The rise of social media has altered literally every facet of marketing communications, and perhaps none as much as public relations. Like many long-time PR professionals, I’ve slowly come to grips with the changing rules of the media relations game – starting with what constitutes “media.” While traditional media and professional journalists are still important, non-traditional journalists can’t be ignored; they simply have too much reach and influence. This is particularly true in certain broad-interest categories like food. In the past few years, scores of media-savvy moms, cooking enthusiasts, health buffs, nutritionists and other non-professional food journalists have developed huge audiences for their blogs, in many cases launching themselves into book publishing, speaking engagements and even TV appearances. In effect, these amateur journalists have successfully “turned pro,” transforming online posts about their passions into a paying job.
And there’s the rub.
Like most journalism school graduates, I was brought up with an acute awareness of the separation of advertising and editorial content. As a PR professional, my job was to get a client’s story out, but it wasn’t as simple as buying an ad. I had to research a journalist’s beat, find a relevant connection between it and my client and weave that into a persuasive story or segment idea. The idea then sank or swam on its merit – but money wasn’t a part of it. It didn’t need to be; the outlet generated revenue from ad sales and subscriptions, which were handled by different people in a different department.
With bloggers and other non-traditional media, this separation of church and state doesn’t exist. I remember being shocked a few years ago when I pitched a regional food expert and received a rate card in return – detailing the cost for TV segments, blog posts and other types of exposure she could deliver. After contacting similar influencers in other markets, I soon came to realize that this was the rule, not the exception. Want to get an influential blogger to write about your category-appropriate product? Better pony up.
So the question has shifted from “Should we do this?” to “Whom should we do it with?” Because of their non-traditional nature, analyzing these media entities is not always as straightforward as a CPM calculation or other standard ad buying metric. Obviously the starting point is to determine the size of the blogger’s audience. This should include traffic to their website as well as their followings on all relevant social media outlets, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Beyond the size of their total following, however, marketers should also look at where those numbers are coming from. If they are regional, does that geography match with your distribution? What social platform is their strongest and does that match your customers? (If your target skews older, for example, you might want to align with a blogger whose social presence is heavier on Facebook than Twitter.)
It is equally important to do a deep dive into the broad themes of their content. Food bloggers, for instance, can get very specific in their beliefs and someone who might seem to be a good match at first glance could end up not being not so good once you understand all their idiosyncrasies. In this category, that means you should fully understand where they stand on issues like cage-free production, clean labeling, vegan/vegetarian diets, organic/non-organic, GMO/non-GMO, gluten, allergens and so on. While these topics are obviously specific to food, similar issues exist in virtually every product category. Make sure your brand beliefs and identity match up with those of the blogger and his or her followers.
A final point to consider is what other potential media exposure that the blogger can bring your brand. Many of the larger food bloggers, for instance, are mainstays on local television morning shows. Some even have a national media presence. Occasionally these “bonus” exposure opportunities are a specified part of the agreement, but often they are not and simply happen spontaneously, because the blogger truly likes your product or brand. Hence, there is also a “gut instinct” aspect to this analysis process, as well. However, if you segment out all the various aspects of the potential relationship and analyze them one by one, a cumulative value will start to take shape…and the decision on whether to engage or not will become clear.