Companies court the bloggers

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

Smart organizations use them to spread a buzz about their products

Chris Cobb

Smart companies are harnessing the energies of bloggers, Facebookers and Twitterers to spread news about their products and cultivate customer engagement. Photograph by: Reuters, Canwest News Service; Ottawa Citizen

There are more bloggers blabbing on the Internet than you can shake a stick at.

Most are talking to themselves in the vain hope of finding an audience but others — the few — manage to find a niche that meets the need, or captures the imagination, of thousands or tens of thousands.

With the audience comes influence and influence attracts the eagle eyes of the marketing and public-relations sector whose job, more or less, is to sell stuff.

“As blogging has moved closer to the mainstream,” says social media specialist Michael O’Connor Clarke, “it’s becoming more common for companies to go straight to the people they know have influence among specific groups.”

Social media experts across the world are advising businesses how to harness bloggers, Facebookers, Twitterers and the like who talk to each other and share information about specific lifestyles and the products they use as part of those lifestyles.

O’Connor Clarke, a vice-president of communications firm Thornley-Fallis, has blogged on and off for several years and occasionally written about his three children.

That’s produced free stuff out of the ether.

‘I’ve had companies send me stuff — including diapers — and they’ve said, ‘We know parents read you so here’s our stuff. Take a look at it and let us know what you think — no pressure’.”

The risk, of course, is that the blogger will think the product sucks and share that opinion with his or her community. Smart companies won’t let that deter them, says O’Connor Clarke.

“It’s about building a relationship. Smart organizations know that long-term customer engagement means developing trust and loyalty and that’s worth investing in. You’re going to have bumps along the road because people aren’t going to like everything you make or do.”

A good niche and a healthy following are the measures of a successful blogger and the better-heeled companies looking to court specific bloggers will first hire one of several firms that specialize in tracking the influence they have.

“If you’ve determined a blogger is influential with your target customer,” says O’Connor Clarke, “you don’t take them off your list just because they are critical. You listen to them and change.”

Packs of diapers are one thing, but it isn’t just producers of inexpensive swag who have become enamoured with the blogosphere.

Sharon Pomerantz, who heads a Connecticut public-relations firm, represents luxury “green” resorts in the Caribbean.

“We find it essential to court bloggers,” Pomerantz says, “because many are key influencers in travel decisions. We’re looking to increase awareness and obtain desirable endorsements. People looking to travel are seeking out valid information from sources they can trust, like or, two of the top travel bloggers.”

Travel bloggers are a complement to conventional travel journals such as Fodors, Frommers, Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure, says Pomerantz, former head of Virgin Atlantic’s North American communications.

This new breed of travel bloggers are not only posting real advice and helping readers with decisions, but also connecting their readers with companies that can best help them with vacation plans.”

Pomerantz says she spends hours checking the legitimacy of bloggers before she pitches to them.

“It’s ever-changing, and you have to stay on top of what’s happening. The best bloggers have strong credentials, especially former newspaper and magazine travel writers.”

Cost is a key advantage bloggers have over conventional marketing and advertising, she added.

Pomerantz says she feeds travel bloggers with updated information on travel deals and offers the more prominent bloggers expenses-paid visits to the Caribbean resorts she represents.

The “ethical framework” of the blogosphere is still evolving, says O’Connor Clarke.

“It doesn’t quite match the ethics in place in conventional media,” he says, “but there is an expectation of transparency. Most of the people doing this don’t have traditional journalist backgrounds, but most are decent people. When they get stuff for free, they will usually own up.”

But not always.

When Microsoft released Vista software two years ago, the company sent influential bloggers state-of-the-art laptops. One blogger wrote a glowing review without telling his audience it was a freebie. He was only embarrassed into an apology when another blogger posted a note saying he had received the Microsoft laptop and canvassed opinion as to whether he should send it back.

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