Today I attended one of the most interactive and open sessions at SXSW featuring BlogHer CEO and co-founder, Lisa Stone, “Brands, Bloggers & the Social Commerce Future.” Stone is one of the leading experts on brand/blogger relationships and BlogHer, with 50+ million bloggers in its network, acts as the mother ship for successful branded blogger campaigns.
The main question on everyone’s mind was, with the thousands of sponsored posts going live each day, how do bloggers maintain a trustful relationship with their readers, and how can brands integrate themselves successfully into these conversations. First and most importantly is full disclosure – this should be in every bloggers handbook and brands should demand it.
There is nothing worse than a blogger trying to pass off an entire post about a new toaster as just what they happened to be interested in that day, without noting that they got it for free or there was $100 attached to it. Secondly, serious bloggers, who care about their community, should only write about products and brands that they have a high affinity for. This is where the split between advocates and influencers takes place. An influencer is someone will write up a branded post, send out a few tweets and do their tasked outlined in their contract. An advocate, will not only do all those things, but will continuously use the product or brand in their daily lives, insert themselves into relevant conversations concerning the topic, and will fight for the products they love. Both of these types of blogger have their part in the blogosphere, but it is the latter that will make the biggest impact for brands
About midway through the session a great question was asked, “Brands do ton of sponsored posts, but since the web is so saturated with them, is it even worth it?” The answer is…yes. We all know the stats that conclude that women control a majority of household spending and that they trust recommendations from people they trust (aka the bloggers they love) above all else. There are a few things however, that brands AND bloggers can do to strengthen these relationships and make their next sponsored post stand out.
Context: This is crucial and one of the major elements that separate influencers from advocates. If a mommy blogger writes for three years on the all-organic recipes she makes for her family and then writes a post reviewing a frozen chicken dinner…it doesn’t fit. So brands should look to partner with blogger that have talked about their product (or similar ones) and ones whose life they can organically fit themselves into. Bloggers shouldn’t take every deal pitched to them – but rather ones that they would try regardless of the deal presented.
Delivery: A boring post with no interactive media or incentive is not going to catch the eyes of readers, and will if anything make the product or brand look bland. Stone noted that in recent research, a post that featured a video testimonial of the blogger using the product, performed higher than any others. Another piece of research Stone referenced was that widgets on blogs drove longer shopping sessions on brands’ sites, but links had more stickiness long term. These are the types of insights brands and bloggers need to collaborate on to decide which works best for their relationship. A blogger will know what type of media their community responds best to and a brand knows what assets they have to give the blogger. Communication and collaboration are crucial in this relationship - not only for the success of the campaign but for the sake of the readers.
The key takeaway for brands from this session is – don’t settle for influencers, strive for advocates. Do your part in making every sponsored post unique and innovative, and don’t do it just for the sake of the impressions number. Remember, every blog’s reader is a potential advocate, so leave behind the standard sponsored post contract you have used for the last five years and spice it up a bit. It will not only make your brand more memorable with readers, but will aid you in growing organic advocates.
For bloggers, I give the same advice – don’t settle. Don’t take the easy deals from the pitches that come through every day – give your readers something to tell their friends about (or rather a reason to email a link to a friend.) Take the chance the next time a major brand reaches out to you to write them back with a creative suggestion for your partnership, it might be more time consuming than a standard review, but I guarantee your readers will thank you.