In addition to being a blogger, I work in social media marketing for an employer/brand and as a consultant in my business, Thunderbolt Social Media. I’ve worked with bloggers and influencers on marketing campaigns, outreach programs, reciprocal content and reviews. We’ve worked together on strategy and developed relationships; I’ve also been on the other side of that and have a long list of wonderful relationships with brands as a blogger, too. I’ve made mistakes, seen mistakes and we all learn along the way. Because of the importance of having good experiences and working together in a positive manner, as I really believe that working with online influencers is only going to get more necessary, I’m sharing with you my top 10 tips on creating and maintaining positive brand and blogger partnerships.
The social media manager and/or public relations agent has limitations in the form of a budget, deadline or requirements. In other words, they report to someone. Don’t kill the messenger if the person you pitch says no or gives you a response that you may not like.
A good example to this? If you ask for a free hotel room for a week and the brand replies that there are no rooms available that week, don’t go to the website and try to place a reservation for that week to test it out, then write the manager/agent to say “I was just able to place a reservation, but you said there were no rooms available. Why??”
Trust me on this. Not only will it ensure this brand will never work with you again, but there are many variables in place that you aren’t privy to. One common behind-the-scenes reason is that companies only have so many comped services available. The hotel may also have to keep a certain amount of rooms open for a special event that’s not yet booked or they have already reached capacity but retain a 3% open rate (or whatever, I’m not in the hospitality industry so pardon my terms) in case of problems.
Be kind. If you get a no, don’t question them rudely or get snippy. In the case of the above example, the representative may have really tried to get you a room but keeps getting met with a “please decline, we are unable to work with them at this time.” The representative can’t give you something she/he doesn’t have. So be nice. There may be a time when there is availability and they remember your interest. If you were less than professional, that’s unlikely to keep you on their “tabled for now” list.
Remember that in the end, you are trying to get something from the brand. Frequently, you are trying to get something for free. They don’t owe you anything and they usually already have a strategy in place; right or wrong, they owe you, the blogger/influencer, nothing. Even if they are rude to you, or try to tell you how they don’t pay for play or how they only work with traditional advertising, it doesn’t justify a snarky reply.
An example to this: I had a woman contact me a few months ago regarding sharing a review of their business and the related charity on my blog. It was an interesting charity, but in her email to me, she mentioned that she was looking for ‘unselfish’ bloggers who weren’t ‘trying to make a buck.’ I replied to let her know that I found her charity interesting and I do indeed do some free work, if it’s fitting for the blog and my readership, but that it wasn’t a matter of selfishness so her terminology was inappropriate and would likely turn other bloggers off in addition to me. I explained that I was fairly sure she was working ‘to make a buck’ rather than doing it for free, and I gave her a POLITE explanation of the cost of blogging and how we do it for our families. Ironically, the charity was to help mothers in business — and I’m a mother in business. I didn’t hear back for a couple of weeks and I assumed she had written me off. I slept fine at night, as my response was kind and clear and brief; I didn’t use any derogatory terms and explained I really did want her to understand why I was declining. About three weeks later, she responded. With an apology. I’m not one of those moms who makes their kids apologize; I feel as though apologies need to come from the heart and I only value them if they’re legitimate, so I wasn’t looking for an apology. It was such a nice change! I’ve gotten emails before complaining that we bloggers want money and I’ve never understood how they think we work for free — we’re not earned media, it’s a whole different animal — and being in marketing, I have a good perspective on both sides. In the end, she got it. She said she had to think on it and really was unaware of the ‘other side’ and now we work together on a paid basis. Win-win. And it took me five minutes.
Not every agency or company is the same. Don’t put everyone in the same bucket. As bloggers are unique individuals, so are brand representatives. A bad experience with one doesn’t make them all bad, even if they’re from the same company. Give people a chance, just as we want them to do with us.
Don’t offer or promise something you can’t deliver. If you offer someone a post within 10 days, stick to it; don’t post it in 15 days and then not understand why they aren’t happy. That said, emergencies do arise and most people are understanding, as long as the brand is made aware. Most people will work with you, but you have to let them know immediately. If you don’t tell them and they write you, that’s on you, so don’t go around telling people bad things about the representative not working with you or sending you emails. Blogger partnerships are just like any working relationship, no one should have to chase the other person around.
Which leads me to another very important point: don’t go around telling people bad things about the representative. Just like anyone, they may have bad days. They may be struggling to hang onto a job, the school may have just called about their sick kid or their car may be broken down in the lot. Or they may be banging their head onto their desk that they’re not able to get you that hotel room you asked for in return for a review and a blog post. Bashing on that person negatively isn’t necessary and makes you look unprofessional. (There, I said it out loud.) I’m not saying there aren’t some reasons to share experiences, but be careful — once it’s online, it’s not going away. People talk in ALL industries and this is no exception.
If you want to work with a brand, do your due diligence and be a fan. Follow them on Twitter. Like them on Facebook. Check them out on Pinterest and Instagram, too. Get to know their approach and product/services. Do all this in advance. Doing it within minutes of writing a pitch letter or worse yet, after, appears as though this is a spontaneous approach and/or your first choice fell through so now you’re getting desperate. Brands want to know you’re serious and you’re not just looking for a free place to stay on your family vacation.
Stick to your niche or find a way to tie in the request to your current blog. Back to my hotel example — if you write about shoes and fashion, then you want a free week in a hotel, it needs to relate somehow. Going to a fashion week? Shoe convention? There you go, but if it’s your first foray into writing about travel, you may want to pay for your hotel and then write about it later; tag the brand, be fair and courteous (meaning no nasty tweets/status updates about the hotel, pictures of the staff or other weird things) and then do it again another time to build up the travel category before you make big requests. People want to see experience in writing about big ticket items and/or proof it’s not just like I said, the week of free hotel for your family vacation for which you don’t promote properly or the brand gets nothing out of it. That’s the key to a winning relationship: both the brand and the blogger get something out of the exchange.
And as for nasty tweets, pictures of staff or blatant rude complaints on Facebook or Twitter in lieu of trying to get a problem resolved properly — they are out there for perpetuity as well. These can really hurt blogger partnerships possibilities. Back to my hotel blogger again — if she visits the hotel and she starts sharing tweets of the check-in line and how horrific the 15 minute wait is, she’s probably not going to be asked to be a brand ambassador. If you take on a company on social media in any negative way, there could be consequences. Brands want champions, not challenges. If your goal is to be a travel blogger for a specific chain but your past commentary is all negative….you know where this goes. Think before you tweet. Some companies do want to win back customers — they all should, in fact — but if you show upfront that you’re a loose cannon, they may just want you to get your problem resolved and go on your way. Is that tweet really worth it?
Building relationships — personal or professional — takes a two-way street type of approach. Investing in ourselves and our relationships is so worth the time, but it does take sincere effort. Put in that effort and good things will happen!
Great advice Donna! I have really enjoyed working with brands and I think it is a great way to strengthen your relationship with a brand. I also agree with you on the public bashing – it really is never a good idea.