreach is an important component of an integrated marketing strategy for many brands and agencies. Do yourself a favor, use common sense, treat bloggers with respect and understand that they are every bit as professional (if not more so) than you are, and know that they might just want to work with you — if you play your cards right and do some of the very simple things laid out above.

And most of all remember, you need them — they don’t really need you.

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  • Erin Grady

    I love your blog and read it daily! While I think the point of the post is a good one, I was taken aback by the guest author’s suggestion to offer bloggers compensation. This goes to the crux of my problem with the bloggers versus journalists debate. As a former TV producer turned PR person, I have a big problem with folks referring to bloggers as journalists, especially if they are expecting to be compensated for writing a story. If a blogger or reporter does not find my story interesting or newsworthy, I may disagree with their opinion, but I respect it nonetheless. If bloggers want to be treated like journalists, they need to act like it. Expecting compensation for a story does not fly in newsrooms and it should not fly in the blogosphere. Admittedly, I do not know the entire situation, and I am more than willing to hear a different side of the issue if I am in the wrong or not comprehending something. 

    Again – I love the blog and definitely think the point of this post is worthwhile and should be heeded. However, I would caution PRs to think twice before offering compensation to bloggers – especially ones who consider themselves to be journalists. This move could be more damaging than the cold call email ever would be!


    • A good practice is to check if the blogger you are contacting discloses whether or not they do or do not accept compensation up front- it should be part of the research. Most bloggers that review products/services or have been part of a campaign frequently explain what they expect in exchange for their services on a contact or information page. Some won’t accept compensation, some require it- it depends on the blogger. The FTC requires that bloggers disclose if they receive payment or gifts in exchange for their services.

      • Anonymous

        That is a great practice, Juli, and should be part of SOP for all blogger outreach being done by brands and agencies. Unfortunately, most bloggers report that this step (which can usually be ascertained by getting to know the bloggers you are considering working with and actually reading the content on their sites), is rarely taken.

        And most bloggers, at least the ones worth their salt (again easily ascertained by doing your homework – first), are well aware of the FTC requirements re compensation. And the funny thing, most bloggers actually would like to be able to make a living from the time, effort and energy they spend on their blogs.

        Good points made by you – now if only agencies and brands would follow them!

        Appreciate you sharing your insights – they are always enjoyed!

    • Anonymous

      Hi Erin,

      We are talking about two different things! You are talking about bloggers who want to be journalists and I’m talking about bloggers that brands want to reach and work with to test and evaluate their products, write reviews, etc. Those are two very different things.

      And as Fernando mentioned in his post, what they were asking of him in this blogger outreach required WORK and brainpower on his part. To ask for that – from anyone – without offering some kind of compensation based on the amount of work involved is, to my way of thinking, short-sighted.

      Brands often want bloggers to try and evaluate their products and then to introduce those products by way of a blog post (or maybe even an endorsement) to their own communities. This is also work. And there are times when that work should be compensated.

      This post is in no way, shape or form about bloggers who want to be journalists – and that’s important for you to understand.

      Thanks for coming by  – and for sharing your thoughts!

  • Hi Shelly. Good post and you asked for our opinion, so I completely agree! In relation to the compensation issue, it’s a good debate. My take on it is that the vast majority of independent, non-professional bloggers are happy to blog for free and do not want to compromise their independence by being compensated. Being ‘wooed’ with small goodies, exclusive content or things to share with their audience seems intuitively more acceptable.

    By the way, we’re writing an ebook on the subject and are about to launch a beta version of our blog discovery tool for key influencers to test, so you could say that this is step 1 of our outreach – do you want to be compensated? 🙂

    • Anonymous

      Hi Hugh,

      I get that (and I test lots of platforms and services as part of beta programs without being compensated – because I like doing it). 

      But there’s a difference between some random, no big deal outreach and a campaign. A campaign where you do outreach and recruit bloggers and want them to do specific things for you to help you reach certain goals. To my way of thinking, that’s work – real work – and deserves more compensation than a $20 Starbucks card. And the work that Fernando was asked to do also qualified as “real work.”

      But every initiative is different. And I’m not saying EVERY blogger expects to be compensated for everything they do. But you would be amazed how much time, effort and energy people put into building their blogs, their reputations and their communities, and how very little money they make as a result of their efforts. If you want some stats on that, read this post I recently wrote about mom bloggers:

      I’m not sure where you got the notion that I – or anyone – said that bloggers expect to be treated as journalists – and that’s not what this post is about at all. I’m a marketer. Who also happens to be a blogger, but I’m certainly no journalist. And it is rare that a mom or a parent blogger (or some other niche-specific blogger) that a brand might want to connect with as part of a campaign sees themselves as journalists. They tend to see themselves more as brand advocates and/or as part of a marketing initiative. Which is exactly as it should be. And when you want that, I believe you should consider compensation. It’s not journalism – it’s marketing.

      But bloggers as journalists? That has no part of this debate. At least it’s nothing that I’m talking about!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts – and if you would like some beta testing of your blogger/influencer tool, you know where to find me :))

  • I’m new to blogging and it can definitely be item consuming work.  While I don’t seek out compensation, the offer or gesture is appreciated and remembered down the line.  When building business relationships, many miss the boat on building rapport and respecting people as individuals. 

  • You definitely don’t want to annoy influential bloggers.  They know that people respect them and they can call you out.  If you are going to reach out to bloggers, you need to do it in a respectful manner and show that you’ve taken the time to get to know them, their writing style, and their audience.  

  • You definitely don’t want to annoy influential bloggers.  They know that people respect them and they can call you out.  If you are going to reach out to bloggers, you need to do it in a respectful manner and show that you’ve taken the time to get to know them, their writing style, and their audience.  

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  • And as Fernando mentioned in his post, what they were asking of him in
    this blogger outreach required WORK and brainpower on his part. To ask
    for that – from anyone – without offering some kind of compensation
    based on the amount of work involved is, to my way of thinking,

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  • Thank you for this post, Shelly! For a newb like myself to the world of blogging and blogger outreach, this is some of the best advice I have yet encountered.

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