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Building Blogger-Brand Relationships: A Six-Step Process

  |  September 13, 2010   |  Comments

How do you find the right blogging partner, lay out expectations, negotiate the right deal, and create a mutually beneficial relationship?

Good blogger relationships are critical to the success of many integrated social media campaigns, but finding the right blogging partner or partners can be a brand's worse nightmare. There are millions of blogs out there ranging from the new class of professional bloggers to the occasional posters on sub domain sites. How do you find the right partner, lay out expectations, negotiate the right deal, and create a mutually beneficial relationship?

As an agency, we face this challenge daily. This spring we completed a very successful social media campaign with ConAgra Foods' brand Ro*tel that was a textbook case of how this can work beautifully. I asked both client and blogger to give a bit of their perspective on the elements that made this relationship smooth and successful.

Ro*tel Across America

The campaign was the Ro*tel Across America Recipe Contest. Ro*tel is a canned tomato and chili pepper product with a very loyal fan base. It comes in many flavor variations and is a versatile ingredient for savvy cooks. You may know it best as a key ingredient in the queso dip recipe enjoyed in college dorms and at football parties everywhere. Combine Velveeta and Ro*tel in a big bowl, microwave, serve with chips, and stand back so you don't get trampled.

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The goals of this campaign were to continue to engage with the avid Ro*tel community built during previous football-focused social media efforts and to create relevant online content via a recipe contest that would appeal to brand evangelists, challenge foodies, and create a rallying point for the online community outside of the football season.

The results of this effort were stellar across all metrics with impressive contest entries from across the country, e-mail opt-ins, Facebook activity and likes, Twitter followers and site visits, among other results. Most importantly, this translated directly to hard business goals including product sales. Original Ro*tel recipes were submitted for everything from the expected main dishes and dips to cocktails and even desserts using the product. Contestants also lobbied for public votes extending the reach of this campaign, but a key component of our success came from our relationship with Southern food blogger Mary Foreman blogging on Deep South Dish.

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Brian Lipman, ConAgra Foods manager, interactive marketing, was integrally involved in the blogger selection process. "Identifying the right blogger partner was essential to the success of our program. We looked at literally hundreds of foodie voices out there but partnered with Mary because of her true affinity for our brand. She already had mentioned RO*TEL in many of her recipes and enthusiastically endorsed the product before we contacted her about judging the RO*TEL Across America contest."

Getting the Right Start

Finding the right blogging partner is a tricky endeavor. It's a big step – not unlike a co-marketing arrangement with another brand, because bloggers are brands and you need to ensure that the connection is beneficial for all parties. To find Mary Foreman, we followed an established six-step process.

  1. Define your program objectives and your blogging objectives specifically in a concise brief. The brief should include all campaign details including schedule, compensation, and expectations. The discipline of building that strategy will help you define the right match in bloggers.
  2. Do a search to find 10 to 12 best-matched bloggers – more if you are looking for multiple relationships. Your brief will guide the qualifying variables you use to choose your bloggers. It's not always about the numbers in their audience but sometimes that is a factor.

    For the Ro*tel campaign, we were looking for an established food blogger with a broad and growing reach, a national audience, and a natural fit and affinity with the brand. The short list was qualified by audience reach, writing style, posting frequency, audience participation, comfort and activity on other social media sites, and experience with other brands and contests. We also looked to make sure these bloggers disclosed any brand relationships.

  3. Send a personal introduction to your selected bloggers by e-mail with the reason for your interest and high level program details. This should not be a form letter but rather should let the blogger know that you've been paying attention to their content and why you think this relationship is a good fit for all parties. Ask for a response by a specific date so you can assess interest level and further narrow the field.

    Our personal, first approach to Foreman went a long way in establishing the relationship on the right foot. Foreman has noted that she "felt like there was a reciprocal relationship from the start" in the Ro*tel program.

  4. Get client approvals for your now short list of bloggers.
  5. Get a non-disclosure agreement in place with your selected blogger, then send them an offer letter with details of expectations and compensation.
  6. Hold a kick-off call with the blogger to answer any questions, introduce them to the broader team, and establish an on-going chain of communication.

Creating a Great Blogging Relationship

Making the experience a positive one for the blogger is critical to their commitment and enthusiasm. That fire can be doused easily in a situation too constrained by content approvals, edits, or restrictions. Remember that you hired that blogger for their voice, style, and the relationships they have built over time with their audience. You've already agreed on goals and approach and made them a part of the team. If you insist on needless alterations, strict scheduling, or versioning of content, their work will not ring true to their audience.

With too much interference, the blogger's credibility, your relationship with the blogger, and your program will suffer. Too little coordination and communication during the program, and opportunities may be missed. The right balance is hard to strike but crucial to both parties. According to Foreman, "I didn't have a lot of hoops that I was forced to jump through or any particularly strict rules about things I needed to do - that allowed me to be creative and work with my readers the way that I know my readers are."

As Brian Lipman has said, "Our partnership with Mary gave us access to her audience in a natural, mutually beneficial manner." If we had micromanaged Mary by insisting on a strict schedule or fed her copy or edited the copy - the natural quality would have been gone. To give the blogger the room they need to succeed requires trust and a solid understanding of program goals. You cannot have that without the upfront qualification process and without ongoing communication.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Robin Neifield

Robin is the CEO and cofounder of NetPlus Marketing Inc., a top 50 interactive agency established in 1996 to focus exclusively on online marketing and advertising best practices. Robin brings innovative strategy and a depth and breadth of marketing experience to the agency's practice and management. As one of the industry's pioneers, she is a driving force behind NetPlus Marketing's ongoing success with a diverse and discerning client base that considers online results critical to their business success.

Robin is a frequent speaker at national industry events, including ClickZ, internet.com, OMMA, Ad:Tech, SES, Online Marketing Summit, and Thunder Lizard conferences and is a sought-after resource for industry and business publications for her insight and advice on such topics as digital strategy, social media marketing, and behavioral targeting.

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