The practise of blogger or influencer "engagement" is one of the most widely-used tactics in marketing these days, done by almost everyone, from PR agencies to SEOs, social marketers to spammers.
It's also one of the most commonly derided amongst the recipients and much-debated amongst bloggers and professionals - but rarely addressed by marketers themselves.
If you're doing it well, why share the secrets with your competitors? Sadly, a lot of marketers are doing it very badly indeed, and something needs to be done about it...
As both a blogger and a marketer, I've spent a long time contemplating whether or not to write this post. Many of my fellow bloggers (with whom I regularly discuss this subject) take the view that we should count ourselves lucky that brands want to work with us at all, and should avoid upsetting the proverbial apple cart.
Nobody likes a whistle-blower, and many bloggers believe that if they speak-up or "name and shame" they will be marked out as trouble-makers, blacklisted from all the best blogger lists and identified in "do not work with" posters on PR department desks across the land.
I'm more than happy to take one for the team though, for several reasons. First up, my position as a marketer gives me a fairly unique perspective - I work with bloggers as part of my job (indeed, it was one of the reasons I started blogging in the first place - to experience it "from the other side") and I blog myself.
Secondly, the chance of me ever carving a living from my blogging is slim-to-none - so if I DO get blacklisted and marked out as a trouble-maker, it won't make much of a dent in my future (I hope!). So I'm making a stand and calling a spade a spade.
The following list is accompanied by 10 genuine, real emails which I (as a blogger) have received in the past year. I get these emails at a rate of probably one a week - but knowing other FAR more popular bloggers, I can tell you that these things come in thick and fast when you have a popular blog.
Wherever possible I have anonymised the emails I'm quoting. Whilst crappy pitches really drive me to despair, I also believe in a little bit of karma - so naming and shaming isn't in my plans quite yet. If any of you reading this are the authors behind these approaches, I hope you will forgive me for using your words - trust me, I'm TRYING to do this for everybody's benefit.
I actually LOVE blogger engagement as a marketing discipline, and when it's done right it can be an absolute joy. But the people who do it badly are giving all of us a bad name, and the sooner it stops, the better.
So, here are 10 painful examples of blogger engagement done badly – accompanied by some tips that might help you to do it better.
1. Don't expect something for nothing
[Boring details about a boring piece of research removed] Feel free to share this information with your readers if you think it would be of value to them. Thanks for reading and have a great day.
This is probably the most common cruddy approach bloggers get at the moment – the “something for nothing” message. If we were that desperate for content to put on our blog, we’d do research for ourselves.
I personally use Google Alerts and social bookmarks to help me find relevant content to blog about (if I don’t have ideas of my own to hand). I don’t sit at my desk waiting for an amazing piece of research or a dull article to drop in my inbox.
You might think you’re getting something for nothing (as I’m sure there are some bloggers who DO respond well to this – otherwise why do you bother?) but you’re actually ruining your chances of ever developing a real and useful relationship with bloggers and influencers – and probably ending up on hundreds of email blacklists to boot.
2. Don't pretend it's not about SEO
Hi there! Nice to “meet” you! I am an aspiring writer looking to gain more experience and boost my portfolio by contributing to travel sites such as yours. I loved the articles on your site, and would love to be able to contribute some of my work! I love writing about travel and cultures from around the world.
Bloggers get these on a daily basis – they’re the scourge of our inboxes. Unless you manage to catch a brand-new blogger who is as fresh as the driven snow, NOBODY is falling for this BS.
Trying to trick us into posting your SEO content under the guise of “boosting your portfolio” or practising your writing skills is both patronising and niaive – if you’re stupid enough to mention the client you want to write about in that first email too, I’ll quite happily call out the client in question and explain to them how lazy their SEO people are.
3. Don't just send us press releases
Dear Henry, We are a small company […] and have a product we genuinely believe could help kids, and so be of interest to parents, hence why we are approaching you. You may have read in the last few days that the UK has one of the worst literacy and numeracy levels in the developed world…
If you feel that you HAVE to send us your press release content to make your approach make sense, don’t stick it all at the front of your message. I haven’t got time to read great reams of content before you decide to get to the point – if you want to offer me an opportunity, tell me upfront and save the waffle for later in the message.
