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Surprising FAQs: Do Bloggers Really Matter?

I started my career with an IBM Selectric typewriter, a telephone and mimeograph machine. So you can imagine how far things have come in my world. In the mid ‘80s we transitioned to computers and transmitting documents via fax machine. Even that seems ages ago. Cell phones were brand new for the average consumer in the very late ‘80s/early ‘90s — and they were enormous and “just” phones. And, yes electronic mail (email) is even newer than that.

Communication cloudSo, I’ve had to learn a lot of new things over the years but it’s part of the fun of being a public relations professional. We need to stay abreast of what’s happening in the world. We need to be able to understand and address how new products and trends will affect our clients and organizations.

Blogging is one of those trends that we’ve been watching for a while. I started this blog a bit over a year ago. Toss in social media, add the pressures on traditional media companies and it’s easy to see how blogging has become a way of life/profession for many. Even traditional media professionals have blogs where they extend their own reach and influence beyond the television screen, radio waves or printed newspaper.

Just what is a blog and how is it different from a news story?

It surprises me when I still find myself counseling clients regarding blogs, bloggers and blogging.

According to dictionary.com, a blog is a “website containing the writer’s or group of writers’ own experiences, observations, opinions, etc., and often having images and links to other websites.” It’s not a news story from a journalist that has been placed on the website of a traditional news outlet, although many journalists do also blog. Those who comment on news stories on regular blogs are also not bloggers. They are simply people who comment on a news story, and can do so anonymously.

Here’s a sampling of questions and comments I get regularly. I hope you’ll add yours and tell me what you think about the answers:

It’s just a blog, so who cares

The short answer is – you do. But the long answer is that many of today’s bloggers have tremendous reach and influence with their readers. They might even have more influence than traditional media. Look at Gini Dietrich whose public relations/marketing blog garners several hundred comments a day. If I had a product or service that would make communicators’ lives easier, I would certainly include outreach to Gini in my media relations plan. Every profession has a blog that’s a must read. Know who they are. Read them regularly. Cultivate a relationship with the blogger. Leave a comment or 2 or 15.

They don’t check their facts; it’s just opinion

Normally, a client who feels this way has been the subject of someone’s writing they feel was not objective. Sometimes it’s not even on a blog but instead a news story where anonymous comments can be completely free of fact. However, the vast majority of bloggers are well meaning and good intentioned individuals building a community. They can provide valuable access to a business’ customers. Most try their hardest to be factual and will understand if you politely correct their facts.

Bloggers aren’t journalists

According to dictionary.com, a journalist is “a person who practices the occupation or profession of journalism.”  So one could assume a blogger isn’t doing this because the traditional definition of journalism (and the first one on dictionary.com) is: “the occupation of reporting, writing, editing, photographing, or broadcasting news or of conducting any news organization as a business.” While that may seem to be a reason to ignore bloggers, it’s important to realize that many people today are getting their information from the Internet. This is especially true of young people, who rarely watch network news or read a newspaper. The fact that a blogger is not a journalist certainly does not mean he/she is not influential. It just means those who are influential are constantly changing.

Do I really have to answer their questions?

This is one of my favorites since you, technically, don’t have to answer a blogger’s questions. But my question back to clients is…why wouldn’t you? Treat a blogger as you would a reporter and afford them the common courtesies you would journalists. Because their blog is likely not as formal a traditional newspaper or news program, many bloggers will freely mention that companies do/do not answer their questions. If you’re interested in building a relationship, answer the questions and see if the blogger has other issues to discuss. If a post is already published and you feel your answer to a follow-up question might be edited, feel free to answer as a comment on the blog. It’s another good way to start the conversation.

What about the comments?

Comments are another place on a blog where you can make/break friendships. It takes a little bit of guts to write that first comment but after a while it’s easy. Think of it as having a conversation with the blogger and the other commenter. Some “commenting systems” such as Livefyre encouraging ongoing conversation in a blog. Test out your comfort with commenting on a website that’s about a hobby or your community…somewhere not controversial. Then when you’re ready, move on to blogs about your organization, profession or company.  Of course, once you comment on a blog, subscribe to the comments so you know what others are saying on that particular post. This way you know if someone has responded to your comment.

But won’t they just print “anything”?

The fact is bloggers are not bound by the same code of ethics as journalists, public relations professionals or many other professions. There have been discussions about creating a blogger’s code but the feeling is that those who need the code won’t abide by it anyway. And, in reality, there are very few of them. Further, those who are using their blog as their business or an extension of their business, do adhere to an ethical code for their own profession. It’s important that they do this in order to grow as a business…and a blogger.

So, don’t be afraid. Instead embrace the bloggers in your world. Enjoy their fun side.

