The power of blogs, from their passionately vocal owners to the amount of quality traffic and brand awareness they deliver, is an undisputed precedent here in our online marketing world. Playing the role of confidante, advocate, and subject matter expert for their readers, bloggers bring a unique voice and perspective that readers appreciate and resonate to, making them highly influential.
With the beginning appearances of “mommy blogs” first being hailed as hype, no one could have estimated the massive impact these vocal moms would have on consumers and brands alike. This turned the blogging industry on its ear and ignited the first wave of paid influencers that brands scrambled to adopt. Flash forward to today, where contracted blogger relationships are very much the standard de facto of many brands’ digital marketing strategies.
If you are amongst the many considering the possibility of starting your own in-house blogger program, take a pass at these five questions you should ask yourself prior to tackling your first blogger program initiative:
1. Are you ready?
Running a formal blogger initiative takes time, dollars, and resources. Whether you are working with a single blogger or several, it requires dedicated program management (read: man hours) and a true willingness (read: commitment) to do what it takes to achieve success. When evaluating your blogger program readiness, here are a few key questions to ask yourself:
Q: Do I, or someone within my company, have the bandwidth on a daily/weekly basis to put dedicated hours against this to ensure the program’s success?
By the very nature of the completely public and formalized relationship itself, program bloggers become an extension of your brand and are perceived as thus by readers and potential customers. Ensuring that there is someone on your team who can actively and frequently manage the relationship is paramount to both parties (contracted blogger and your business) being happy and contributing towards a successful program.
When building out your first program, you can expect to invest upwards of 120 hours as you ready the program to launch, and once launched, spend 37 hours a week per blogger. It’s also important to consider other team members’ time who will be working on the program as well, such as your lawyer (or whomever will be drawing up the contracts), your content developer (if you will be providing new visual content for the program), and possible others.
Q: Do I have the appropriate amount of funds available to support this type of initiative?
Professional bloggers run their blogs as a business; they expect to be compensated for their time. Most often, the quality and quantity of the work they perform for you will be directly tied to the level of compensation associated with it. Currently, industry averages for blogger compensation run between $50-$300 a post. However, there are many factors that impact compensation, such as level of blogger experience, blog traffic volume, type of post, and length of the contracted relationship, as well as prior agreed-upon performance metrics.
Taking a good look at your budget and understanding what you have to invest in this effort will help to determine your program capacity, such as how many bloggers you can afford, how many posts per blogger and how many weeks that you will be able to run your program.
Q: Do I have the support I need, to include my internal stakeholder approval and sign-off?
For those of us that do not have autonomous control over our marketing initiatives, not gaining sign-off from your leadership and key stakeholders is the one thing that will prevent you from launching your blogger program. Involving your leadership early on during the program vetting process helps educate them of the business opportunity that you see as well as the viable outcomes (more on how to define that in the next step).
2. Do you have a plan?
As the saying goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Planning out the primary objective of your program, what the program will accomplish, how it is going to accomplish it and how long it will take to accomplish will be key in helping you to set marching orders for those involved later on. When building out your plan, be sure to:
Set the primary objective for your program
Identify what it is that you want this program to accomplish. Whether your goal is more Facebook fans, email sign ups, or increased overall traffic, having a pre-defined primary objective enables you to set the foundation of your overall program framework, which then allows you litmus test other tactics against it by asking “Does this tactic help us accomplish our primary objective?”
Your primary objective statement doesn’t have to be complicated. A simple, “We are engaging with blogger partners to explain the value of our product, increasing traffic and email sign-up via our .Com site” would be perfect. Remember, it doesn’t need to be complex; it just needs to clearly communicate what your goal is.
Define your KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators)
Once you have your primary objective identified, you can then build out the measures that quantify and validate your goal. For instance, if your primary objective statement is to “increase traffic and email sign-up via our .Com site,” you would then assign how many email sign-ups and how much traffic, either by percent or raw numbers: “Increase traffic by 35% and email sign-up by 15% via our .Com site”
Once your program is in market, you will be able to adjust tactics based on your quantified goals and how well your program is delivering results against the KPI’s you have set.
Estimate your budget and costs
To help prevent overspending on your blogger program, begin by setting a realistic budget that takes into account the level of effort need to get the program up off the ground, adding an additional 10% of total level-of-effort buffer to ensure that you haven’t underestimated.
Think through everyone who will touch the program, from copyediting to creative, legal to program manager. Assign roles and tasks by the hour, with a specific cost associated with each tasked hour.
By getting granular with your program costs, you will be able to get closer to a true Cost-Per-Visit and Cost-Per-Acquire number associated with the traffic and conversions your soon-to-be blogger program will deliver, which are critical to know as you analyze your program’s success.
3. Have you built the brief?
The program brief is your best friend: a quick, easy-to-read, one-to-two pager that you will use when shopping potential program bloggers to see if they want to opt-in to your program. It clearly states your program background, objectives, and rules of the road. Here is where you will identify:
The business opportunity: What need are you meeting that your customers and potential customers are wanting a solution for? Here is where you identify your target audience, the channels that you will be targeting them in, and the solution you will be providing for them.
Your program objectives: This should ring a bell as you identified your primary objective earlier when you built out your plan. Now you can insert that very same statement here, to ensure that all program participants are clear on the program objective and wanted outcomes.
