Marketers vs. Bloggers: Why We Need to Understand Each Other Better

BlogHer Original Post

Recently I read two posts that neatly illustrated just how much bloggers and marketers don't get about each other. One was written by and for marketers in an effort to help marketers better understand bloggers: how we think, how to approach us and how to market to social media communities. The other was written by bloggers to explain how marketers are getting their approaches to bloggers and social media communities wrong and how marketers could do better.

Both were cringe-worthy reading. Marketers don't get bloggers and bloggers don't get marketers. Neither speaks the other's language, understands the other's process or the other's goals. What seems obvious to me is that if marketers are to grasp how to successfully add social media tools to our marketing mix, bilingual marketer-to-blogger translators are needed -- and we are in short (but growing) supply.

I am purposefully not linking to either post because I don't wish to single the authors out for criticism. The points made in their posts are not unique, but reading them back-to-back helped crystallize my line of thought in this post. Let me tell you a bit more about what the marketers and bloggers are thinking.

1. The Marketers: I've long lost count of the number of pixels that have formed to express how badly marketers, and the PR function in particular, have gone about pitching to, working with and attempting to partner with bloggers and social media communities. A post from a well known, well respected media outlet did a good job of clearly articulating the need to get past the models of cluelessly sending press releases and offering interviews and product samples. They pointed out why bloggers are not the same as newspaper journalists or magazine editors and why it is important to modify your approach. However, they still managed to make the same fundamental error of insight that most marketers who don't grok blogging and communities make; i.e., they did not move past the medium to understand the varying motivations of bloggers and the dynamics of communities.

Bloggers are not a monolith. People do not read, join networks or participate in communities for the same reasons or with the same goals. The advice that sending a press release will likely be received differently and likely negatively by bloggers is a step forward but still reveals just how much the authors don't know.

Sites like TechCrunch or Mashable could be considered blogs. Also, there are individual bloggers who mine similar territory. However, what those sites do is vastly different than a personal blogger who writes about her life. Bloggers like the former are more akin to newsites and sending press releases or offering product for review might make sense. A blogger who develops a blog that functions not unlike a beauty or women's service magazine might enjoy and appreciate being approached like a magazine editor because it serves her mission and expectations she's set for her reader community.

Many personal bloggers write of and for themselves. They don't exist nor are they set up to do your marketing for you. They don't hunger for "content ideas." For many, finding the time and sometimes the motivation to write about the many ideas swirling in her head is the much bigger problem. That, however, does not mean that they are unapproachable. Rather, it means that you need to understand the different types of bloggers as well as their different goals, motivations and readerships. And that is what is missing from the marketer perspective and why bloggers (and folks on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, etc ...) remain frustrated and often hostile to so many marketers.

2. The Bloggers: This time the post was from a well known, well respected group blogging site. The authors pointed out what they perceived as ineffective -- even offensive --marketing efforts from large companies to bloggers and social media communities. As is often the case in these broad missives and dismissals (vs. individual bloggers calling out specific egregious behavior from a marketer they've experience directly), they reveal a fundamental lack of understanding of how consumer marketing, from both big and small companies, works.

It is fine to be outraged by the message you hear. It is important and worthwhile for marketers to hear your reactions and the lenses through which you are filtering your messages. However, I have noticed a trend from bloggers to believe that because they understand their own experience and values that they know how to teach marketers how to do their jobs. And that attitude was in full effect in this post.

What is disturbing about this trend is that more than a few bloggers think because they blog they not only know how companies should market but also that companies should therefore listen to them and even pay them as consultants to teach companies how to market. The sad and frustrating thing about this trend is not only the mistaken hubris on the part of bloggers, but that some companies -- out of fear of missing the social media marketing train and/or ignorance of the blogging and social media universe -- actually entertain and engage this advice. In the long run, it will only be bad for marketers, bloggers and social media communities.

3. The Bilingual Blogger-to-Marketer Translators:  Bloggers who desire to engage with marketing and PR representatives without a background in and understanding of marketing from a company and business perspective must realize that experience as a blogger, consumer and recipient of clueless pitches does not qualify you as a social media guru nor as a marketing consultant. If you seek for companies to hire you for your expertise but offer ill-informed, bad advice, you're hurting both companies and you and your fellow bloggers in the long run.

However, this is the smaller problem by far. What is more important is that companies get help from people who really understand using social media tools.

I don't mean that companies should pursue the rather clueless efforts to hire college-age digital natives who have a blog and just looooove to update their Facebook status every hour and have thousands of followers on Twitter, as I see companies doing with alarming frequency (oh and pay them nothing as an intern because they get to learn marketing). The recent Goode Job search and initial Best Buy hiring requirements debacles show that companies get that they need to develop understanding and expertise around social media but don't know what to look for. In Murphy-Goode's case they disregarded the results of the popularity contest they promoted and were more concerned with marketing credentials, which aren't often the basis for winning popularity contests. In the case of Best Buy, they got called out by marketing professionals who rightly questioned how having 250 minimum followers on Twitter transformed a graduate degree into social media marketing expertise. To Best Buy's credit, they listened and refined their approach.

In fact, Best Buy's new job posting for Sr. Manager of Emerging Media provides good guidance for the kind of in-house expertise most companies, especially larger companies that engage in consumer-focused marketing, need to develop. There need to be resources in companies who have both an understanding of classic, proven-effective marketing techniques and meaningful, relevant experience in the social media space.

And I believe companies need to have that expertise, those bilingual translators who speak both blogger and marketer, in-house. Although companies often work with outside agencies to execute and implement marketing efforts such as advertising and PR, they still have internal departments and deep knowledge of how to plan and use those tools as well as how to measure results and adjust efforts accordingly. Just as companies don't hire PR or advertising agencies without having some basis for determining the agency's qualifications and the desirability of campaigns they propose and then evaluating their effectiveness, companies need to be prepared to apply those same standards to social media marketing proposals and efforts from outside agencies.

Also, it is increasingly important that marketers become fluent in these languages and that they get the social mediasphere. Having in-house expertise will help them develop that fluency and deep understanding so that digital/emerging/social media marketing becomes part of the tool box of every good, well-rounded marketer.

I firmly believe that best practices will really be established when proven marketing techniques meet the exuberant frontier of passionate expression and communities. Let's not ignore or fail to understand one or privilege the other. 

Bonus Reading:

Two posts from a marketer perspective emerging from the 2009 BlogHer Conference

Jeremy Pepper at POP! PR Jots: Don't be THAT PR person at BlogHer (Or Any Event) Annie Heckenberger at Social Media Is The New Black: Let's talk about Blogher '09

Maria Niles speaks both marketing and blogging at Fizz from ConsumerPop.

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