For the launch of his latest book Linchpin, best-selling author and marketing wiz Seth Godin completely bypassed traditional media outlets. Instead, he focused his marketing strategy on bloggers and other "online denizens," who are "increasing in influence daily."
Godin's marketing strategy might not be for everyone, but it would be hard to argue his point about the blogosphere's growing importance. So when you're in small business marketing mode, don't forget blogger outreach -- a concerted effort to cultivate relationships with bloggers who write about your specific industry or area of expertise.
Here are five steps small businesses can take to get started with blogger outreach.
1. Identify the Right Bloggers
Technorati can be a particularly helpful tool for identifying influential bloggers, with its Top 100 blog chart and Technorati Authority ratings. The latter gives you a sense of how influential a blog is based on its category, how well a blog's content matches its category topic, how often other blogs in its category link to the blog, and so on.
You can also use tools like Compete and Alexa to see how blog sites rank in terms of popularity, traffic and page views. Also take into account a blog home page's Google PageRank, a link analysis algorithm that plays a role in helping Google determine how authoritative a web page is.
The goal is to focus on blogs with a decent amount of traffic and authority. "Look for blogs that have a PageRank of three or higher and that have 1,000 to 5,000 unique page views per month," advises Susan Payton, managing partner of Egg Marketing & Public Relations in San Diego.
Payton also suggests checking to see if bloggers you're targeting are active on Facebook or Twitter. If so, the bigger the following, the better.
That said, you should also be realistic. An influential blogger with a huge following may not be interested in covering a small business she's never heard of. There's nothing wrong with aiming high, but don't overlook smaller bloggers who cover niche topics relevant to your small business, too.
In addition, learn as much as you can about the bloggers you target. By reading their bios and tweets, you might find some common ground that can serve as an ice breaker.
2. Narrow Your List to No More Than 20 Bloggers
To stay focused, create a list of up to 20 bloggers to target. You might start with smaller, more niche-focused bloggers. Any lessons learned from those interactions can then be applied to the bigger fish. Plus, if you get a shout-out from a niche blogger, you can provide a link to it when you contact the bigger bloggers.
Track all communications with target bloggers in an Excel, Google Docs, or other spreadsheet, recording when you contacted them, if you received a reply, and so on.
But you're not ready to contact bloggers until you can check step three off your list.
3. Read the Blogs
"The biggest mistake people make when reaching out to bloggers is not reading their blogs," says Payton. "I get pitched all the time by people who clearly haven't read my blog, and it's a real turn-off."
Read at least a few months worth of each target blogger's posts, to get a sense of their likes and dislikes and tone. Note what they don't cover as much as what they do write about.
4. Engage the Blogger in a Conversation
Usually, the best way to initiate a dialog with a blogger is to add thoughtful, useful comments their posts. Many bloggers read the comments others leave for them. Also, include a link back to your website to give the blogger some context about your business if they want it.
When leaving comments, don't be self-serving or talk about how great your product or service is. That's an ideal way to turn off the blogger you're courting. Just strive to be helpful and interesting.
Once you've got the blogger's attention, it's time to reach out more directly. Consider emailing the blogger helpful information, story ideas, statistics, news in your industry -- anything that's not an overt sales pitch.
For best results, make sure the email subject heading is specific and intriguing. Here's why:
"I receive hundreds of emails every day," says Ben Parr, coeditor of Mashable, a popular technology blog that often covers startups. "Most of the time I just scan the subject lines." If Parr doesn't know the sender and/or the email looks like a "form letter," he usually ignores it.
Your goal should be to make a blogger curious enough to open your email, without being cheesy about it. If you don't receive a response to your first email, wait at least three days before sending a follow up.
5. Maintain the Relationship
Once you've established a good relationship with a blogger, keep the dialog going.
Periodically reach out with observations, story ideas and anything else the blogger might find useful. Continue reading your target bloggers' posts, so you can stay up to date on changes in their interests and topics. (Subscribing to the blog's RSS feed is an easy way to be alerted of new posts.)
Consider inviting local bloggers to a special event your company hosts. This could help you develop a relationship with the blogger and potentially give him or her something to write about.
And pay attention to your site's Google Analytics, or whichever Web traffic analytics tool you use, suggests Payton. Look to see if the blogs you've developed relationships with are sending measurable traffic to your site. If that's not happening, make sure the blogger includes a link (preferably one with a relevant keyword) to your small business website whenever he or she writes about your business.
Ultimately, successful blogger outreach is just like any type of business networking. Be genuine and authentic. Know your messaging and differentiation. And most importantly, think about how you can help the blogger, rather than staying focused on what they can do for you.
James A. Martin writes an SEO and social media marketing blog and writes about small business computing issues.
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