Blogger Relations vs Social Media News Release (SMNR)

October 15, 2007

in brand 2.0, Conversational Blogging, PR, RSS

It is not about MEDIA! I saw a few posts on SMNR or SMPR? recently, and I put them aside. Now I see praise about Ford’s latest social media blogger release which certainly looks slick and does little for me. I will explain below. Quite separately, I also found myself chatting to Andy Abramson after using his work as an example. We didn’t talk about Ford although we discussed blogger relations. He got me thinking on a few definitions and I’ve tried to draw some distinctions between blogger PR, blogger outreach, and blogger relations below.

We start with the premise that social media has radically changed communication needs and strategies. Thus PR firms require new strategies, Brand and Marketing leaders need new ways to operate and the metrics for success are changing. Few companies are well placed, trained or understand even the first step in building a strategy. I’m also completely certain it is not taking a traditional PR release and mocking it up into something bloggers can consume.

So…I’ll let it rip.!!! Social Media PR (SMPR) is not a plan for getting bloggers on board. The Ford example illustrates this perfectly. SMPR should not be a program that issues jazzed up PR releases for bloggers. It’s much more difficult. The problem or opportunity I see is in Blogger Relations.

Andy described his role in Blogger Relations as; “creating relationship between sender and receiver”. I think this is a critical distinction and it is not what traditional PR does or even aims to do. In fact, it much closer to direct mail.

Let’s come back to the Ford release. I enjoyed reading Tim Leberecht on Ford’s Social Media News Release who notes that:

PR practitioners face the daunting challenge of doing effective public relations when it’s more and more the public itself that does all of the relating for you.

Tim Points to the SMPR. According to him companies are using this (see Ford’s). That’s cool but it misses the point and he clarifies part of the direction required.

It is definitely a step in the right direction even though the release is not yet fully social media-enabled: it lacks broader social bookmarking capabilities, and it also does not allow the recipients to comment on the release itself and pick up the conversation right there.

This perfectly illustrates why Andy was making his point to me about Blogger Relations. It’s not about media; at least not in the traditional sense. The SMNR is very much a 1.0 approach to PR for a more connected world. The production values are high, it probably costs a fortune…. however, who in Ford or the PR firm has actually nurtured relationships with bloggers?

This Ford release misses out on comments and conversational elements. There is no attempt to aggregate content back to the site. This is not new. Ford has been taken to task before for their Blogging effort. When I look at the contact info I just see three names; two at Ford and one at the Social Media Group. (I’m not trying to taking them to task here in any offensive way. It’s a step forward) What it is not is a platform for conversation. It doesn’t link to blogs to bookmarking sites etc… There is nothing in this page to suggest any one at Ford wants a conversation with me, will make an appointment with me, have a road show… etc. Nothing..

Maggie Fox of SMG writes below on the value of setting Ford’s content free. She also comments on the limitation re comments and trackbacks. Indeed some will automatically go to, flickr or youtube. And as they do.. why aren’t they aggregated back to the home SMPR page? It’s just another tab…

… they immediately understood the value of setting their content free. Ford realized that the more bloggers and others could get their hands on quality images, video and text, the more they would talk about the product. Pretty much the primary purpose of a press release, isn’t it?

And that brings us back to blogger relations. SMPR is not blogger relations; its aim in its current guise not building relationships between sender and receiver. It’s not empowering me as a blogger. It provides a resource. However when I google 2008 Ford Focus (Ford’s tag) it doesn’t show up. It is probably too much to expect although it is a critical point. For googling like this is what “customers” do. So as a Ford Marketing Manager I’d be wondering how to make my tags sticky. (I’d also say there are too many tags… your problem is.. let the blogger invent them.. then point to them. This should be dynamic content).

However there are plenty of other conversations on google where I’ve likely to get my information first if I’m shopping for this car. Unless the SMPR morphs into a node for conversation it’s more PR fluff than hard documentation at my fingertips. More importantly… it won’t have much to do with the stories you are I are looking for online if we are considering buying. When you talk to bloggers you must consider how “we” research.

I actually care about cars; some say I’m a car nut. In this release I’ve not been given the reasons why the 2008 Focus goes on my list of “you ought to look at x, y and z” the next time someone asks me what to recommend. I have no way to even judge this through the eyes of others. I have no way to connect with those that have bragging rights. You’d be surprised how many inquiries I’ve fielded for Nokia re purchases (and yes I was on the Nokia Blogger Program).

Blogger Outreach vs Blogger Relations vs Blogger PR.

  • Blogger PR: Providing Traditional PR Kits jazzed up in a format that blogger may or maynot see. (How do you know who to send them too)
  • Blogger Outreach: I do not mean sending emails / pitches to bloggers. (Example). Identifying bloggers that may become part of your conversation. Start by listening, reading their blogs. It requires some personal attention. Opening your site and providing access to extend the conversation. (set some rules if you want!) Ogilvy has a code of ethics on this. Still the cart comes before the horse. From a marketing perspective set your communications up to converse / enable conversations before the glossies go out.
  • Blogger Relations: Creating a transparent responsive channel for communication that enable access (think global access at all hours! not always real-time) when asked for and not just facts. Some of the most difficult conversationalists often become your friends. As a PR firm or Social Media firm long term you will be many times more successful if the client is blogging (listening first!). It’s the best demonstration there is that the company is open to learning, change, input, and a conversation. (Example)

A good blogger relations program enables stories. What many miss around the Nokia story is the community that the blogger relations program established. If you can connect individual then the “chatter” increases. The Nokia program made it easy to find other bloggers; and build on their stories. It reduced the pressure to be first to post; some would even say later.. see what x, y and z have to say. The important aspect was linking and comparing stories. Now I know that not everyone can get a free Focus (there are other ways to create the same buzz) If you need a reminder on the Nokia Blogger Program read Jeremy Pepper.

