Eight hundred bloggers--who write on such topics as politics, technology, healthcare, media, race, and yes, food, fashion and parenting--decended on Chicago's Navy Pier for Blogher07 this past weekend. Now in its third year, the conference boasted an incredible lineup--Gina Trapani of Lifehacker, Esther Dyson, Amy Sedaris and a closing keynote by Elizabeth Edwards. Tracks included The Art of Life; The Business of You; Online Community; Identity; and Technology. Sponsors included AOL, GM, Dove, Google and Yahoo. Oh, and the bloggers were (mostly) all women.
I have to admit, I felt a little schizophrenic at times. As a blogger, I had a blast networking, meeting other writers, listening to and participating in the panel discussions, hearing the keynotes. As a PR person, there were definitely a few cringe-worthy moments. The panel I attended entitled "The "State of the Momosphere" was a perfect example of the dynamics facing our industry today: the incredible diversity of bloggers and their concerns, the challenges of building, caring for and feeding communities and the mistakes businesses repeatedly make in marketing to bloggers.
During the Q&A, the conversation turned quickly (as it did in many of the sessions) to the pros and cons of accepting advertising and/or sponsorships, the challenges in and ethics of monetizing blogs and the goals people have for their individual blogs. Can all these peacefully coexist? Some bloggers said absolutely yes, and some, passionately no. It's not a new problem: art and business have been at odds since the beginning of time. But at a certain point a woman raised her hand, and rather than contributing another point of view, she launched into...a pitch on how her company could help bloggers make more money. And I swear the temperature in the room dropped 50 degrees in about five seconds.
At another point, a couple of PR people helpfully pointed out that the best way to pitch bloggers is to read their blogs. For a PR person, this is akin to gospel. But what many PR people don't get is that, more than anything, bloggers care about community and authenticity. And they don't like to be manipulated. So when a 20-something PR guy emails a mom-blogger and asks how little Johnny's potty training is going, she's understandably going to be a little skeptical that he's a passionate, regular reader. Authenticity, remember? Stefania Pomponi Butler, with me one of the Silicon Valley Moms and a highly-regarded blogger on several sites, posted an open letter on this topic to the PR industry on Kimchi Mamas. It's required reading for a number of reasons: to learn more about what bloggers really want, to learn more about what moms want, and to gain some insight into the subtleties (and some not-so-subtleties) of marketing to people of color. And read the comments too...a free education.
Finally, the swag. Oh the swag. If we were to scientifically gauge the concerns of the blogosphere (remember, this is the largest blogging conference in existence) solely based on the swag on display, I'd have to conclude that what the blogosphere cares about most is...dry skin. Oh, and learning how to cook a turkey. Now I have nothing against lotion, but I'll venture a bet that Michael Arrington has never received nipple cream at a tech conference. (Michael, if I'm in error, please email me here).
Now for the reality check. I am not saying don't approach bloggers. Many are actually waiting for your email. What I am saying is so simple it almosts hurts to type it--social media is called "social" for a reason. When you approach bloggers you are not approaching them in their office--you are approaching them in their home. And whether you realize it or not, you're asking to join their community. So don't "pitch" bloggers simply looking for a new free outlet for product reviews or coverage. Engage with them because you can bring something to their community, and they to yours. Does your service help them in some way? Would your relationship complement their brand? Would you consider them more as a partner than a "target?" Finally, consider who is doing the approach, and make sure that there is real common ground. If you can do this, and you're in it for a mutual relationship, you're on the right track.