It's days like these I wish I hadn't retired Naked PR. If you don't already know, I used to own a small PR firm, where I was an early specialist in online public relations and social media consulting (before everyone under the sun started thinking they were qualified to call themselves that).
Naked PR was my blog where I had a tendency to say things others in the spin-centric, ass-kissing industry wouldn't say (though many would happily agree once someone else said it first).
When companies engaged in things like BS blogger relations tactics, I called them out for it. These days? Not so much. That's because I retired Naked PR when I moved away from consulting to pursue a full-time writing career.
Today is an exception.
I imagine most freelance writers here have already heard about Upwork -- oDesk's new brand (associated with Elance).
Here's an email I received from one of their representatives today, name removed in the hope that this was a result of limited ignorance and they learn from it without having to be shamed publicly:
I'm [name], from the marketing team here at Upwork. We're an online workplace that connects businesses with the world's top freelance talent faster than ever before. I came across your '4 Tips for Dealing With Client Call Anxiety as a Freelancer' post, and was impressed by your freelancing savvy. You have some interesting thoughts that I think would be great to share with freelancers who use our website.
I'm reaching out to a handful of bloggers like you to see if you would write a post on your blog with your tips for becoming a successful freelancer. Once these are up, we'll be selecting some of the best tips to showcase on our site--we'd love to feature your insights!
Let me know if you're interested in sharing your advice, and I'd be happy to send over the rest of the details. I look forward to talking soon.
What's the Problem?
There are so many things wrong with this email that I hardly know where to start. But I'm going to try.
1. Lazy Marketing - Form Emails
Because I worked heavily in the area of blogger relations, and am a professional blogger myself, I have absolutely no tolerance for lazy marketing to bloggers. This email is a prime example.
You may have heard me refer to my "go-to gals" here on the blog or on the podcast. They're the three writers I'm closest to and share just about anything work-related with. And, last week, not one but two of them mentioned receiving this same carbon copy email. So out of four of us, at least three of us have now received it.
How much was customized to each blogger? At most, that would include our names and a blog post title ripped from our sites to make it sound like the Upwork folks have actually spent time getting to know bloggers before pitching them.
A generic form letter pitch is the number one sin when it comes to blogger outreach.
2. More Lazy Marketing - Not Knowing Who They're Pitching
If there's another major no-no in blogger relations, it's sending pitches to bloggers you clearly know nothing about. (That's how posts like this one come about.)
Had anyone on the Upwork team actually bothered to do their job, they would know that All Freelance Writing is a terrible place to pitch anything associated with Elance, oDesk, and whatever the hell they're choosing to call themselves these days.
I've written about the company here before in a less-than-flattering light (as has as least one guest contributor who shared her horror story of working through Elance). In addition to speaking out against race-to-the-bottom freelance bidding sites in general for years, here are a couple of key posts a simple Google search would have turned up:
- Just One More Reason to Hate oDesk
- Another Freelance Marketplace Bites the Dust - Elance Work View -- And guess what. The site is still apparently littered with control freak "clients" who think they have a right to monitor freelancers' work as it happens. They do not. But Elance / Upwork still gives them the tools to cross legal lines, acting like employers instead of clients while taking on none of the responsibilities of such. Here's just one insane example.
oDesk also made it onto my list of the worst three places to find freelance writing jobs, from way back in 2008 (and they'd still be there if I wrote that post today -- well, as Upwork of course).
Does it sound like I would be a prime candidate for their promotion? Only if you're blind or illiterate.
It wasn't just me though. They pitched a colleague with the same form letter for a blog that has nothing to do with freelancing. She writes largely about business communication for business owners. So there, they didn't even have to bother searching the site to see if she was a critic or evangelist for their brands.
All they had to do was visit the site and open their friggin' eyes and see that her site isn't relevant to what they're pitching. The fact that she works as a freelancer doesn't mean her site targets them.
