This past Saturday, I attended #BBSummit12 in Chicago. Hosted by SocialRevUp and the team of Melisa Wells, Dwana de la Cerna, and MJ Tam, the conference focused on the relationships between brands and bloggers. The first presentation was a panel composed of brand representatives and influential bloggers discussing how those relationships could and do work. Introduced by Beth Rosen (@BethRosen) and moderated by Liz Strauss (@LizStrauss), the panel included Fred Goodall (@MochaDad), Niri Jaganath (@MommyNiri), Liz Thompson (@thisfullhouse), Stacey Weckstein (@EvolvingStacey), Connie Burke (@connieburke), and Mary Russell (@ChicagoToyNGame).
Liz – Anything you want to say, Connie?
Connie – One piece of advice. Don’t be boring.
Liz – Mary, what’s been your biggest success with bloggers?
Mary – Most recently, there’s a game called Word Winder that was developed because of ChiTag and discovered there. Within a week of launching, it zoomed to #1 at Barnes & Noble for book, app and game. We’re very proud of that.
Liz – Liz, what can you tell us about how you came up with your blog name?
Liz T – I started blogging in 2003, before Facebook, Twitter and such. When blogs were scary. I had a four children at home under the age of ten. I wanted to come up with something different that wasn’t strictly in the mommy-sphere. This old house was already taken. My house is always filled with crap. This full house of crap didn’t sound so good, but this full house wasn’t taken, so it worked.
Liz – What have you learned about saying “no,” Niri?
Niri – I think a lot of people feel like I’m going to give them free stuff. I pretend I can’t hear them when I have to say no. I’ve had some practice. I’ve been blogging since 2008, and I think it gets a little confusing when people ask you awkward questions. Sometimes people say, “My child really wants this toy, can you give me the contact so I can get it for him?” It’s just inappropriate, so I’ll pretend like I don’t see that DM or tweet or phone number, which I think is less embarrassing for you.
Liz – Fred, how do you explain what you do to your friends and relatives?
Fred – My mother in law asked me what I do. It was funny because she was in town one time, and I was doing a thing with Twizzler, and they had a big red Twizzler van for me to drive around. People get the impression that people just want to hand you things and it’s so easy to do, but they don’t understand how hard it is to develop those relationships and the work that it takes to develop a quality product that brands can use. They don’t appreciate the effort it is.
Liz – What part of your life is evolving, Stacey?
Stacey – I’m am evolving as a brand amb assador, as a community manager and as a community agent. I think the difference is that a brand ambassador is that I do it as a blogger. As a community manager, I work directly with a brand in a paid position who is the person connecting with the brand ambassadors.
Liz – Fred, tell me about your experience with Twizzlers. Were you a brand ambassador for them?
Fred – I was hired as a brand ambassador for them. Driving around in a big red van gets you a lot of looks and stares. I was in a restaurant in the middle of Texas one day, and this guy came up to my table. He said, “I saw you in this parking lot and had to come in and find you and see what you’re doing.” I explained that we’re driving across Texas with my family and will write about this in a post. And then I gave him a bunch of Twizzlers.
Liz – Niri, is that your experience as a brand ambassador?
Niri – It’s slightly different. I speak on behalf of brands, but when I represent you, I talk about things I like or things I don’t like in products. Ambassadorships are things I’m careful about because I feel like with those I should be screaming from the mountaintops. Should I really be feeding my children that? Some brands are so big that I don’t have to love all of it, but so long as I am behind the core of what they do, I’m ok with it. I’m pretty vocal with the brands about what I don’t like and what I’m not comfortable with.
Liz – How do you tell people you’ve become a brand ambassador?
Liz T – In my real life or my blog world, there’s a dicotomy, but it’s changed a bit. When I first started working with brands, it was easy to tell my online friends because this is a brand that’s very relevant in my life for many reasons. Now, I have three teens and one tween. Marketers think that you just stop buying stuff – no more toys and baby stuff – but I’ve never spent more money in my life than with teens. I let my audience know how the brand plays in my life. I’m a brand ambassador for Kellogg’s right now, and I think it’s’ cool because I grew up eating Kellogg’s and so did my children. Before I worked with Kellogg’s, I didn’t know how much goes into sponsoring the US Olympics. I got to tour the California training facility, so I got to introduce another part of Kelloggs that I didn’t know so I can show all the good the brand does.
Liz – What do you look for when you choose a brand ambassador?