Your program participation and offering: Designed to clearly communicate the actions that you want your program bloggers to take, this informs them of the program particulars, to include specific milestones they must meet to be in compliance (and thus receive compensation) with your program.
Your program mandatories: This section is for defining your program’s absolute musts. You can use this section to provide “do’s” and “do not’s” be sure to identify the critical must-do’s here so your potential bloggers can have a clear understanding of your program’s absolute requirements.
Your key milestones: It is helpful for potential bloggers to understand the timeline that they would be accountable to prior to signing up to participate. Setting hard deadlines and major milestones for your program ensures that expectations are clearly communicated, helping to facilitate program compliance.
A quick note on when to share your brief: I am often asked when the appropriate time to share the brief is a sound business practice to put into place is the execution of a Non-Disclosure Agreement prior to sharing your brief. Typically, once you have vetted your potential blogger (as in qualified their traffic, writing, promoting capabilities, and audience reach) and they have expressed interest in working with you, requesting the execution of a simple Non-Disclosure Agreement will put your mind at rest and protect the sensitive nature of your brief. Most professional bloggers will not have an issue with this at all, as it has become standard business practice amongst most brands.
4. Have you come to mutual consent through contract?
Good contracts make for good business, and your blogger program is no exception. After sharing your brief and gaining opt-in, the next step is to execute the program contract. Much like the NDA, this is a common practice and your blogger most likely will be receptive to it, as it helps to protect both parties and layout best practices for a successful engagement.
When thinking through what is contained within your blogger program contract, this is the time that you want to consult your legal counsel or an expert who specializes in Internet Marketing Law. There are nuances to these types of contracted relationships and having a professional walk you through the implications is well worth the dollar investment. After all the time and effort you have invested, the last thing you want to do is take the risk of jeopardizing your brand’s reputation because your contract hadn’t been thought through properly!
When you meet with your legal counsel, a few of the critical subject areas you will want to be prepared to speak to will include:
Program performance benchmarks and compensation
This is where you state your performance expectations and compensation, to include frequency of posting, length of post, social sharing, and editorial quality. If you expect posts to contain a picture of your product or brand, here is where you need to state that. This is also the place that you will outline where and how they will link to you, whether it is your Facebook page, iTunes store, or .Com property.
Full disclosure statement and placement proximity
Ensuring that your program is compliant with FTC disclosure policy is of the utmost importance. Spelling out the full disclosure statement to be used and where it needs to be published in relationship to the campaign link is paramount to both parties maintaining FTC compliance.
Non-allowable concurrent promotional items
Because your brand becomes associated with your program blogger through the eyes of their readers, it is also important to think through what you don’t want the blogger to promote while engaged in your brand campaign. For instance, your brand may not want to be associated with topics such as sex, narcotics, or alcohol. You also may not want your blogger to promote competitive brands while your campaign is live.
True story: One of our program bloggers decided to use her blog to voice her opinion about the legalization of marijuana. Her post lived right next to our client’s ad and promotion post. Our client didn’t want to be affiliated with her personal views. Because we had thought through that possibility ahead of time and it was stated in the contract that she had agreed to, we were able to ask her to take it down.
Program non-adherence and right to cancel
Unfortunately, it’s sad but true: there will be bloggers that won’t follow the rules, won’t post the right content, and overall won’t be good for your program. Building in a program non-adherence clause that gives you the right to cancel the contract and exclude the blogger from your program is a mandatory; your legal counsel will provide you with the best language and terms that fit your program’s needs.
5. Have you set your bloggers up to succeed?
Blogger programs are just as much about the relationship you have with the bloggers inside of your program as it is about the relationship they have with their readers. Ultimately, heavily investing in the upfront “getting-to-know-you” part of the relationship can pay dividends as your relationship and program matures. Some great ways to help ensure that your bloggers are set up to succeed:
Onboarding and kickoff calls
A great program doesn’t start with an executed contract and then radio silence. Set up a “getting-to-know-you” call with your bloggers, where everyone prepares one slide about himself or herself. Be sure to include your personal slide as well; your bloggers are looking to you as the leader of the program and full participation from you will help set the tone for the rest of the relationship. After everyone introduces themselves, give the background story of the company, product and anything that helps to give context to the campaign that they will be participating in.
Set up a private program hub through Basecamp or Zoho Projects
This allows you to efficiently manage multiple communications in one centralized place, set a milestone calendar and post creative assets. It also allows program members to discuss program ideas and share tips. I have found that by bringing program members together, more times than not, they provide great insights and value when placed into a collaborative environment.
Give them what they need
Your blogger can’t write great content for you if they don’t have access to all the details they need. Being timely and providing super-clear specs, images and other important assets well before the post date ensures that they have what they need, allowing them to concentrate on doing what they do best.
Let them know how much you appreciate their work
A small thank you can go a long way. If you like the work they are performing for you, don’t hesitate to take a few minutes and shoot them a quick email. Being appreciated and knowing that you care is a great way to keep morale up for your program members.
If you have signed off on all of the above questions
Congratulations! You are well on your way to rocking that blogger program. You will find that when done right, blogger programs are a viable tool in your digital toolbox, bringing increased awareness, traffic, and conversions. I wish you the best with yours!
Author: Melyssa Tweeting
Courtesy of www.seomoz.org