I returned from the Blissdom blogger conference about 10 days ago and am off to Dad 2.0 Summit this week. There’s a lot of blogger love happening out there, and it’s wonderful to be in the middle of it, helping to connect brands and bloggers in creative and fruitful ways.
Lately, though, I’ve been coming home from parenting/lifestyle blogger conferences both inspired and dismayed. There are some really cool ways in which brands are engaging with these bloggers, and some of those efforts come through at blogger conferences. For example, at Blissdom, ConAgra launched their Child Hunger Ends Here campaign, encouraging bloggers to add the hashtag #childhunger to their tweets to donate one meal per tweet sent during the conference. The hashtag was flying and 20,000 meals were donated, with ConAgra matching to get to a total of 40,000 meals. Bloggers for a cause … I love it.
Microsoft Office and Windows worked with a well-known parenting blogger, Janice Croze from 5 Minutes for Mom, as the host of a live webcast from their Blissdom suite on time saving tips with Office products. Janice was exactly the right host for the busy mom audience they were trying to attract, and choosing to broadcast from Blissdom gave those viewers a peek into the conference.
So that’s the good. But there’s some ugly too.
Every time I go to a blogger conference I meet new bloggers, and of course I always ask them what they blog about. Every time, at least a handful of newish bloggers say, “oh, you know, I write about products and do giveaways and stuff.” And I cringe. It’s not that there can’t be good review blogs. Look at Cool Mom Picks, HighTechDad, or DadLabs, blogs which have been around for a long time and have a very clear point-of-view and target audience; they all do reviews really well. It’s the new breed of “review-giveaway bloggers” (at least that’s what I’m calling them) that gets to me.
Over the years, it’s become clear to many people that some bloggers earn some money through their blogs. Advertising is rarely a good source of income for new bloggers, but payments from brands can be, and so a new crop of bloggers has appeared who want to get their slice of the pie. These new bloggers rarely have a well-defined niche or point-of-view. Some are poor writers. Their content is nothing but review after review, giveaway after giveaway. And to top it all off, many of them take payment for reviews – something which is anathema to most legitimate bloggers and, in my opinion (and many others’), should never be offered by a self-respecting PR agency or brand.
You all know these low-quality review-giveaway blogs; I’m not going to name them here. They’re the ones which have “reviews,” “giveaways” and “pr friendly” as their main navigation points on their blogs. They’re also the blogs that are turned on by the “make money fast by blogging” or “blog from home” come-ons in Google or Facebook ad results. And if you’re on the brand or PR agency side, you’ve no doubt encountered these bloggers pitching you – with their hands out, looking for you to pay them to do something with your brand.
I think these review-giveaway bloggers are giving all other bloggers (parenting and otherwise) a bad name. I’ve encountered dozens of clients and potential clients who, when I bring up the possibility of creating blogger integrations for their brands, say, “why would I pay for a review?” – as if that’s all they think bloggers do. It’s very hard to convince them that a creative blogger relationship can be an extension of their marketing efforts and reap rewards for both parties. Sadly, the blogs they find in searches and the blogs that reach out to them are mostly the ones looking to make a quick buck or score some product. Because brands get turned off so quickly, they never have a chance to meet or work with blogs who can bring their audiences to bear in an ethical and holistic way to help build a brand’s profile among their communities. And that’s really a shame. As a social media agency, it’s my job to help them understand that there is a better way – that true marketing partnerships with a small number of quality bloggers can yield great results. I’m working hard to do that.
So how can we stop the proliferation of these kinds of blogs and this “pay-for-play” mentality? I feel the answer lies primarily with the PR firms. As I’ve said before, agencies need to step up their game, and realize that “pitching to bloggers” does not mean paying for reviews, paying for giveaways, or paying for links. Blogger relationships can and should be marketing partnerships: use bloggers as spokespeople, have them write content for you or appear in videos, bring them to headquarters to talk to your staff, have them conduct informal focus groups or product parties in their hometowns. Pay them as marketing consultants and expect professionalism from them. If you don’t get what you expect from your relationship, be sure to give them feedback so they can do better; many of them don’t come from marketing backgrounds, which in no way diminishes their power to connect and deliver their communities to you.
If you’re an agency who uses a “spray-and-pray” pitch approach, sending mass emails out to dozens or hundreds of bloggers at a time, or if you’re ready to hand any blogger $50 to do just about anything – stop. You’re really the ones creating the breeding ground for these poor quality blogs.
The future of blogging, at least in the lifestyle/parenting category, will have to be defined by more and better: more actual content, better content, more focus, better writing, more ethical behavior. It’s always great to see new high-quality blogs, but I’d like to see the the blogosphere grow less rapidly, if it means low-quality blogs will go away as their authors realize that there’s no such thing as easy money. Agencies, you have the power to help make that change.