Mary – The importance of play and inventiveness is key. We look for people who embody that. We have been working with MJ for years, and she embodies that. We are looking for someone who will tell us what we’re doing wrong and what we’re doing right, and we want to know how we can reach more people.
Liz – What’s the best feedback you’ve gotten?
Mary – We should be more active on Twitter and responding to people more. I think we’re much more active there now.
Liz – It almost seems like you are a brand ambassador, community manager, and a brand. What is the most difficult thing to you about people who ask you to be a brand ambassador?
Connie – If it’s out of the blue, and I don’t know you. I don’t know whether you have a true affinity for one of our brands. Just like bloggers appreciate when PR person has read at least one post and knows a little about you, you want to know the the blogger has done the same thing. Being able to have that affinity for the brand and the ability to speak with an authentic voice is huge. The cold calls are the hardest.
Liz – I was once at an event that was primarily mommy bloggers. Someone got up that if you want to get free product, you should blog about it and then they’ll send you stuff. How do you the people who are really interested in you brand versus the people who are interested in your stuff?
Mary – We look for the people who show up at our events. We treat them right, so if they’re going to take the time to come, we want to interact with them.
Connie – It helps to come to conferences like this and get to meet you and know you. A brand ambassador is someone who is talking online about why they’re a happy customer. It has to be a naturally good fit. There are a lot of ways to be creative about showing you’re a happy customer.
Liz – Who was your first brand ambassadorship?
Fred – It wasn’t Twizzlers. It may have been Samsung. We had a project where I would take some people from Samsung around Houston. They had a few bloggers associated with the project, and we would show with a Samsung camera why we loved our city and take pictures of fun events. They contacted me.
Liz – Do you do any research before accepting a brand ambassadorship?
Fred– Before I agreed to it, I wanted to get some information about what the project was, what they expected from me, how we would work together, what the requirements were in terms of posts. I wanted to know that I was fine and could work well with them and that I could deliver what was expected of me. Sometimes I don’t have the time to do all what they want me to. I need to ensure I can meet all the expectations in the timeframe.
Liz – Do you know anyone who’s given the wrong response to a brand?
Fred – A wrong response is where people get too demanding and have such high expecations about what the brand should do for them. Some people say, “Hey, brand, I want you to fly my family to Disney” and all kinds of things where they haven’t worked with that brand before. You have to build a relationship first before you can talk aobut other things you can do. You have to display that you are professional and can do the job. After you’ve proven yourself, you can negotiate for more things to work together for the benefit of both parties.
Liz – I’m sure you’ve seen missteps by bloggers. How do you set up a good relationship from the beginning?
Stacey – It’s about building on the relationship and keeping it going. I do it by really being passionate about the brands I work with. It’s authentic, and we’ll hear about that all day today. It’s a win/win relationship. It’s a relationship I want to be behind.
Liz – What if a brand approaches you that you don’t feel authentic and passionate about?
Stacey – I send an email saying that this is not what I’m aligned with and what I do blog about. Usually it’s a PR agency, and I’ll include a note that if there is something else that is a more appropriate fit, I’d be happy to talk more. I have a 6 and 8 year old, so I don’t want to blog about diapers. Sometimes, I will ask why they chose me when they say I’m the perfect fit. I never get a response.
Liz – I’ll actually call sometimes to talk to the person to find out who it was, and if I’m feeling nice, I’ll pass them to someone else I know. How do you handle inappropriate fit, Liz?
Liz T – The funny thing is, I started two separate blogs. I had my mom blog where I blogged about parenting and stupid things that happened every day. I started a second blog to focus on the reviews and brand relationships. They know that they’ll get the discussions they’re looking for. It helps me keep things straight and separate in my head. I think one of the biggest problems right now is that this is a wonderful community. There are 10 times as many bloggers blogging about everything. If I had a dollar for every email asking me to blog about X and you get a chance to win something, I’d be right. But that’s not why I’m in blogging. That’s not what the blogging community is about. Brands, don’t be afraid. We’re nice. We support each other, and there are wonderful stories of how we can coincide with your brand.
Liz – When you meet a brand, how do you introduce yourself in such a way to get the brand’s attention? How do the brand introduce themselves to get the right blogger’s attention?
Connie – I’ll ask what you’re writing about lately. That writing skill is utterly importnat, not that you have to be Ernest Hemmingway, but being authentic and being compelling. I describe Melisa’s writing as someone who is your best friend catching you up. She could write about the directions on an Advil box, and I’d find it compelling. I want to get you to know me like I’m a friend who works at GMC. We should get to know each other on a personal level because you’ll get the most out of that relationship. Some of my esteemed competition likes to bus people to auto shows and get as many tweets as possible, then they may never talk them again. I’m not a one night stand.
