Companies put the majority of their marketing efforts into creating content that they can distribute via their websites, brochures, online newsletters and other platforms they control. However, what they fail to consider is how well they are reaching out and targeting their core demographic in media they don’t control. This is starting to change as companies build their presence on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, but the focus is still on direct communications with people that already know about their brand.
At the same time, companies are becoming increasingly vulnerable to online reputation damage from negative sentiment – some of which is real, and some of which is a result of malicious activity. Online smear campaigns are common, for instance, and result in significant commercial consequences for their victims. One example of this is the recent negative astroturfing – posting fake reviews – that Samsung carried out in Taiwan against its competitors, but there are many, many more.
Looking at these trends, the question is how a company can connect with its customer base in a more intimate and agile manner – reducing the impact of unwarranted negative attacks and building their reputation at the same time. The answer to this lies in creating closer relationships with the blogosphere – relying on bloggers to take the company’s message to a broad audience of followers, rather trying to communicate directly. While some companies may balk at this loss of control, the truth is that it has been impossible to control any message completely since the Internet emerged as a medium for free speech.
The main reason that this makes sense is because working with bloggers can now multiply a company’s reach many times over. The growth in the number of blogs has been astounding – rising from 35 million in 2006 to 173 million in October 2011, with no signs of slowing down in 2013. Not only that, bloggers tend to be more educated – 70% are college graduates – and they are deeply committed to the subjects that they blog about. Good bloggers attract large numbers of dedicated followers – with studies showing that these followers trust their chosen bloggers more than they do the brands that bloggers write about.
On the other hand, it is exactly that trust which makes traditional marketing approaches inappropriate when talking to the blogosphere. Bloggers need to be impartial and independent – otherwise they lose the trust of their followers. Therefore, marketers need to understand that good bloggers will always put the interests of their readers above the interests of brands.
In many ways, bloggers need to be treated as if they were industry analysts. Analysts depend on companies for information – and are even willing to sign up to nondisclosure if they can get deeper insights into where a company or an industry is going. Through working together over a long period of time, and maintaining a trusting relationship, they can each help the other while the analyst continues to provide their audience with relevant, unbiased information.
When bloggers truly understand your brand and your industry, they become more likely to understand your perspective. They may not always agree, but they are more likely to give you a fair hearing, provided you give them enough information.
The truth is that maintaining a successful blog is not a simple task – without a constant flow of fresh, interesting and accurate information, any blog will quickly become a ghost of its former self – losing the majority of its followers in the process. And, therein lies the nature of the bargain – the bloggers remain impartial, but act as brand ambassadors because they are given compelling reasons why the brand is of benefit to their followers – who just happen to be the company’s target demographic. The company’s end of the bargain is that they ensure that the blogger has the content and information that they need to succeed, and to guarantee that they will not mislead the blogger at any point. From this perspective, the relationship becomes one of mutual trust.
Aside from connecting more powerfully with customers, leveraging the blogosphere has other significant benefits for companies. Let’s return to that issue of negative sentiment. If a company is connected to its customers through a highly trusted intermediary, then the negative impact of things such as smear campaigns can be countered more effectively. Provided that trust runs through the entire chain, companies can use bloggers to refute malicious statements – and can do this much more effectively than if they were to try to take a direct approach.
Having this relationship in place also makes it more difficult for malicious content to gain traction. It provides a perfect platform for Online Reputation Management (ORM), a rapidly growing discipline that helps companies to promote positive news while suppressing malevolent or inaccurate claims about their goods or services. As you can see from these Reputation.com reviews, ORM agencies are an integral part of the marketing strategy of many companies, and they tend to be highly valued and trusted because of this fact. Working with bloggers complements ORM – not only do bloggers combat negative sentiment by creating positive buzz, but they also create large amounts of positive content that points back at the company’s website. This has the effect of driving positive content up the search engine rankings, while driving down negative views – a key goal of ORM.
Is this a call for companies to abandon direct marketing? Absolutely not. Are there companies who already make extensive use of the blogosphere? Yes, there are. However, many other companies still are not engaged with bloggers – or if they are, they have a shallow relationship that is limited to product giveaways in return for unbiased reviews. There is an opportunity for companies and bloggers to create a deeper, more meaningful connection that has significant benefits for both parties. At the same time, consumers as a whole will benefit – not only will they get more informed advice on product selection, they can still rest assured that the bloggers they follow remain independent.