This post is the second in a two-part series with Darren Rowse of ProBlogger.net. This was originally published on May 6, 2008 on my now-retired public relations blog, NakedPR.com. That blog is being completely dismantled while I re-evaluate plans for the brand, with key content being preserved on other blogs I own. While this post was originally written for a target audience of PR professionals and business owners, the material is equally valuable to bloggers.
This version of the post has been slightly edited to remove dated links and references. If you missed the first half of this post series, check out Bloggers vs. Journalists: With Pro Blogger, Darren Rowse.
As promised, here is the second half of my recent interview with pro blogger Darren Rowse, on targeting bloggers and pitching bloggers with your stories or those of your clients.
The Case for Targeting Bloggers
No matter where you fall in the bloggers vs journalists debate, Darren thinks that public relations people should avoid snubbing bloggers:
"One big benefit of bloggers is that they have an ability to build real trust with readers. I'm not doubting that this can happen with journalists too but blogs can be very personal and the relationship between blogger and reader can be quite deep."
I have to agree with him. Bloggers do have the ability to build trust with readers on a deeper level than can be done in some other outlets - it all comes down to that interactive conversation we love so much in PR. I've even witnessed this on one of my other blogs specifically - seeing how a more personal approach built trust, increased interaction, increased backlinks and referrals to the blog, and even increased revenue. Darren's ProBlogger is one of the most trusted resources in the blogging community.
"I know that after writing daily content for three years that some of my longer term readers feel like they know me. They've benefited from my advice for years, they've seen me develop and experiment in my field of expertise, they've also seen some of the personal things that I talk about from my life... they trust me. As a result when I make a recommendation or suggestion they're more than likely to act on that. This is a powerful thing and something that companies are obviously interested to tap into."
And tap into trusted blogs they do - through advertising and pushing affiliate programs on bloggers they know can reach their target market to pitching stories to bloggers in the hopes of getting exposure with their loyal and targeted audience.
Choosing Blogs to Target
If you intend to target bloggers for your own company or on behalf of clients with your press releases or pitches, it's important to focus on bloggers that are reaching your target audience effectively, and those bloggers who have developed trust, as Darren mentioned, with that audience.
Darren and I disagree a bit on targeting bloggers - mostly in how to build the relationships (what's needed, what's not, etc.). At the same time, he makes some excellent points and recommendations of tools to use to get at least a vague idea of which bloggers can influence your audience:
"There are a number of things that I'd suggest:
- Use tools like Technorati or Google's Blog search to find what blogs are covering the topic you're interested in. You can set up 'alerts' or 'watch lists' for certain keywords to be notified what's going on in an industry. After a while you'll see the same blogs coming up again and again which is at least an indication that they are 'on topic'.
- Track with the blog for a few days or weeks before approaching them. See what and how they cover stories. Watch how many comments they get and what tone the comments are (you can learn a lot about a blogger by what goes on in their comments section). Pay particular attention to the 'voice' that they use to write posts (if they're an angry and controversial blogger they may or may not be the best vehicle to target.
- Watch what others say about the blog. Use a tool like technorati to watch what other bloggers are linking up and for what reason they're talking about the blog. You'll quickly get an idea as to whether the blogger is trusted, influential and a credible source of information.
- Use tools like Alexa or Compete to get an idea of traffic. They won't give you actual numbers but when you compare blogs using these tools you get an idea of how they rank in general terms.
- Test the waters with a few comments of your own on their blog. Don't pitch them or do a PR spin - but leave a valuable and useful comment and see how it's received."
While I don't agree that you need to be testing the waters with comments and such for every blog you may want to target, I think the real key here is that you need to take the time to know what stories a blogger may or may not be interested in. More importantly perhaps, you need to let the blogger know why they've been targeted - let them know what related pieces you've read, etc. instead of simply assuming they'll know why you're pitching them. Darren sums it up nicely:
"My advice to PR people is to travel with a blogger over time, build relationships, resource them, help them improve their blog, only 'pitch' relevant stories, tailor those pitches as much as possible to the blogger's audience and never manipulate bloggers (or be perceived to)."
Pitching Your Story to Bloggers
After you've familiarized yourself with bloggers that can reach your audience, you need to find a way to pitch them without alienating them. Darren has written a 21-point series of tips on how to pitch bloggers (covering not only story pitches, but those for link recommendations and exchanges, interview requests, guest posts, and more).
