Since I joined the Edelman, researching and reaching out to influencers has become a staple of my working day. These people, whether they blog, vlog, tweet, or photograph their favourite topics, are essential gatekeepers for audiences. This makes it interesting to be both a marketer and a blogger. Three years of writing about society and culture for Politics Beyond Politicians has generated many useful insights into how we can improve brand communications.
Most importantly, blogging and marketing are fundamentally similar. Both drive awareness of their issues through compelling stories. The best blogs are brands and many such as The Huffington Post and Business Insider have become media powerhouses in their own right. Businesses may sell products and services, whereas blogs look to grow readership but both live and die by their reputations. These shared features are essential as aligning the interests of brand and blogger will allow them to tell the most cohesive and meaningful stories.
Blogging is a useful hobby for communications marketing professionals because it allows us to understand both sides. I interviewed health and beauty blogger Shannon Holland-Houghton to find out more about her experiences working with brands on her website Shannon Stacey.
She loves working with businesses that are relevant to the content of her blog, which features her beauty tips, craft projects and life updates. “It can get pretty expensive having to buy new products to review all the time, so to have the opportunity to receive free small samples but also try lots of new things works for me. I think working with brands also makes my blog seem so much more professional and the viewers really take note of those sort of posts more than regular ones. If a brand is wanting to work with this girl, she can’t be that bad right?”
This is a very positive endorsement of brand partnerships that shows the quality of influencer work. Nevertheless, being a blogger reinforces the preciousness of these websites and how much they mean to the people that write them. For top writers, this may be their day job or for parenting blogs, it may be the record of their own child’s early life. That is a powerful thing to get involved in. It imposes a responsibility to ensure that sponsored content adds value for readers rather than interfering with their experience.
I am always conscious of the effect that brands have on my blog. For a political blog, the appearance of commercial bias affecting editorial independence is a particularly sensitive issue. Shannon’s blog is important to her, and she agrees that these relationships could improve. “I think they could work on commitment more than anything. I have been contacted by several brands who have asked me lots of questions, have taken my personal contact and postal details, have asked me to start putting the groundwork in with researching the products extensively, and then I never actually receive the products. It leaves me feeling really deflated. My favourite brands are those who are just super fun and friendly in their emails, really laid back, and just seem to really love your blog and like they have actually read it. The relationship has to work both ways for both sides.”
One of the main concerns I have as a blogger is the issue of time. One of the best ways to promote my blog is to share quality content at the right moment. This involves anticipating the next big political story and reacting when news emerges. One of the most exciting new areas of marketing communications is social reactive content, which overcomes this exact issue of time. Brands are now trying to be just as agile as blogs are at being able to respond quickly to news stories. War rooms where key marketers converge to monitor and create content as events unfold are a highly effective tool.
Shannon has a different type of issue with time, where social media comes to the rescue. She admits that now she is “working a full time job in London, I am not able to commit as much time to my blog as I would like. Social media is an absolute lifesaver with marketing. Twitter is by far the easiest and most effective. Every brand I have worked with has found me via Twitter and it’s also a really easy way to connect with other bloggers and blogger forums. I also use bloglovin’ which is a great platform for gaining readership.”
The final lesson that my blogging experience has taught me is that always trying new things is the best way to discover success. Having the freedom to write any story and try any new social media strategy is a liberating experience. Brands that recognise the flexibility of their influencers can produce boundary-breaking campaigns. For Shannon, despite growing the following on her lifestyle and beauty blog, it is still all about freedom. She says that ‘for me it is not about the numbers or trying to be a famous YouTuber. It’s just a hobby and a way to learn new skills, like photography for example.’