My Social Studies Posts Today

Twitter’s Election Tool (see link for post)

Blogger Outreach: The College Party Analogy (cross posted with Social Studies)

This was my second year attending BlogWorld & New Media Expo. Starting with the opening keynote on Friday, it was clear 2008 is the year marketers are formally staking their claim on social media. As more of us realize the power, permeance and influence social media has on both our clients and personal brand, the opportunities for creative, experimental, influential and fun (!) campaigns continue to present themselves.

Presented by industry guru Dave Taylor, the Executive and Entrepreneur Opening Keynote featured his “State of the Blogosphere.” As Dave traced the method of storytelling to the beginning of civilization, I appreciated his comments about bias and subjectivity – two of the biggest arguments we face regarding social media — tracing back to the first blush of communication.

As expression evolved — from Anne Frank’s diary to spray painted graffiti, blogs to social networks — Dave reminded us the future of social media is linked to the past and has its roots in basic 1:1 communication.

I have eight posts worth of takeaways to share from the conference, but I’ll start with something you can put into use today. This past weekend, Dave was first among many to talk about blogger outreach: answering the new age question, “How do I pitch bloggers?”

Most organizations (including ours) have an official blog outreach policy and plenty of expertise to share when it comes to sharing client messages with online advocates.

But the analogy Dave, Jason Falls and others were sharing – while not necessarily new or cutting-edge – will hopefully help you put your outreach responsibilities into perspective…

A best practice for engaging with your clients’ online stakeholders is for you, personally, to already have a relationship with them (yep, just like traditional PR 101). That means reading their blog, leaving comments, sending them e-mail feedback and tips when it’s not linked to a client. Because you are a valuable member of the community and the blogger (and his/her commenters) know you, they will excuse and hopefully welcome a bit of self-promotion or quick client heads-up. The best case if that you’ve knowingly added to the content and conversation at the most strategic time.

The worst case for engaging with bloggers on behalf of a client is finding yourself in a situation where you need to reach out to a blogger cold. You’ve never e-mailed the blogger, and they don’t know you from that businessman from Nigeria offering a lucrative business proposition. You’ve never left a comment on this blog and therefore have no stake or reputation in the community. The worst case is you pop in to naïvely “pitch” the blogger about something they’re not interested in and then disappear again.

The metaphor many were using at BlogWorld is a college party. You know, the kind of get-together where you may know a few people but are still on the lookout for a new friend or that special someone (wink wink, nudge nudge).

Now when you encounter a party, you walk in the door and say “Hi” to the host of the party first. You don’t immediately go up to a group of people talking in a circle, interrupt their conversation and say something like, “Hi, I’m Stingray from Giant Marketing Agency, and this is my client, Soap. Do you use Soap? Check out”

Instead, you walk around the room to get a feel for the party vibe. You may stand in the corner and wait for a break of tactful opportunity — your turn to introduce yourself. Eventually, you may mention where you work or what types of clients you work with, but it’s rarely the first thing you throw out there when meeting new people.

You can imagine the reaction if you walked up to a group of chatting football players and jumped into their conversation with a story about your painted bead collection. Now there will always be exceptions (Coco loves his beads and football), but I hope you can understand the metaphor.

I’ll even take it a step further. You don’t just find yourself at a party. First, you have to know about the party. You may have learned of it via a friend (word of mouth), a formal invitation (perhaps a flyer or e-mail?) or perhaps it was a listed event (calendar). You probably needed directions to get there, and you may have asked around before you showed up to research the dress code, what kinds of people will be attending (athletes? cheerleaders? A/V club?) and you might have prepared some talking points in advance to chat about.

To put it more simply, in the real world (IRL, as we geeks call it), you would do your homework before showing up somewhere you will be expected to communicate –- especially on behalf of a client.

Hopefully this metaphor better helps illustrate that social media outreach is no different than conversations at a party. A common theme at BlogWorld was the new importance of being part of the community in today’s PR.

And while the openness and variety of personalities, styles and opinions often present risks, the opportunity to face and embrace online advocate bias and subjectivity is more than worth the investment.

So get out and join the conversation (and save your beer cup for the next party).