4 Tips for Working With External Bloggers

As PR executives are responsible for producing more branded content, some are reaching out to external bloggers to help build inventories. Working with external bloggers is an entirely different process than having staffers blog in-house. Issues include recruitment, work structure, FTC regulations and compensation. Then there’s the question of trust. By employing external bloggers, PR pros essentially are putting their or their clients’ brands into the hands of outsiders. A related issue: Are these bloggers adding real value to the brand conversation? Taking these issues in order:

* Recruitment: Once you have decided to work with external bloggers, you have to find them. You can do so through online hubs such as Traackr, which rates bloggers based on reach, relevance and resonance. Brand managers also can find bloggers by tapping into their networks of contacts. That’s how USANA Health Sciences, looking to boost awareness about its new weight management program, recruited TV personality and sportscaster Jenn Brown. Not long after having a baby, Brown worked with USANA to post a blog chronicling her effort to lose weight. The first-person post provided content for USANA’s independent business owners to share as they talked to potential customers about the RESET weight-management program, according to Tim Haran, director of social media at USANA.

“We seek [non-bloggers as well as external bloggers] who are health conscious...and can test our products,” Haran said, adding that Brown was paid an undisclosed sum for the blog post. “We want people who are really willing to talk about how our products affected them.”

* Payment/Work Structure: This is a key issue that PR execs need to mull when they recruit external bloggers. A lot depends on whether the bloggers are paid for individual posts or are compensated to contribute on a long-term basis. Some bloggers may work for the exposure alone; those with a sizeable audience may want $1,000 or more, per post.

Finn Partners recently recruited bloggers to participate in a Twitter Chat to raise awareness about a major player in the financial services sector. The bloggers were paid up to $200 to participate, according to Alexandra Kirsch, associate VP at Finn. She would not name the client. Kirsch added that if brands and organizations want more “oomph” from external bloggers, they need to pay a premium.

While her own nonprofit “rarely has the funds to pay external bloggers,” said Alexandra Paterson, national communications lead, kids market/department of public and media relations for American Heart Association National Center, “‘paying to play’ is extremely common” in the not-for-profit world. Regarding “pay for play,” Paterson said it’s important to have “a candid conversation of costs up front so everyone is singing off the same hymn sheet.”

* Trust: This is a huge issue obviously. Will the blogger stay on message? Speak against your brand?

Paterson stressed the importance of trust in cultivating relationships with outside bloggers. Here’s how:

  • Get to know them as bloggers. Understand that “they are influencers and they themselves are brands and have a reputation they want to uphold,” she said.
  • Don’t sell. “This isn’t just about your brand or your client,” Paterson said. “It’s about [the brand/your client and the blogger] coming together to promote one cause or product.”
  • Don’t compromise the bloggers. “It’s their blog, their views, their voice,” Paterson said.

Finn’s Kirsch, referring to the Twitter Chat, said, “The only ground rules were that [the external bloggers] promoted their participation in the Chat on their own Twitter handles.” She added, “It’s not ethical to request more than that. You walk a tight line asking bloggers to have an opinion. The value was in their participation. Disclosure is also crucial in working with bloggers. All engagements must follow FTC regulations” (see sidebar below).

PR pros are urged to think through these and other issues before deciding to employ external bloggers. Should you decide it’s the right move, Haran offered the following tips:

  1. Share and share alike. Get your bloggers on board regarding how important it is that they share branded content with their audiences.
  2. Map out the company’s objectives. Make sure bloggers are patched into new products and services that are being offered so they are hitting on those key messages.
  3. Be flexible. Unlike internal blogging, which should adhere to an editorial schedule and deadlines, external bloggers need a fairly long leash; don’t hold them to hard deadlines.

One way to improve timeliness is to keep external bloggers from getting bogged down in the corporate bureaucracy, “The blogger will have a more authentic, timely product when not everything has to get through several layers of approvals,” said Jessica Nielsen, VP, communications at Lockheed Martin. Of course, that goes back to trust. Nielsen’s tip: “When selecting a blogger, you may opt to do some testing... by giving him or her a few test scenarios to apply the guidelines you’ve given them.”

FULL DISCLOSURE

What are the rules of the road for brands and organizations that recruit bloggers and other influencers to produce content on their behalf? On its website the Federal Trade Commission provides some of the key questions:

* Our company uses a network of bloggers and other social media influencers to promote our products. We understand we’re responsible for monitoring our network. What kind of monitoring program do we need?

* Will we be liable if someone in our network says something false about our product or fails to make a disclosure?

The FTC has these recommendations for brand managers to follow when working with external bloggers:

  • Explain to members of your network what they can (and can’t) say about products and services; for example, a list of the health claims they can make for your products.
  • Instruct members of your network on their responsibilities for disclosing their connections to you.
  • Follow up if you find questionable practices among bloggers who are contributing to your PR and social media channels.

Source: Federal Trade Commission

CONTACT: Tim Haran, tim.haran@us.usana.com; Alexandra Kirsch, alexandra.kirsch@finnpartners.com; Jessica Nielsen, jessica.nielsen@lmco.com; Alexandra Paterson, alexandra.paterson@heart.org

This article originally appeared in the June 22, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.