 

13 comments
3dmodelsart
3dmodelsart

Great tips, Mary. It helps a lot especially for a beginner bloggers like me. Keep up the good work ;)

rajean
rajean

Great piece, Mary. One thing I'll add is that I've found (now as a blogger and still as a PR professional) is that bloggers have very loyal readers. Another reason why it is very important for PR pros to chose to work with a variety of bloggers on behalf of their clients. Talk about word of mouth marketing. In my opinion, filtering our messages through the blogs should become high on our list of priorities. I also love how bloggers help us all keep it real.

Narciso17
Narciso17

Great Stuff Here, Mary - Way to Get Us Revved Up On An Important Topic!I Find That If You Ever Get Some Push-Back From a Client on the 'Validity' of a Blogger, You Have to Remind Them That, Ultimately, It All Comes Down to Influence. For Example, the Amount of 'Influence' an Article in The Wall Street Journal Would Have vs. a Piece in The Punxsutawney Spirit Newspaper is Going to be Different. Then You Have to Consider What Matters to Your Client and What Matters to Your Client's Customers. As You Help Them Determine The 'Validity' of a Blogger Based on These Factors, The Coversation Will Likely Change. Cause Chances Are, Since You (As the PR Pro) Approached Your Client w/This Blog, This is a Blog With (at the Very Least) a Decent Amount of Influence. As These Factors Add Up, The Lights Will Go On and Things Will Change.

Shonali
Shonali

I know most bloggers most to microblogs as well, and I think it's equally important to apply these principles to microblogging... i.e. respond to Twitter, Facebook, etc. - wherever you're trying to build up your community. Particularly when it comes to bloggers, most that I have encountered will be pleased when you engage with them on those networks as well. It truly is a "worldwide web," isn't it?

DeAnnBaxter
DeAnnBaxter

I remember when blogs started becoming "mainstream," and all the comments about bloggers not being journalists and talk about whether these outlets would stick around. Well, I think it's safe to say that blogs are here to stay! Blogger conferences, blog pitches, blog resources and outlets - blogs aren't going anywhere. As Gini said, though, it's so important to build relationships with bloggers. It's very much the same as traditional media - know who you are pitching so you don't end up as the topic of a post about clueless PR people! (Been reading too many of those lately...) As for commenting on blogs, I'm really bad about this. Often times, I do have an opinion, but I'm not willing to speak up. It can make all the difference, though! You make virtual friends, as demonstrated in this story: http://fletcher-prince.com/2011/09/26/gratitude-and-pumpkin-pie-poptarts/ Hooray for blogging!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

Mary - this is a great list of things to do when approaching a blogger. I like that you've specifically said it's important to treat bloggers like journalists. The one point you made that I think is worth repeating is the idea that you should get to know the blogger and comment on their blog. They're MUCH more inclined to take a pitch from you if you've taken the time to build a relationship with them. Gone are the days of spreading the green Bacon's books on your desk and figuring out how to pitch based on the information in there. Now you have instant access to everything bloggers put online. And it's very valuable information.

mdbarber
mdbarber

@3dmodelsart Thank you for stopping by my blog. I hope you'll keep coming back. It's great that we can all share what we're learning with each other. One of the best things about social media I'd say.

mdbarber
mdbarber

@rajean Great point! And that's all the more reason, as well, to always finish the conversation/answer the questions even if you think the crisis might have blown past. I've seen instances too where loyal readers regularly share posts so it's important to follow those threads to other blogs and pages as well.

mdbarber
mdbarber

@Narciso17 I like your process Narciso and think it's a good way to start changing some minds. A wise colleague once told me: "water on stone. Eventually the stone will break." I have found this to be true in so many instances and it's likely going to be here as well.

mdbarber
mdbarber

@Shonali That's a great point Shonali and one that seems lost on some people as well. I think there's just such a perception among some that these people don't matter because no one follows them. A look at the quantity of comments alone should be a good clue!

mdbarber
mdbarber

@DeAnnBaxter Thanks for stopping by DeAnn and for sharing that wonderful story. I love that you valued the virtual relationship so much and that Mary was so appreciative. As for pumpkin pop tarts, can't say I'LL be racing out for them but it's a very cool thing you did and demonstrative of the power of blogging and social media.

mdbarber
mdbarber

@ginidietrich Ahh...the memories of the Bacon's books. How wild were those days? And the books out of date 3 months before printing! I agree with you on the relationships. I'm amazed at the people who still don't even see the value in reading/responding to bloggers. Talk about head in the sand!

Shonali
Shonali

@mdbarber I think comments and the type of back and forth in comments (one reason I love Livefyre, because it's so easy to do that with it) is huge when it comes to looking at that blogger's community. Btw, that second "most" should be "post" - sorry for the typo!