The continuing saga of businesses working with bloggers

It’s the same argument over and over:  What is the value of a post on a mom blog?  I work with both sides on this and the discussion never goes away.  And, it shouldn’t.  The social marketing landscape changes too quickly now.  Every time Facebook changes where posts appear or an algorithm for how updates are prioritized, content and attention shifts.  We are inundated with (mostly useless) information, so catching the attention of an individual is not easy.  But that is exactly why businesses want to work with bloggers.  They want exposure, promotion and buzz.

Battle of Brands and Bloggers

Battle of Brands and Bloggers

We know the value of the exposure.  What we don’t know is the true effectiveness of a bloggers ability to create that exposure.  Blog networks and businesses ask for numbers – FB fans, Twitter followers, blog followers, unique hits, etc.  Let’s just skip the whole argument about gaming those numbers (you know, buying 500 FB fans for $5 on fiverr.com, using auto-add software to get Twitter followers, or participating in hops and links that create one time visits in exchange for contest entries), and talk about real reach.  Do followers seek out your opinions and thoughts?  Or have you trained them that you will tell them about a product you tried (for free) and harass or seduce them into liking a fan page to enter a contest?  What blogs do you read?  Are you there for contests or for information?

Traditional media has been tracking true reach for years.  Every show on TV knows its ratings and demographics.  But, if a show has 5 million viewers during prime time, will your commercial be seen by 5 million people if played during that show?  Of course not.  We tune out, fast-forward or watch it through commercial-free streams.  Advertisers pay for the commercial spots based on how many views they think they will actually get, not how many viewers the show has.  If a station played only commercials and occasional content, what would those numbers look like?

Quality and Strategy for Bloggers

With the rise of DVRs, advertisers sought new ways to get their messages across. Sometimes they put those annoying graphics or crawls right across the bottom of the screen.  But, more and more, they are transitioning to strategic product placement.  Done properly, the advertisers study markets and demographics to find the right shows, air times and actors to interact with products.  The soda cans are turned perfectly towards the camera, the fast food company’s sign is lit up like a banner above the actor’s head, the products name is mentioned in context with the script.  Now you’ve reached the 5 million viewers.

Bloggers have this same ability.  They can choose to be the show or the commercial.  Businesses have trained them to be the commercials.  Now that the old model isn’t working well, they don’t want to pay the bloggers much.  A few “bad” bloggers have given the good ones a bad name by begging for product, writing sloppy posts (or not posting at all), and asking for pay despite a complete lack of audience.

But, the businesses still need the exposure.  Bloggers need to see this as an opportunity.  Chances are, blogs were started because moms had something to say or share.  Then the freebies came, then the competition for statistics to get the products of choice.  This is your chance to go back to that original purpose – write about the things moms care about, the subjects that inspire or frustrate you.  Those posts will bring a true audience to you.  Fans will look for your wisdom rather than dodge your blatant advertisements.  And, your “value” will increase.

I truly hope to see more content and quality of writing and thoughts.  Personally, I don’t mind a little strategic product placement if the “show” is good.

Math for Business Owners  (don’t worry I did it for you)

As if business owners don’t struggle enough trying to figure out manufacturing costs, margins and how to factor salaries for themselves into their business plans, now they have to figure out if they are being scammed by social media and advertising companies that use “fuzzy math”.

I received an email this week from a business owner who recently signed up for a software service for connecting with bloggers. She asked if their numbers meant it was a good investment. I don’t have a lot of faith in numbers from bloggers in general – not because the bloggers lie (well, some do), but the numbers are often misleading because they are one dimension of a multi-dimensional equation. But, I was surprised at how blatantly misleading these numbers were. Here’s what the email said:

“…a quick update on the current reach of our Bloggers. Check this out!

Total Blog followers: 1,117,461
Total Twitter Followers: 931,908
Total Facebook Fans: 956,380
# Unique Monthly Hits: 2,907,042

And these numbers are growing EVERYDAY!”

Over one million blog followers? I didn’t know there were a million people who follow mom blogs – well, maybe a celebrity mom blog. So I asked who the bloggers were and was given a list of the top bloggers.  Most names were familiar to me and I’d worked with a majority of them. From what I’ve seen in working with them over the past year, only a couple (if any) have a true following over 10,000 followers.

I realize that’s not what the email actually claimed, but it is important to the equation. You see, mom bloggers are very connected to other mom bloggers. Newer bloggers follow the more experienced ones. They do contests together that result in shared audiences. They tell one another about what blogger networks they like and don’t like and where the review opportunities are. The result is that there is tremendous overlap in audience.

Here’s an analogy. Picture a high school where most of the kids have between 20-100 friends. A few popular kids have over 1000 friends. I walk into a classroom and ask each student, “how many friends do you have at this school?” I add the numbers up and it comes out to 4000. The class has 35 students. The school has 1600 students. When you look at it this way, it’s easy to see that the reason the total number exceeds the school population is the fact that most of the students had some of the same friends. It’s overlap.

The same thing happens within a community of bloggers. Your true reach is generally just slightly more than the one member with the largest reach. In the example of the classroom, it’s the one popular kid with 1200 friends. If you add a few other students from outside that class, their friends will make up the other 400 (for the total of 1600 students at the school). In the mom blogger world, the rules are the same. Some bloggers have larger sets of friends/followers. One way to increase the total reach is to step outside of the classroom or network to recruit separate groups. That puts you in different social circles.

The bottom line is that influence isn’t reached by following fuzzy math. You need to think through the process and find someone you trust to help you – another business owner or a blogger you have seen results from. They can recommend other bloggers and ways to reach different social circles. But, don’t play the numbers game. When it comes to influence, quality wins over quantity.

If businesses take the time to understand that marketing is not as simple as a few numbers, they will see which ones are truly valuable to their brands.  And, when that happens, “commercials” will decrease and content will improve and be the perfect background for strategic product placement that reaches a REAL audience.

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2 thoughts on “The continuing saga of businesses working with bloggers

  1. I’ve done giveaways on my blog- not a ton and more to reward my readers then to beg for likes. But I have seen blogs and that is all they have : giveaways. If that’s what they like then good for them. I’m pulling back and actually doing a revamp of my site which I’m very excited about. I feel that bloggers don’t give advertising a bad name uneducated advertisers give advertising a bad name. I get offers all the time and I check out the product or post or whatever. If it’s not a fit it doesn’t go on my blog. I had a guy completely legit wanted to put his ad on my site to buy followers. I turned him down because I said people will think I’ve paid for mine too.

    I’m in business. I don’t buy any ads without doing my due diligence. If a business get’s taken advantage of to me it’s not the fault of the blogger it’s theirs for not doing their homework. Those are my thoughts in any case.

  2. Thanks for telling it like it is! It’s about time it’s being discussed. It’s like I was reading my thoughts out loud. I’ve been questioning my decisions, but this post re-enforced what I’ve been feeling..stay focused on WHY I started blogging..make fabulous content and they will come . for my content, not for the latest prize I can put in their pocket, that should be second not first.
    I just brought up this issue a couple days ago with some fellow bloggers. I wondered when brands will start to pull back because they will see that blogs with big numbers are not translating to customers. The integrity of bloggers is being compromised because every product/giveaway is amazing and great and hundreds of “mommy blogs” that have little to do with being a mommy are cropping up overnight. Besides reviewing a product or running the latest quick cash giveaway with 130 entries possible (no joke) what else do they have to say..or is that what they’re saying? Brands need to stop the number game and start the merit game. Big numbers should come with a big, bad resume to back it up!

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