Here's the thing. I chatted with ProBlogger's Darren Rowse about brands targeting bloggers for blogger outreach, way back in 2008. And if this email wasn't so pathetically sad, it would almost be hilarious for the fact that they're making all of these terribly old mistakes that we talked about seven years ago.
There's no excuse for it anymore. Read that post if you want tips from both of us on more responsible (and more effective) targeting and pitching practices when trying to connect with bloggers.
3. Spouting Utter BS and Insulting Targeted Bloggers
As bad as it is to send poorly-targeted, form letter email pitches, there's something even more insulting here. Elance / Upwork must think bloggers in the freelance world are idiots. At least that's how they come across with the nonsense in this email. Let's look at the problems here.
"We're an online workplace that connects businesses with the world's top freelance talent faster than ever before."
1. First, they assume long-time bloggers in the freelance space would have no idea who they are or what they do.
That alone is slightly insulting, though certainly forgivable after a rebranding. Mentioning that rebranding would have been much smarter, rather than acting like something completely new.
2. The worst part of this is they're dead wrong about connecting businesses "with the world's top freelance talent faster than ever before."
No "top freelancer" is available to drop everything and work on your project immediately. They're usually booked weeks to months in advance. So it's totally dishonest to business owners who might use the service to find freelancers.
They might find newer freelancers available to start immediately (and sometimes very good newer freelancers at that). But that's a far cry from the company's claim.
3. That really is what we're talking about here -- being able to immediately chat with potential clients and start working for them right away.
That's where Upwork seems to feel emphasis should be placed based on all of the marketing material I've been exposed to thus far -- instant gratification over pretty much everything else.
If you pay attention to all of their marketing since the rebranding, you'll see that it focuses heavily on their new real-time chat tool (because, you know, there weren't any real-time chat tools before; and it couldn't possibly be that professional freelancers were smart enough to control their own communication policies and schedules and rule those out as options for good reasons).
This, like Work View, has the potential to hurt freelancers by allowing clients to weed out anyone who won't immediately squeeze them in, and equating "faster" with being the best. Is fast better to some clients? Sure. But Upwork's actively marketing this as being a great thing for freelancers. It's not.
"I came across your 'INSERT RECENT BLOG POST TITLE HERE' post, and was impressed by your freelancing savvy. You have some interesting thoughts that I think would be great to share with freelancers who use our website."
That's funny. There must be a crap-ton of "freelancing savvy" going around given that they say the same thing to each blogger they contact. This is nothing more than a lame attempt at ego-baiting.
I have no doubt this is going to work on some freelancers -- especially newer bloggers who don't realize this is just a generic form email. That's what companies like this count on. You're supposed to be so flattered that a recognizable company thinks you have "interesting thoughts" that you'll fall all over yourself to thank them and, ideally, promote them.
Will it work for them? Probably on some level. And that's what's terrifying and sad for those of us who actually read freelance blogs. It really can be that easy to manipulate some of the bloggers we love. So far I haven't seen any bloggers I follow fall for it. Knock on wood.
"I'm reaching out to a handful of bloggers like you to see if you would write a post on your blog with your tips for becoming a successful freelancer. Once these are up, we'll be selecting some of the best tips to showcase on our site--we'd love to feature your insights!"
So, let me get this straight. Upwork wants bloggers to do the work of writing posts and offering advice for the benefit of their visitors, and they expect those bloggers to do the work for free (not that paying for exposure is any better)? Give me a few minutes to stop laughing.
Now let me be clear. There's nothing wrong with asking bloggers to share their thoughts about something specific if you're creating some kind of round-up post. But that's not what this is here. They're asking you to write a full post, on your own blog, presumably because they'll get some kind of exposure from it.
Thanks and all, but most bloggers don't need Upwork or any other company suggesting blog topics to them. I gave FreshBooks crap for this on Twitter not long ago when they took a similar misguided approach to blogger outreach. Brands need to stop inserting themselves into the content plans of bloggers.