Fred– I think when we talk about relationships. We have to understand the brand and what they’re about. What is the culture, and who are the epople? Brands arent these big monolithic companies, they’re people. I do all my research first, and I try to connect with someone at the brand first. I try to do a connection of here’s my blog, here’s what I write about, here’s what I like about your brand and how I think we can work together. You have to bring some expertise, some community that is unique and something that is valuable to the brand.
Stacey – I haven’t been in the daing scene in awhile, but I think it’s similar to dating or starting a new job where it’s about listening. You hear it in social media all the time. I am often interested as a blogger in knowing why they are here (at a conference or wanting to work with bloggers). Why are they interested in connecting with everyone here? What is their strategy and purpose? In listening to that, I can tell if there is potential fit. If you really listen, you can tell if they are trying to engage becuse they want numbers and tweets or if they want to establish a relationship with bloggers for the long term. Oftentimes, they don’t know, and I’ll engage them in a conversation with why you might want to be there. That really opens a door for me to engage with them at a professional level. If anyone is interested in being a community manager, I highly recommend following Connie and seeing what she’s doing because she’s been such a mentor to me about how to do it right.
Liz – How do you know when you’re doing a good job for a brand?
Liz T – The socially correct answer is probably engagement. How many tweets or Facebook shares, etc. But really it’s about how I feel about what I’ve written and how my readers respond to what I’ve written. My current favorite ambassadorship is with Hallmark. I used to joke that with my Eastern European background that every moment is a Hallmark moment because we laugh and cry and make memories with every minute. I happened to fit into their Life as a Special Moment campaign, because this is all what we’re about. Kids will ask about when something happened, and I can go back and look in my archives, and that makes me feel good to look back at what I wrote about five yeras ago and still feel good about it.
Liz – Sometimes the person who is on the brand side can’t go back to the person they work for and say “all of our bloggers had a really good feeling about how well they did” but where do you put the social media tracking and engagement in the realm of balancing the type of information and relationships you have out there?
Mary – For us, we give bloggers free weekend passes to give away. We can tell when passes are turned in, and from that who has really gotten the word out. We have brands that we pass bloggers on to work with, and they’ll pass their feedback to us. We’ll track hashtags with mentions of the fair and brands.
Connie – As far as you mentioning to me that I have to prove to leadership that we are working with the right people, I have been able to focus them more on the tone that cuts through the clutter. If you have charisma and intelligence and can write, I love getting in on the ground level with people. I am a risk taker – calculated risks – but I don’t think numbers define you. As long as you’re reaching your audience in your way in the best away you know how, that comes through whether you have likes and hits and comments or not. If necessary, I can show that on Facebook, a comment is more valuable than a like. Whatever I have to do to distract and steer the green light for you, I’m going to do if I think you’re the person to work with.
Liz – On a scale from 1-5. 5 Being extremely important and 1 being not very important at all. How important is the circulation of the blog – that you have 50,000 readers as opposed to 5?
Fred – About a 3.
Liz – How important is the fact hthat you’re on G+, Twitter, etc?
Niri – 2. It’s not about being there. I can be in a lot of places, and how much junk are you spewing? That doesn’t matter. I look at it as not going wide but going deep. If you aren’t there, it doesn’t mean anything.
Audience Question – How do you justify not having the biggest reach?
Niri – People do giveaways and people can get a ton of traffic. If someone really believes and takes the time, I’d rather have 10 of those people, because if they go to the store and buy your product, they are that much more involved. You want to bring your stories so that people will believe and continue that story for the brand.
Connie – Sometimes, it’s not just about the numbers we get from you as much as the other stuff. We have Our Town, Our Heroes, and if you start getting excited about getting this out to other people and getting them connected to people we otherwise wouldn’t reach – online of off- that’s what we care about. It’s more than about the hits or comments.
Fred – When people ask me to send numbers, I ask why they’re important. What are you trying to do – if I can’t engage your audience and deliver your message in a proper manner, then it dosesn’t matter what my numbers are.
Liz – I often work with brand both on my blog and my events. I find really strong first question is what is your goal in the next 2 quarters. You can then help them reach those goals.
Audience Question: So few brands pay their bloggers. What’s your take on coming up with negotiations and contracts with bloggers. Is it a link back or just rubbing off on working with them?
