Is Your Blog For Rent

house for rent Great story at Trendspotting (and I’m sorry that I forget who sent me this) about Coke trying to work with 9 bloggers in Brazil about a product rollout, where they sent the bloggers some of the new Coke, designed special front page replacements for their blogs, and summarily got lots of negative coverage for creating what the news media called “rent-a-bloggers.”

Blogging and social media are a great set of tools for promoting products and services by the digital version of word of mouth, but it’s a tricky situation. There are lots of opportunities to raise the ire of your community, and lots of ways that the marketer’s campaign could backfire.

The secret weapon: disclosure.

The best of the word of mouth campaigns that I’ve seen, and the few opportunities I’ve had to be part of a promotion, are executed by using strong rules for disclosure, plus the opportunity for the blogger to take the product or service and do with it as they will (versus sticking very tightly to a message). By allowing the blogger to work within their community and communicate in a way that’s appropriate to the people around them, the campaign’s intent was still spread, but without any kind of degradation of trust or relationships.

My personal examples are the Nikon D60 and the Garmin Nuvi 200. There are two different ways this came about. I’ll explain both.

Two Ways To Manage Word of Mouth Opportunities as a Blogger

Nikon, as you may remember, raised the attention of the blogging world and the mainstream press with their attempt to run an awareness campaign around their D80 product about a year ago. Instead of shying away, they took the lessons learned from that project and rolled it out into the D60 campaign. They contacted me, and here were the basics of the campaign:

  • We’d like to send you a camera to use for a small period of time.
  • You’re not obligated to blog about it.
  • If you DO blog about it, please explain that we sent you the camera for evaluation, that you’re not obligated to blog about it, give full disclosure, etc, etc.
  • At the end of the time period, you can send the camera back, or buy it at a discounted rate.

I brought the camera around with me to several conferences over the last few months. Any time someone looked at or talked about the camera, I’d say, “Yeah, this is my blogola. Nikon sent this to me to evaluate. I’m not obligated to write about it. But so far, I’m liking it. It lets even idiots like me snap decent photos.”

There are over 600 photos taken by that camera in my Flickr stream.

And, I can attest that two cameras and accessories were bought based directly on my walking around with the thing, because a good friend bought two for a business project.

So, did that work for Nikon? Did that work for me and my community? I feel it did. I feel like I disclosed, etc, etc.

The other opportunity was Garmin, and this one is more about Twitter, and the power of listening.

I get lost a LOT. Boston isn’t an easy city, and I’m not a very good directions person. Between the two, I had lots of opportunities to tweet that I was lost. In fact, @newmediajim once helped me find where I was in Manhattan while he was home in DC.

One day, I started tweeting things like, “Dear Garmin: I’m lost. If I had you, I wouldn’t be lost any more.” I did it to see what would happen. I did it a lot. And then one day, I got an email. “Dear Chris, we listened. May we send you a journalist evaluation unit?”

I have no obligations to Garmin to do anything with the unit, no request to blog about it, etc. And yet, when I use the thing, I tweet, “Not lost, because Garmin sent me a unit to test out,” or versions of the same.

What do you think? Does that work? Do you think Garmin and Nikon get something out of my efforts?

Considerations for Bloggers and for Marketers

With all that said, consider the following:

  • Always be outright and up front. Don’t be OVERLY apologetic or explanatory, but explain it. Disclose whenever you feel you should.
  • Make sure the program’s goals can be tracked (as a marketer). If you’re just lobbing your products out there, will you know whether there was any effect?
  • Be ready for fallout. Not every blogger has the same motives, nor do they always understand the tactful way to do things. Should there be an issue, it will probably hit hard and fast. Be ready and listening.
  • See if there’s a community project you can wrap around the offering. NikonUSA, I’ve observed, does things like hand out cameras to rockstars and then collect the photo albums. Are there other ways to get that kind of pop on the grass roots level as well? (I think they’ve done that, too). Could your project work on both fronts.
  • Be clear about what happens at the end of the project, so that expectations are fully met on all sides.

What else? What’s your take on all this? How do you view blogs differently when you feel they are pitching you things? Can YOU tell the difference between when someone says something’s neato, and when someone’s trying to sell for someone?

(By the way, that’s a personal worry of mine all the time. I’m not paid to pitch any one or any thing except my company’s events, and I’m forever worried that when I’m praising something or someone, people will wonder if I’m being paid to do so. Answer: no.)

Is your blog for rent?

The Social Media 100 is a project by Chris Brogan dedicated to writing 100 useful blog posts in a row about the tools, techniques, and strategies behind using social media for your business, your organization, or your own personal interests. Swing by [] for more posts in the series, and if you have topic ideas, feel free to share them, as this is a group project, and your opinion matters.

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Photo credit, tifotter

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