When and how to build a blog network

The power of bloggers is unquestioned in social communications despite recent alarmist articles stating blogging is dead. For brands, engaging with bloggers to listen to feedback on their products or services, review what they think of them online and even recommend them to their peers, is a holy grail of marketing.

But when is the right situation for a brand to build its own blogger network, how should they approach this and what are the risks or rewards.

Definition

A blog network is a community of bloggers or social media enthusiasts supporting (not necessary representing) a brand’s cause or who are happy to provide constructive criticism around products or services online.

Community based networks exist in the form of Mumsnet and Netmums but there are also instances of brand ‘run’ blog networks such as, Next Blogger Network, Sainsbury’s, Aussie Angels and the Toyologists.

Blogger networks are different to the super-users amongst communities such as Sony. A blogger network is based around the individuals’ social profile of each blogger such as reach, topics of interest and activity. A super-user is an expert because of their topic based knowledge or expertise – they can give powerful and representative feedback quickly.

When

A blog network can develop where there is a clear affinity or shared interest between brand, blogger and their audiences, with an apparent value exchange (non-monetary based) at the core. A value exchange means that the three-way relationship needs to be beneficial for all parties.

A brand should look at the relationship from a long term point of view and there needs to be a narrative or story driving the interaction between the parties. Short term activation of a blog network is possible but doesn’t build the same kind of community spirit and trust, nor reap real benefits for all involved.

The blogger’s reputation is important and there needs to be a relevance to the brand. Without this the relationship can look forced. It also needs to have relevance and value to the blog’s readers as peer endorsement is a key objective.

The brand needs to understand its commitment to building a blog network and be prepared to invest time and resources to make the relationship work and look to add value for the bloggers at every opportunity. So often quick wins for the brand and blogger are missed as there is not the resource or set up to react to opportunities.

How

Discovery – Understanding the brand’s core customer base and identifying which blogger is interested in talking about you (good or bad) is the starting point for building a network. Research needs to be considered as to who are going to be the most loyal and active on behalf of your brand.

Recruitment is key, as with building any business-related relationship. Knowing the background and relevance of the blogger will be important to the on-going relationship. Bloggers like to be contacted through channels that they are accustomed to using including Twitter, for example and there needs to be knowledge of who they are and what they like to do.  Keep in mind what is their key motivation for writing, is it opinion based or creating the reviews, for example.

Planning – Bloggers like to be collaborative and co-creative in terms of the structure and interaction of the community. In order to keep interest and enthusiasm going this needs to be built into any activities with all parties. For example, defining the type and number of reviews that the brand is expecting for the blogger will help he or she to weigh up the commitment.

Bloggers like to get together and not just online. They want to meet the brands and each other as they often write in isolation. Brands should consider an internal private forum where bloggers can talk privately as these work well for facilitation of on-going conversations and ideas. Offline events to build community and engagement between all should also be considered and create more content ideas as well as transparency of commitment.

Execution

Whether a brand has new products or services launching to review or not, it should be in regular contact with its bloggers and network. Community management is about having a genuine interest in your bloggers, their ideas and any issues they face. The network will quickly turn on a brand that does not demonstrate real belief in the bloggers’ work. The brand needs to live up to expectations, its ethics or promises set out at the start of the relationship.

Keeping in constant contact with the network is critical to maintain strong relationships with key bloggers and can also be beneficial when dealing with conflicts of ego and or complaints. Regular contact also helps with ideas creation and opportunities to bring the brand into conversations or scenarios you may not have thought of.

Benefits

Building a blog network brings many benefits to all members of the relationship – the blogger, their readers, the brand and its audiences.

In terms of marketing the content a brand is creating for the blogger is no longer a simple press release, its informative, opinionated and most importantly entertaining for a blogger’s readers.

The blog network can become a network of advocates who understand your brand inside-out and who can provide real-time insights pre and post any campaign activity. As well as building awareness and interest around a brand, it can build desire in that others want to be involved in something highlighted by their peers. Getting a new product or trying a service to review before it comes to market, for example, drives web traffic for the blogger.

As a competitive advantage, if a brand has its own blog network it is talking with its advocates or customers, rather than talking at them if other brands are only broadcasting their ideas. The blogger and its readers feel involved and if they can see their feedback is being listened to and acted on they can become powerful advocates.

A blog network can also help decentralise brand content, spreading a brands’ messages and story and making the footprint of the brand bigger overnight, something costly using traditional media and marketing.

In terms of harder evaluation, increased share of voice online can be measured looking at blog reviews or heightened Twitter conversation, for example. If set up correctly, any content shared can be tracked back to the brand’s website goals or even sales. The network reach can also be expanded through parallel and complimentary social media presence linked to Facebook or Twitter.

Despite all these benefits the most important thing for a brand building its own blog network is to facilitate peer-based recommendations of its products or services. This end result will only happen if the relationship with the blog network is based on mutual understanding and interest, honest and open two-way communication and a long term investment of time and resources from the brand. Only then will everyone really benefit from a blog network.

Simon John is founder and strategy director at social communications agency, Roost Online, that is recruiting for its own blog network, The Roost