As a brand, we have dabbled in blogger outreach in the past, so I thought it would be a great use of my maternity leave to enter what I thought was the ‘murky world’ of mummy blogging.

Here are some of the key things I learned about blogging…

Blogging generates sales

In nine short months, I quickly learnt how to blog, how to grow my followers and traffic but most importantly I learnt:

  • Blogs operate in communities.
  • I actually bought things based on blogger recommendations.

These might seem like obvious points to you – but previously when we were working with bloggers, I have to be honest I only thought of them as one person, one post supporting our campaign, one link.

I thought of their traffic stats as numbers, not as people.

I have learned that you can only grow your blog through interacting with other bloggers. In doing so, I found myself in a community of like-minded new mums – we would share tips on everything from getting our babies to sleep through the nights, to which highchairs to buy.

Blog posts I wrote reviewing products that I’d bought with my own money generated sales of those products.

Again, this shouldn’t be a surprise – the power of word-of-mouth – but it was the first time I’d partaken in it.

Blogging takes time, and time = money

  • Writing a blog post can take a lot of time
  • Many bloggers will only work with brands who pay them

As a brand, I never paid a blogger to write about us. I always thought it was cheeky that they requested payment in exchange for what I thought was useful (often exclusive/embargoed) content for their blog. Now I know how much time can go into writing and promoting a blog post, I can sort of see where they’re coming from.

I say ‘sort of’ because all of the above has led me to wonder what will happen to the brand and blogger relationship in 2015…..

Brands, blogs and SEO links: what we know

  • Links from blogs have decreased in SEO value over time.
  • However, there are still big UK brands who are paying bloggers for undisclosed links (clearly violating Google guidelines).
  • A brand mention from a blogger can generate traffic and sales for the brand.
  • There are an ever-increasing amount of bloggers who want to make money from blogging.

Blurred lines: is blogger outreach PR, affiliate or SEO activity?

If bloggers can generate sales, should they be treated as affiliate channels? Arguably they should be treated as part of the PR function – but you would never pay a journalist to write about your brand, so why should you pay a blogger?

You might take a journalist out for lunch… or send them a gift… and this is where the lines can become blurred, as bloggers DO accept payment (but they need to disclose this)!

Perhaps it depends on the brand’s objective – like I said, there are still plenty of brands that are paying for links for their SEO benefit.

Will we see more of these budgets moving into PR and brand budgets, with brand awareness or traffic objectives? I spoke to one brand for whom this is the case:

A brand that invests in blogger outreach

Sarah Walters from Bluestone National Park Resort in Pembrokeshire, said:

We operate a blogger outreach programme which provides bloggers with a review opportunity.

The aim is to increase our online coverage through online and social mentions through independent reviews. Although it’s hard to directly attribute actual sales from this activity, we can see coverage gained through social reach and then any resulting uplift in our followers, enquiries, etc and we know that we’ve reached people that would have harder to reach via traditional channels.

The outreach programme sits within the PR and marketing functions, so it works well across the marcoms channels, with PR seeking bloggers that are appropriate and fit with what we’re attempting to promote while the other marketing elements use the collateral produced for further insights and promotional activity.

This has been working so well for us that we’ve reduced our budgets in conventional print and radio in favour of online channels. We don’t pay bloggers for their time or travel expenses. They still have to make a small contribution towards the break, perhaps through activities, meals, etc, but we hope this leads to a more honest, genuine review and we would never veto their content.

Summary: the future of blogger outreach?

As well as an upsurge in marketers becoming bloggers after reading this (go on, it really is easy and useful for your day job!) I also predict that we will see that budget shift from SEO budgets to brand budgets.

With that, we can expect brands to seek a higher quality of blogger than those based on SEO metrics. So some bloggers will need to up their game – a brand is less likely to work with a blogger who just does continually sponsored posts and/or reviews for other brands.

They’re more likely to want to work with someone who produces engaging, unique content and demonstrates some shared brand values.

I wanted to give the last word on this to an expert in this area, Andrew Girdwood from Digitas LBi:

I’m a blogger as well an agency geek. Sometimes the outreach efforts from brands and agencies to my blogs make me shudder but sometimes they fill me with hope.

What we’ll see, I think, is the quality bar for success being pushed ever higher. This will necessitate channels like SEO, PR and social overlapping even more than they already do. Brands and agencies will both just have to get over their hang-ups about that and get on with it.

If we treat bloggers well, stop trying to hoodwink them into undisclosed advertorials, and strike the balance between quality editorial pitches and fairly priced commercial work then outreach gets a lot less murky.  That clarity will help those bloggers producing great, legal content and attracting audiences from outside the echo chamber to succeed and win more work.