Liz T – What are you looking for? I have to weigh it to see if it works well with my community. What bothers me right now is bidding out for projects. It’s the new trend. I’ll start a conversation and come up with a great campaign with a brand and then they ask how much we want to get paid. They either want to work with you or they don’t. They either want to pay you or they don’t. it’s about why you want to blog in the first place, and that’s what you have to take into account when you think about what you want to accept in return from brands..
Niri – First, do I like the brand? I’m going to be sticking out my neck by representing and aligning my name with that brand. Some bloggers forget that. You need to know that both of you have the risk involved. People know you. They know when you are selling out or when you aren’t making sense. Scond is pay. It isn’t just money. I may want to host a local event or help me become a leader in my community or help me meet some of my personal goals, for me that’s important. Another factor is the brand doing something that shows that they care about my family. If they know my children’s names or ages, it’s huge that you took the time to get to know me. It’s not the case for everyone, but it is for me. We have so little benchmarking for pay. Every year is going to be a better year because people are stepping up the game.
Liz – On the subject of pay, you really do need to know what your goals are. If you don’t know your goals, you won’t know what opportunity to say no to. You need to take a few seconds to decide what your time is worth. Someone who is taking you on a slight detour of your goals and is asking for 5 seconds of your time, it’s less of an issue than if they are asking you for 50 hours of work. How do I value my time? Is it $30 or $100 an hour? Once you know that, you get a sense of what you want to ask. There are always going to be people who will say no, but you don’t know anyone who got anywhere by sleeping with the whole football team anyway. If you’re going to do that, you at least have to be good enough to be on a the football team to talk to me. No one will value you more than you value yourself. You decide whether your time requires money or whether it is an investment. You can ask them to put something out via their email list. You can ask them to put a link on their blog because we have a lot of outgoing links but don’t necessarily have them reciprocated.
Audience Question: Does it matter where we post our content (on what blog platform)?
Niri – I started on blogger, but I wanted more control. I wanted a hosting company in case something went wrong. You can have your own .com and be on WordPress and still spew junk. If you want to have security with your content, then you self host. I want someone to be able to back up and restore my stuff as soon as possible. I would say that my advice is go there now if you know you want to move because you don’t have to move more stuff later.
Fred – Buy your domain name. And buy your own name, too. You want to be able to have that control.
Liz – Buy your domain because you don’t want to have url.blogspot.com. You want it to be url.com. And buy your domain for 2 years. Google still thinks that 1 year domain names are spammers and such, so it’s harder to get listed.
Margaret: Should we have a media kit?
Fred – Include some of the cool things you’ve done. Put in your numbers there. Do a brief summary of your skills and your abilities. Maybe they can download it. Have some printed versions so you can hand them to somebody. You want to have lots of opportunities to share your story.
Niri – Give people a sample of your favorite posts with the links becaus people don’t have time to go through everything, so people can get a feeling for your writing by those few posts.
Connie – Media kits are extremely helpful. If I’m trying to get people picked for a campagin, it’s easier to get you approved. Please put an easy to find way to contact you. If I have to dig and dig and then fill out a form and wait for you to contact me, I’m not going to do it.
Stacey – I want to be able to gather everything I need without dig dig digging. I want to be able to get to everything I need.
Audience Question: What is the number one turnoff when you are approachedby a PR turnoff?
Fred – when they say “Dear Mommy Blogger” – it’s the brands and PR people who really need to know that they have to read your blogs and know who you are. Even when I’m having fun with them, in my response to their Mommy Blogger salutation, I still help them correct their pitch and tailor it.
Niri – When people write “Dear Mommy.”
Liz T – I’ve had people send Dear XXX and not fill out the information.
Audience Question: A lot of brands want to work only on giveways, and they are not generating as much excitement as they used to. How can we work with brands in other ways and help them see that?
Niri – We tell them. Sometimes, they don’t want to hear things, but everyone’s focus is different. I like doing offline events, an it’s win for them. People are with their fellow bloggers. I lilke those brands that get involved in my social good efforts. If it’s just a giveaway, then the brand is usually gone after that.
Natasha – I recently saw a comment on Twitter asking about being more diverse, but there was an attack squad that then came after it. How do you encourage brands to be more diverse and how do you communicate with the brand ambassadors?
Niri – I see bloggers abusing influence a lot. Just because we have the power to crush or blow up a brand, we shouldn’t. There is a better way to do things. Just because you can bash, doesn’t mean you should. Approach them directly. Instead of tweeting where you close a lot of doors, do it directly with them. If you want to talk to your family, you don’t stand in the street and shout in front of the whole neighborhood.