The bigger issue here is that this request reeks of "do this for us and we'll give you exposure." You know -- the same crap ignorant and no-budget clients like to spew when trying to convince freelance professionals to work for free. And this is coming from a company that claims to be good for freelancers.
So basically, you write a post about the topic they want you to cover, and they might choose to feature your tips on their site. Seriously. You're expected to write on-spec for potential exposure now too. How is this not funny? I mean, really folks. How was this email conceived, and then approved by someone, without being laughed out of the room?
"Let me know if you're interested in sharing your advice, and I'd be happy to send over the rest of the details."
Of course I'm interested in sharing my advice (as are most people they seem to be contacting). That's why we have blogs in this niche. Again, this was a forgivable line. But what the heck are the "rest of the details?"
There's more? How are there even any more "details" to discuss? You're asking people to cover a specific topic on their blog. Easy peasy. Any further influence over that content would be incredibly inappropriate unless they choose to accept sponsored content (which this doesn't sound like, unless they did an even lousier job by not making their true intentions clear).
This whole thing reminds me of 2007 when the concept of blogger relations was fairly new and company marketing and PR reps were completely clueless. It's 2015 folks. Let's get with the times already.
When pitching bloggers, what you're pushing better have real value to their readers. Don't ask them to benefit your visitors or customers in some way. And in pitching me and the couple of other colleagues who I know received the same email, that's fundamentally where Upwork failed.
My hope is that, rather than jumping into the comments here in true Elance fashion (trying to clarify things that were never misunderstood or trying to sugarcoat things to protect their image), the Upwork folks will simply learn from their blogger relations mistakes. Remember, many of us in the freelance space have been around far longer than your company. And while you don't always see it publicly, we talk.
This isn't just for the Elance-Upwork folks, but for any company thinking about running a blogger outreach campaign:
When you do something stupid or insulting to bloggers in your industry word gets around. Attempted ego-baiting with a form email is just one sloppy example. So the next time you feel like reaching out to bloggers, please do your homework. Spare us the frustration, and spare yourselves the potential embarrassment.
On a more positive note, I want to point out that not all companies do such a piss-poor job of pitching bloggers. You might remember a recent review here of AutoCrit. Those folks went about pitching in the right way. After that review went live, I was contacted by someone with Grammarly, and you'll find a review here of their service soon.
Both of those companies did a good job with their outreach. Their pitches were well-targeted. There was no pressure or ego-baiting involved. They understood the value had to be there for my readers and not just for them. And they even came into it understanding that a review didn't mean a guarantee of positive coverage here. So kudos to both of them on their marketing efforts and setting a good example.
Here's the full infographic. Feel free to share this, especially if you're a blogger who's sick of being targeted by companies who don't know the first thing about your blog or your readers. You can use the embed code below (or download the image and upload it to your site as long as you refer your visitors back to the original post for context).
Embed / Share This:
[codesnippet pb_margin_bottom="yes" width="1/1" el_position="first last"]<a href="https://allfreelancewriting.com/elance-upwork-blogger-outreach/"><img itemprop="image" src="https://allfreelancewriting.com/images/TwitterTipsForAuthors.jpg" alt="3 Ways to Piss off Bloggers and Torpedo Your Blogger Outreach Campaign" /></a><p>Credit: <a rel="nofollow" href="https://allfreelancewriting.com">All Freelance Writing - Helping Serious Freelance Writers, Indie Authors, and Bloggers Go Pro</a></p>
As mentioned in the comments here, I carried this topic over to the All Freelance Writing Podcast. In addition to a little more ranting about Upwork's bullshit, I offer a few tips on dealing with these kinds of pitch emails if you get them as a blogger.
- Why You Should Diversify Your Writing Income (& 5 Ways to do It) - March 16, 2021
- How the PRO Act Could Hurt Freelance Writers (& What You Can do About It) - March 2, 2021
- Revenue Sharing 2.0 (& Why it Still Sucks for Writers) - February 26, 2021