I come at this all as a marketer, having spent many years inside the company leading marketing team; client to the PR, Ad Agency, Promo house etc. If I was already blogging and my PR firm came to me with the SMPR approach I’d probably consider firing them. Then I’d listen. I know the innovators around this approach want to go much further. Privately, they would probably say the client sucks. My answer to that is… it’s a communications problem. Too many PR firms are running ahead without teaching the client “how to listen”!

Via PR Squared this quote that requires teh “brains” and let me add the facilitation skills to maintain the conversation.

“(Viability will not come from PR firms’) ability to pitch media (traditional, blogger, vlogger or otherwise), anyone can do that internally and on the cheap. (Viability will come from the) ability to actually help create the tent to hold the community, the content to sustain the community and the brains to maintain the conversation.”

So my challenge to Ford, and the PR firms in general is to become more transparent to what you are listening to. The community will help you to further refine it. If you aren’t listening to a vocal constituency then I am fairly sure they will find you in time and you they can join the conversation. I’m sure the “listening service” should be much broader than just current tags (eg Ford.) for at the end of the day the client is interested in influencing and growing the category. That leadership comes from sharing customer stories. It has nothing to do with the glossies.

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  • Todd Defren

    I agree for the most part, Stuart. Will be drafting something up soon along these same lines.

    The Ford release (while beautiful) is ultimately a MULTIMEDIA release, not a SOCIAL MEDIA release. That’s not all their fault, but, making it more “social” *could* have been as easy as publishing the release on a blogging engine that enabled trackbacks and comments. That would have been a great, laudable start.

    Still – they are GETTING THERE – they are THINKING & SHARING (content elements) – and deserve some props for that.

  • Stuart

    Thanks for your comment. I do hope I tried to sound upbeat re companies getting there.

    I realize it is a multi-step process. I’m also in favor of getting the marketing / branding group trained / thinking and participating behind these types of activities. Perhaps this is some new requirement for “co-collaborative PR”.

    So.. my flag is more directed at marketing managers who are signing off on these programs in the first place. I think few are really prepared and have done the “learning” behind the scenes first.

    When they step into this area… I think they are stepping in to (or should be) blogger relations.

    Cheers Stuart

  • maggie fox

    Hi Stuart – thanks for your thoughtful post on the Ford SMPR. I’ve addressed many of the issues you raised on my own blog, so don’t want to sound repetitive, but the purpose of this SMPR is not to own or build a conversation, but rather facilitate and encourage one that was already taking place. We did this by providing content and information to bloggers and other online content producers in a format and way that was convenient for them. Enabling trackbacks, comments and links to Digg, etc. was a deliberate decision – who Diggs a press release, anyway?

    As far as blogger outreach goes – that was indeed a component of this strategy. A number of influential bloggers were invited to a Focus drive event in Seattle in September, and afterwards we reached out to a larger number of bloggers with a personal note and link to the SMPR.

    I’m very much enjoying the discussion around this – thanks for your post!

  • Stuart

    Hi Maggie,
    Thanks for adding to the conversation. I enjoyed your post on SMNR and understood it was a deliberate choice not to include trackbacks or comments. My beef (if it is one) is more with the marketing teams and encouraging them to stretch and involve themselves more transparently if they are going to engage with this evolving medium.

    I was pleased to learn that a small outreach program to bloggers was tried. As I noted this is not easy when “cars” are involved. It’s why I put the suggestion to aggregate the conversation back into a node. If your agency or better yet Ford is not tracking “tags” blog references etc… which exist for almost any potential purchaser to view with a few judicious searches.. then how can we really assess whether it worked or not.

    I’m not really interested in going digging on this one. I think it is easier to demonstrate how and why companies and individuals should be listening. I did google today “Ford Focus Blogger Program” my post turns up fairly visibly. I also turned to technorati and delicious to see how the tags are working. I’ve not really done my homework in this area… although a quick and anecdotal observation suggests that it’s not getting tagged much.

    From a marketing perspective I’d still be in the trial.. and monitor stage. I would like to know more about how they are listening, sharing the buzz etc. It takes real energy and a much longer time to build relationships.

    I trust you will get them there.


  • Brian Solis

    Stuart, I would love to talk with you about this, perhaps for a follow up post. I’ve shared his with a lot of folks.

    pr2point0 at gmail dot com.

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  • Scott Bauman

    Awesome post Stuart. What stands out for me comes near the end of the piece – “Too many PR firms are running ahead without teaching the client ‘how to listen’!” I’ve felt that tail wagging the dog since my days at Weber Shandwick. This happens in two ways: first, by implementing without regard to a client’s unique situation and, second, by implementing with too much regard for same. I’d suggest that both border on PR malpractice. Now, thank god, social media is forcing reinvention, and your post exposes the growing pains. Best we all take our lumps like this before we in PR are once again eclipsed by our friends on Madison Ave.

    Thanks for your thoughtful post.


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  • RichardatDELL

    Hi Stuart

    Thanks for a really thoughtful and comprehensive post…keeping us all thinking and moving forward. And, the moving forward, imperfect as it sometimes is, seems to be the important part. However, this puts some really good perspective around pr/bloggers and change. I am still digesting parts of it. So I wanted to thank you

  • dina

    Wow. The comments here really add value to a great post Stuart. It’s heartening to know so many PR persons are really listening to blog conversations, and having these conversations – it reflects that they are hungry to learn more about how they can use Social Media more effectively!

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