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Partnering with Bloggers in a Non-Awkward Way 101

December 19th, 2012
By: Becky Lang

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I’m going to start by saying I’m not actually an expert at this. In fact, I’m fairly new to thinking about how brands can work with bloggers, although it seems to come up frequently. What I am an expert at is being a blogger who ignores countless queries from people wanting to put their message on my blog. Any email that seems impersonal (even if it uses my name and knows I’m in Minneapolis) and wants to promote their whatever on the blog, I delete immediately.

I’m also an expert at judging websites for being full of spam. We’ll put up with a lot, as Internet readers, because we know these writers have it tough. Pop-up ads, takeover ads, countless queries to take a survey, posts written for SEO purposes alone, we’re used to it. About the closest thing to a tolerable brand presence on a website (other than a routine banner ad) that I can take is a sponsored story where it’s clear that the brand let the person write whatever they wanted without injecting in their campaign message. A story about watches sponsored by a watch company can be interesting. I’ll take that. Writers have to make money somehow.

But how do you do a blogger partnership well?

Ok, disclosure – I feel weird answering this question with something that my work produced, but I’m going to. If it helps, I didn’t have anything to do with it (that would be Joseph Kuefler). I just discovered it and thought, “this is how you do a blogger partnership.” Upon seeing it, my inner critical reader was silent, impressed even.

This is a partnership by Purina ONE beyOnd, with photojournalist/ blogger Theron Humphrey, who you may know from his Tumblr Maddie on Things.

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Theron also has a project called This Wild Idea, where he interviews people across America about their lives and takes pictures. It’s amazing – get lost in it for awhile.

Anyway, Purina ONE beyOnd let him come up with a project, and he came up with Why We Rescue.

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Over 30 days, he will be interviewing people across New York about why they rescued a pet, and taking pictures of their homes.

How does Purina ONE beyOnd fit in? Well, the logo is on a tile on the site, and other than that, purely ideologically, in the sense that both This Wild Idea and Purina ONE beyOnd promote adopting homeless pets. Spam quotient – zero.

Anyway, inspired by this, I talked to JK and came up with some basic guidelines for partnering with bloggers/creative people:

1. Pick good bloggers

This sounds really obvious but it’s actually not. It’s easy to just pick bloggers who report high monthly impressions among a certain demographic, who just have badly-designed blogs full of sub-par content. Even bad bloggers can get an audience, with the right amount of SEO manipulation, coupons and targeted posts.

If you pick a blogger doing respectable, even amazing and different work, like this guy, it’s going to be much cooler. Not only will it show that you’re having fun (which I truly believe is something people sense and look for in creative work), but it will also give you clout, helping you attract more good bloggers, who will give you more and more clout. Suddenly your brand is cool, instead of just being associated with spam, noise and banner ads.

2. Scale isn’t everything

As JK pointed out, the creator doesn’t need to have a huge audience for the partnership to work. If their audience is still growing, the brand can provide the scale, and draw lots of people in. That means you can worry about the quality of their content, not the quantity of their fans. It’s also worth considering the quality of their audience. Are they thought leaders or influencers, people living and working in the media? Bonus, even if it’s a small group of them.

3. Go outside your own industry/category

Creating blog posts about pets might seem like a task that calls for partnering with pet bloggers. But people who write about pets as their main subject may not be as engaging to your audience as people excelling in photography, design, fashion or any other subject, who also love pets. As JK said, you can make partnerships based on shared values, not necessarily just a shared category. Limiting your brand to your own category can limit the type of conversations that you’re capable of having.

4. Partner on the creator’s terms

Respect the bloggers and creators you partner with as their own brand rather than dictating the content they provide. If you come to the table with an open brief, willing to collaborate and make compromises, it allows them to invest themselves in what they create. Try to give them creative control over what they say and depict as much as you can while still ensuring your brand is comfortable endorsing their content. When it comes to adding your logo, be open to different strategies and placements that will integrate it naturally rather than shoving it in people’s faces.

As I said, I’m not an expert, and I believe that what makes a smart blog partnership is still being determined by creative brands and cultural influencers. Hopefully these rules will be thought-starters.

-Becky Lang, with insight from Joseph Kuefler