Connie – I would echo that. I would suggest that you take it offline.
Liz T – I was part of Twittergate. I was part of an event where a lot of people who disagreed – for valid reasons – with some of the things about the brand. People hijacked the hashtag and really called each of the bloggers out. I decided after that to really be careful about what brands I got involved in and do my research to ensure that there isn’t anything else out there that makes me leery.
Liz – Connie, you need to tell the story of how we met.
Connie – I was brand new to the whole social media thing. I was plucked out of general obscurity because they saw me active on Facebook. I needed a good way to spy on my kdis at college, and Facebook fit the bill. GM saw that, and so I was part of the GM social media team and trying to learn my way through it. The CEO asked me to invite some local influencers to an event. I sent an email to Liz and a few others. I wasn’t getting a lot of traction. I saw how influential Liz was, so I called her and asked what I was doing wrong. She gave me an hour of advice. It wasn’t just rude and bashing but helpful, and I listened.
Liz – Going back to the diversity, I wouldn’t tell them that they need to be more diverse, but I would talk to them about where they have been diverse and how you appreciated what they did. Talk about how you can work with them and help them become more diverse. Ask them to give you a 2 month trial where you can help them with something specific. Whenever you make yourself the center of the universe, it flies out of balance. Make it about them and not about you.
Connie – I forgot to add that what I was doing wrong – Liz said, tell me why I should care about you. It wasn’t in a mean way, but it’s something we need to figure out.
Stacey – For me it’s about serving. Regardless of what niche you’re in, how can you serve the brand and your social media community. I fell in love with the Volt because thet Volt is serving the earth and by sharing that, I’m bringing awareness to the community.Mary – I love when people say to me, I have this idea. MJ came to the event one year, and the next year she was more involved and then she slowly got more involved. Why don’t you ask this, and such. She’s always been right.
Audience Question: With relationship building, it’s important to me that brands are reaching out to me for whatever criteria they have set. Is it appropriate for people to share those emails of an opportunity or event with online forums?
Mary – I would welcome it because we want to reach more people.
Connie – it’s the same for me. It’s usually a good thing when there’s excitement and enthusiasm.
Liz – I would be careful about handing out contact information so brands don’t get inundated.
Liz T – In what context do you mean?
Audience Question: I’ll see something in a forum with the copy of the email saying that you should go pitch them.
Niri – It’s a pitch to you. It’s inappropriate for several reasons. When the brand contacts you, they contact you because they’ve seen your background. My reputation is on the line, and the brand also thinks that I’ve endorsed someone. I don’t do it at all because it sets a bad trend. I reviewed a Nook recently, and I’ve never received more phone calls or DMs asking for the contact. If it’s something I want, I’ll go buy it. It’s just poor etiquette. If a brand is looking for others, I’ll recommend people, but I still won’t just post it.
Liz – When I get a pitch, the first thing I’ll ask is if they need more people. If so, I’ll hand pick who looks like they’ll be a good fit an introduce them.
Stacey – If I get a pitch, I’ll pitch right back. I’ll say that I have a network of awesome bloggers and can work with you. I’ve done this where I got a contract back in three days where I was working as a community manager and was helping them develop their brand.
Audience Question: For a newbie, I’ve done a few tiny sponsored posts. I sometimes am excited about things and do reviews myself because I love them. Is that bad?
Niri – I think that’s awesome. I like talking about things that I find myself. I still put a disclosure that I found it, because I want people to see that I am not just posting about something because I got it for free.
Audience Question: If I then contact the company, is it ok to contact the company to say that I thought you might like this.
Niri – I will tag them on Facebook and on Twitter that I’ve posted about them. I’m a lazy blogger.
Connie – I think that’s incredible that you write about what you love. It may come back to you someday. I met a guy who talks about Woodfor Reserve Bourbon all the time. He ended up getting invited to a tour where he had a whole barrel that was bottled for him and with his name on it. If that doesn’t make a fan for life, I don’t know what will.
Fred– Just be passionate and true to yourself. If you aren’t, people will see right through that. Don’t try to follow trends. Your audience wants to see who you are and what you can bring to them. When you start evolving and changing, your audience gets confused. They see that this isn’t the blog they started following to begin with. You have to stay true to yourself.
Good stuff, no? What do you think it takes to move the relationship between brands and bloggers to the next level?