Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

How to keep bloggers from hating you

How to keep bloggers from hating you
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Every week I receive a handful of emails from PR firms, wanting me to write about something they’re helping promote. I rarely do so for them, but it’s not that I wouldn’t. It’s just that their tactics suck. They sell their clients on the notion of “blogger relations” but in fact, they’re treating email like a fax machine. They send the same generic message out to a ton of bloggers, piss everyone off in the process, and then bill their client for doing so. (Nice.)

I’ve connected with a lot of bloggers over the past few years and as such, I’m continually baffled by how tough a time PR firms have doing the same. As you know, I’ve called a few of them out for their bad practices in the past, but today, I thought I’d share some tips on how you can build links with people who blog.

Remember that bloggers are people

In the “olden days” (by which I mean the nineties) press releases were de rigueur. A PR firm would craft a one pager, insert a few workable quotes, and try to get it out to as many media outlets as possible, hoping that someone would see it as newsworthy. Now, I’ve never worked as an editor, but I guess it must have worked in the newsroom, given how long this approach remained standard practice.

Most bloggers aren’t working in the newsroom though. They’re just folks like me, who write a little and are lucky enough to have a few readers pop in from time-to-time. Unlike your average daily, I don’t have an 80 page paper to fill. As such, I try to write only about things that interest me and the people who might take a moment to read these long posts. Always remember this: I’m not a media machine; when you send out mechanical correspondence I’m instantly turned off.

Ask for permission

PR firms seem to be in a rush when contacting bloggers. They’re like those people at networking functions who smile too much, hand out hundreds of business cards and sprint away if they think you might not buy their stuff.

So, how do you avoid being one of those people? Simple; take the time to get to know those you contact. Yes, this takes more effort than hitting the auto-send button and doing a “mass dump” on several thousand unlucky bloggers. On the flip-side, the value is also disproportionate. You might actually build a real connection with someone. This immediately gets your message past all of the other noise that people like me have to filter through.

The first step though is to introduce yourself, and see if it’s okay to get in touch. Try something like, “Hi Bob–I really like your blog. I have a story about [insert topic here] that might interest you. Would it be alright if I sent you some more information?”

Respect people’s choices

If you don’t hear back, accept that this might not “be the time” for this person. Don’t bombard them with more messages. Accept that some people won’t be interested in what you’re pitching. Perhaps in six months the time will be right to get in touch again. Cite the earlier note, and let them know that you don’t mean to bug them, but that you have something that might interest them. (Assuming that you actually have something appropriate to share.)

If they say “no”, there’s no dancing around it. Just thank them for taking the time to respond, make a note in your contact software to not send any further correspondence to them, and move on. We’re all drowning with email and some of us can’t take-on any more, no matter how great of a thing you have to tell us about. Just move on; it’s okay.

Apologize

Since writing the “idiots” post, I’ve been flooded by PR agencies–seriously. It seems that many of them took my “don’t send me generic crap” message entirely the wrong way, and decided to flood my inbox with generic crap. (D-oh!) Many of these emails start with “please don’t write a post about me being an idiot”, and then have a press release attached beneath. Ugh.

When I ask to be removed from these lists, few PR firms acquiesce, and those who do tend to send a glib and insincere reply. (The worst ones apologize and leave me on their list anyways.) If a blogger asks to be removed from your list, do so immediately. And if, by some mistake they get another message (this can happen) take out five minutes to explain why it happened and how you’ll avoid doing so again in the future.

People are generally understanding of other’s mistakes. A sincere and thoughtful message can put out a fire very quickly.

Double, triple, quadruple check

I send out emails to fellow bloggers to let them know about articles that I think might be of interest to them. I’m very careful when I do so, to avoid sending irrelevant messages, or too many of them. I do this as manually as possible, and I regularly ask recipients to let me know if I’m bothering them. Surprisingly, when I do, I generally receive a handful of messages thanking me for checking. Most also ask me to keep the emails coming.

I’ve also had people explain that they already subscribe to my RSS feed, and that added notifications are unnecessary. On three or four occasions I’ve removed their email address from my contact info, only to find that another email somehow slipped out anyway. In these instances I’ve felt like a complete and utter ass. I’ve consequently gone into my contacts and taken additional steps to ensure that such a mistake will never happen again.

I’ve also picked up the phone and called them up, apologizing in person. Saying sorry — really saying sorry — only takes a few moments.

Thank people

A lot of PR groups talk about “blogger relations” but are actually about “blogger one-night-stands”. They contact me, get some kind of response or mention, and then disappear until they need something again. I think of it as a “publicity booty-call”. Needless to say, I’m disinclined to “hop in the sack” again, particularly when they’re not taking me out for a nice dinner first.  ;-)

If a blogger goes to the trouble to write about something on your behalf, take the time to follow-up and thank them for doing so. This only takes a moment but can be a nice step towards building an actual relationship. In the future, you’ll stand out from all of those people who couldn’t simply be courteous. This will immediately change how your emails will be viewed. Instead of being “anonymous PR spam”, yours will be an email from a colleague. Most PR firms don’t understand the difference, but believe me, it’s a huge one.

Send good stuff

I’ve saved the most important point for last. It really should have been inserted earlier, but I want to leave you with this thought. (My hope is that it will ring in your head every time you start to draft a message in hopes of building awareness.)

Divorce yourself from your professional role and think for a moment about how you feel about unsolicited email. Do you like it? Do you want it? How quickly do you delete it?

Well… that’s likely how I see your email as well. It’s a nuisance and I don’t want it. I hit “delete” in under five seconds. Part of this is because it’s information that there’s little likelihood of me caring about.

However, if you send me something that I care about, the game is altogether different. I’m curious and like to find out about new things. If you really took the time to get to know me, and sent something that actually was of interest to readers of this blog (instead of b.s. about another SEO scheme) there might be value in your message.

With every email you send, ask if there’s any real value in it for the recipient. If there isn’t, just don’t send it.

(And one more for the road)

My mom is a really good person. She’s helpful, thoughtful, and warm-hearted. Most of the smart things I’ve learned about being a human-being relate back to things she’s taught me. Of all the lessons I’ve learned from her, the one that she taught not by saying, but by doing, was to be honest. My mom will stop a clerk and note that they’ve given her back five cents too much. She always takes the high-road.

So, I’ll leave you with what I’d expect my mom would say if she were advising you: Be honest and nice to people. It works way better than any expensive “blogger relations” program ever will.

P.S. On a completely unrelated note, I wanted to remind you about our new site: www.undrln.com — it’s a handy way to get the industry scoop!

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