As much as bloggers are news and information sources for many people, we AREN’T the same as journalists. We don’t have pages we’ve got to fill or deadlines to meet, so we don’t want to spend hours wading through press releases – save them for somebody else.
4. Don't be sloppy or lazy
Hi Henry, I hope you are well. I am contacting you regarding my current project which concerns [REDACTED] and I thought it might prove to be an interesting feature for “Blog name”. With the rising costs of…
Look, we all know you don’t always have time to personalise every single approach – and frankly, as some of these other examples show, sometimes it’s best just to be honest anyway.
But if you ARE going to use a mail-merge or some sort of automated mailing program, make sure the bloody thing works before you use it. Getting an email telling me how much you love my blog, “Blog name”, is amusing for me but doesn’t look at all good for you OR the brand you’re working for. Don’t do it.
5. Don't patronise us
I noticed your interest with regards to finding out whether books we enjoy here in the UK are also enjoyed elsewhere in the world. I also enjoyed reading your blog about using reading to prepare your children for starting school. I’m also aware you value a creative and fun environment for your children from your multiple posts that centre on toys and lego.
Aside from the slightly sloppy English, this person is attempting to show what an avid reader of my blog they are. In reality, what they’ve done is read the titles of the most recent three blog posts on my blog – they haven’t even read the posts, as is evident in the fact that the second example bears no similarity to what the post was actually about.
As I mentioned in the previous example, personalising your approach CAN be useful – but it can also backfire on you. I find this patronising and lazy, and will probably put me off more than if you just got to the point straight away. Honesty is often the best policy, after all.
6. Do your research first
Dear Henry, I just wanted to get in touch to let you know about a competition that may be of interest to you and your children, in particular Sam.
The painful nature of this approach (an approach which had me crying with laughter) may not be immediately obvious, but if it’s not clear I’ll give you a clue: I have two children, one named Robert and one named Freddie. So who ‘Sam’ is remains a mystery to me!
This may be the result of a bad mail-merge or mass send out, or could be a genuine mistake. Either way, it makes you look rubbish and doesn’t make me want to work with you!
7. Don’t treat us like a second-class journalists
I hope you’re well today. I was looking at your blog and wanted to get in touch. Sorry it’s bit late in the day but I just wanted to check if you might be free to attend an afternoon tea this Wednesday with [REDACTED]
If you think I’m good enough to attend your event, invite me in the first place. Don’t wait until all your “real” journalists have declined the invite and send me a desperate plea the day before the event, in a hope that you can make up the numbers.
Or if you ARE going to do that, at least be honest about it.
8. Don't sign us up to other stuff
Thanks for joining our mailing list…
Just because I reply to your email approach – or even if we work together – doesn’t mean I wanted to be signed-up to yours and your client’s mailing lists.
There are rules about that these days and the last time I checked “being nice” wasn’t the same as opting-in to a mailing list. Don’t do it.
9. Don't go back on your word
Hi Henry, Sorry for the slow response. I am on to the client about product reviews. I can't guarantee anything but I need to show some stats for your blog. Can you email me some?? thanks,
There’s very little more annoying to a blogger than a PR who offers them something, then goes back on their word.
Telling me that you love my blog, that your client is DESPERATE to work with me and that everything is ready – THEN telling me you have to review my site (once I’ve expressed an interest) to check I qualify as a good enough blogger? Screw you – you dangled a carrot at me and then snatched it away.
You end up looking like an arse, your client comes out badly and I shall add you to my spam-senders list.
10. Don't ask us to do your work for you
Sorry about that – my client need bigger reach, and your blog just doesn’t have enough followers yet. If you know any other bloggers who might like it though, I’d love it if you could pass on my details to them…
This one follows-on from the above example – and I’ve experienced this on several occasions. If I don’t meet your criteria as a blogger, fine – I’m grown-up enough to know that my blog isn’t all-powerful yet.
But to then add insult to injury and expect me to pass your details on to my other blogger friends, so you can toy with them as well? Are you having a laugh?
As you can see, I’ve dealt mainly with the process of communicating with bloggers and influencers. Whilst I was tempted to include my thoughts on incentives, reviews, payments and freebies, the truth is that most bloggers will have different preferences in these areas.
You’re only going to know what a blogger likes or doesn’t like in terms of the above is by talking to them – and hopefully, if you learn from the mistakes listed in this blog, those conversations will be a little more fruitful!