His thoughts on pitching press releases directly interested me (he flat out suggests that you not do it):
"I must have hit ‘delete’ on thousands of press releases over the last few years. While I do occasionally use them - it is generally only when they are right on target for my niche and quite often when I go searching for them. I’d much rather be pitched a story idea that is tailored to my blog. This need not be long or detailed (in fact it’s best if it’s not) but if someone shoots me an email that says ‘here’s a story you might be interested in and here’s why it’s relevant to your blog’s readers’ I’m much more likely to read it. If you do have a press release it might be more effective to not send it - but to give a link to where it is hosted online so that if the blogger wants to refer to it (and link to it) they can."
On this point, I disagree a little bit. I think you should absolutely not hesitate to send news releases to bloggers. My experience specializing in online PR, working as a blogger on quite a few blogs myself, and working in larger networks where I was exposed to hundreds of online writers / bloggers tells me that many bloggers (including respected niche experts with large trusted followings) do in fact want to receive your press releases. However, I can understand that for a blogger of Darren's popularity, it might get overwhelming at times, so I don't blame him for feeling the way he does (I know other "big" bloggers who feel similarly). At the same time though, other large blogs (Mashable comes to mind) actively solicit news release submissions.
I think the thing you need to focus on is your targeting (which is something I've said repeatedly in the past, and something I'll keep saying indefinitely into the future). While you may not have to follow specific bloggers for a long time to get a feel for them, you should absolutely be checking to see if they have specific pitching policies, requests, or even flat-out refusals before sending off a release. If they make it clear they don't want your releases, you're not helping yourself by sending them.
I think Darren did hit on an important point when he mentioned sending a short pitch email suggesting a story idea and why that idea would be relevant to the blogger's audience. Where we differ is that I look at that brief, more personalized email as an addition to the press release and not a substitute.
Working with a lot of Web-based clients targeting bloggers over the last couple of years, here's the course of action that I've found most effective:
- Target the bloggers, and create a list of the ones most relevant to your news story (you can use the tools and tips Darren offered).
- Look around the blog for any mention of a pitching policy (the sidebar or contact page is where you'll often find it). If the blogger doesn't accept pitches, scratch them from your list. If they do, see if they mention any preferences for how to receive them (their own online form, via email, etc.). In most cases I end up pitching via email.
- From that targeted list, search for specific blog posts related to your news story in some way. Read them thoroughly. Observe the interaction with readers in the comments. Get a good feel for how the individual bloggers cover topics like that you're planning to pitch (their attitude, tone, etc. - if they tend to be negative about the subject matter, you're not doing yourself any favors - for example, if someone reads Naked PR they should know better than to pitch me with a story about a new social network, Facebook app, etc.).
- Write a short email (similar to what Darren mentioned). It should be tailored to each blogger individually... you can comment on one of the posts you read while evaluating the blog, something about their approach, etc. Let them know that you're not simply sending a random story idea, but instead that you did take the time to research their blog, audience, and interests. This kind of pitching even works on me personally - I get a lot of pitches for two of my blogs. If it's nothing but a release, I trash it. If it's something tailored to me, I consider it (which just led to me publishing a guest post and agreeing to partner in a contest very recently on another blog of mine). You don't have to spend a lot of time stroking the ego of the blogger you're emailing. Just show them you actually know something about them.
- Paste your press release at the end of the actual email. It has always proven far more effective for me and my clients than simply linking to the release online as Darren mentioned. At the same time, there's nothing wrong with including a link additionally (preferably to a version hosted on your site or your client's site to take advantage of more direct linking). This works better for a simple reason... as easy as it is to click a link, it's still often a struggle to get people to do it (online advertisers have struggled with this issue for quite some time). Remember, it's just as easy for the recipient to click once to close your email. Put the information in front of their face. If they want it, they'll read it. If they don't, it's extremely easy to ignore, and just focus on the personal pitch above - I suggest leaving a bit of space between the two to avoid it looking like one huge continuous email message, and just allude to the press release in the short message.
So tell me... what pitching policies do you follow when targeting bloggers (or are you even targeting bloggers)? Have you experimented? What's been most effective? Are there any other specific tools you use to help you identify bloggers that may be worth targeting, following, or building relationships with?