When Bloggers Go Rogue: Toyota and Mommy Networks
In late 2006, Kristen Chase and I formed Parent Bloggers Network. It was designed to be a means of connecting brands and bloggers in a mutually beneficial way. Four years later, there are now literally dozens of blogger review programs. Seems like a quick and easy way to get free stuff and make buckets of money, right?
No. Neither quick, nor easy. We worked our butts off, not to put too fine a point on it, and we dealt with our share of ups and downs. Working with brands and bloggers is certainly fraught with unexpected pitfalls, as Samantha Snyder -- the woman behind Mommy Networks -- discovered this week.
Snyder launched Mommy Networks last year because, as she wrote on her site, mommynetworks.org (which appears to have been taken offline), she wanted "to help get Mommies [sic] jobs and help them find routes to advertise." This week, Snyder attempted to jump-start her business by, as she put it, giving Toyota a little free PR at her own expense. She wanted "to base some outreach and case study development around this topic" -- specifically, around the Toyota recalls of last year and the recently released report that the problem was actually user error, not a manufacturing defect.
An email was sent by Tiffany Lewis on behalf of Mommy Networks to a group of mommy bloggers, offering them a $10 Amazon.com gift card in exchange for writing a post spreading the news about the Toyota report, along with tweeting and giving the "thumbs-up" dozens of links to pro-Toyota articles and videos online. Mommy Networks acted alone, not on the direction of Toyota or their PR firm, and the Internet called them on it -- but not without first placing blame on Toyota.
Blogger Crissy of Dear Crissy blew the whistle first. She posted about the pitch from Mommy Networks, who she thought then had been hired by Toyota, and expressed outrage at the demands of the campaign. Next, Shelly Kramer of V3 Integrated Marketing began digging for information and assembling the puzzle pieces, which really threw Toyota into a tizzy.
Once Toyota disavowed any connection with Mommy Networks on Twitter, the magnifying glass was turned back on Snyder and her company. If Toyota didn't hire them, who did?
Nobody. As crazy as it may sound, the whole initiative was dreamed up and executed by one woman in an ill-conceived effort to get a piece of the brands and bloggers pie.
Last night, Snyder published an apology on mommynetworks.org. (Screenshot of Snyder's apology on Blogworld) It read in part:
To Crissy and Toyota, I am sorry …
I went into a realm that was not my own. I am not a PR person, I have a background in HR, and want to help get Mommies jobs and help them find routes to advertise.
What's worse -- yet sadly not surprising -- is how many people were so quick to assume that Toyota was at fault. Granted, big companies have been known to do dumb stuff, particularly in the realm of social media, but bloggers don't exactly have an unblemished track record either.
It stood to reason that they might be flying blind in a world that's becoming increasingly nuanced and difficult to navigate. (Read Lucretia Pruitt's discussion of brand agency and representation for a more complete breakdown of the business end of this mess.)
Snyder's debacle is a shining example of what not to do where it comes to brand-blogger relationships. But how can you get it right?
Observe others: Social media requires social skills.
It takes time to size up a community, understand how it functions, and carve out a niche for yourself. Doing a figurative cannonball into the shallow end makes a lousy impression. Take a seat on a lounge chair and spend some time looking around poolside before you dive in.
Do your homework: One super easy step that far too few people take.
If you want to work with brands, it's best to differentiate yourself. Start by googling your blog name and tag line ideas before you set up your web site and social media accounts. For example, my friend Liz has been Mom101 since 2006, and her Google alerts continue to turn up new bloggers who've adopted her name, most likely innocently. They aren't really hurting her -- she's well-established as Mom101. But they are hurting themselves by limiting their recognition right from the start. Avoiding this sort of confusion is why Katy Perry changed her name from Katy Hudson. If celebrities have the foresight to do so, you certainly can too.
Observe yourself: If you want to work with brands, make sure that you position yourself accordingly.
Create a professional-looking site and maintain it well. Create interesting, engaging, and compelling content that brings readers back to your site for more. Think critically about which brands are a good fit, both for your site and for you personally. And for Pete's sake, proofread.
Remember why: It's all too easy to get caught up in the perceived competition of social media, but stats and stuff shouldn't be the goal.
Connections are the social part, and content creation is the media part. Without that essential foundation, the rest of it's just a house of cards.
Successful ventures in the social media space require more than good intentions and a few thousand Twitter followers. They require experience, commitment, drive, connections, communication skills, and a clear set of services to be provided and the ability to measure the results. Bloggers who are serious about exploring a career in social media ought to start by doing their homework and learning from the best, not buying a domain name and inventing clients.
Julie Marsh blogs at The Mom Slant.