Public Relations and Paid Bloggers – Past or Future?

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Unless you sell food and drinks, holidays to Majorca, a better type of nappy or run a yoga retreat, is there a point in working with bloggers? How would you quantify a blogger’s impact on your business? Are bloggers enjoying the same credibility as journalists are?

I spent a couple of hours reading the results of a UK-wide survey commissioned by Vuelio in partnership with Canterbury Christ Church University and its results are, I must admit, very interesting for what blogging means as a concept or as a means of making a living, let alone for how bloggers may support a business’ PR efforts.

Several hundred bloggers took part in this survey and one of the key points emerging was that ‘”bloggers prefer to negotiate compensation based on non-quantifiable measures such as quality, whereas PRs use data to measure the blog performance”.

If we look at the quality of a blog post in terms of its merits for compensation, other than a different target audience, how is that different from a Press Release? And if PR practitioners use data to measure that blog’s performance, what’s got a blog’s ‘performance’ to do with one’s purchase decision, change in behaviour, new business wins or advocacy?

Does anyone remember that young tiny blond lady, all dressed in pink, who was in tears last year for having been trashed on social media because she asked for free accommodation to write a nice blog? How about that couple who were, allegedly, celebrating their honeymoon drinking a certain brand of instant coffee? And how about the other one who was surrounded by balloons and all sorts of other stupid paraphernalia claiming that that was her daily ‘routine’?

There is a significant difference between a blogger (as the trade/industry/craft) and a journalist, to my mind at least. Just as Vuelio’s research indicates, it’s all about that tiny little word called ‘credibility’. I don’t know about you but if I read something written by Edward Lucas, Lina Saigol, Ed Crooks, Guy Lynn and many others, I tend to believe that they have done their research properly, that they are impartial, certainly not paid (in kind or cash) to write that particular piece and their expertise on the topic is second to none.

I mean no disrespect to bloggers – goodness me, I am one, too. But I don’t get paid for what I write, and I write because I choose to, not because this is where my income comes from. And the credibility of a blogger who writes something because they are paid to do so is, rightly or wrongly, questioned – they are just a different category of advertising platforms, aren’t they? It’s all in that little thing called human psychology: what is paid for in terms of “influencer” content is not a genuine opinion (perhaps? who knows?) but a paid-for one.

And how should the PR practitioners measure the performance of a blogger’s blog? By the number of unique visits? Shares across social platforms? “Likes” and “comments”? If, of course, the point of a blog is to raise awareness about something, all this data might be very useful. But if a blog is meant to change behaviours, how do you prove that? Based on someone saying “I’ll change“?

Or if a blog is meant to increase the sale of something, unless you provide that blogger with a unique discount code the readers could use or a traceable algorithm which could easily demonstrate how many web sales or inquiries have been generated by that blog, how can you prove “it’s worked”? What we measure, how we measure it and why we measure it should be the first starting point of any co-operation between the PR function of any organisation and any blogger of any kind.

There is another very good aspect that Vuelio’s survey touched upon – the way PR practitioners pitch bloggers, including the very low rate of the latter’s uptake with regard to “press release” style pitches. And now I’m going to speak from the other side, from a blogger’s perspective, about this really daft manner of engaging bloggers.

I’m one of those bloggers on Vuelio’s database who gets a blanket e-mail from various press offices almost daily. Other than someone who personalised their pitch to me once (it was about pottery??), every single e-mail I get is a press release. Now, for goodness sake, my dear colleagues, why would we think that a blogger is identical to a journalist??? Or that a blogger is someone who can be engaged the same way a journalist can?

Bloggers, and I might be wrong, may not verify their sources or they may not look for independent confirmation as most proper journalists do. Bloggers have a very personal and “one-to-one” style of engagement, one that speaks to an entire age and social spectrum (providing they’re not specialised that is). Journalists have a neutral, non-engaging, dispassionate style of communication (unless we’re speaking about special correspondents etc.). What’s good for the goose is not, in this case, good for the gander.

Vuelio’s survey, for those of you who are passionate about blogging, presents some cracking demographics, starting with women being the overwhelming majority of UK bloggers, yet the industry having a minuscule BAME representation. And, if Vuelio’s survey is any indicator of what’s to come, if bloggers believe that more and more advertisers will head their way, what does that do to the influencer marketing scene?

Will bloggers still have the power to influence if they largely become an advertising platform? Would the “influence” shift course and focus on employee advocacy and subject matter experts? Time will tell, I suppose.

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