If I had a dime for every time I'm asked this question by a marketer: Is there any easy way to find influencers and engage them? The fixer in me wants to share a simple tip, something foolproof. But after nearly five years working in this space I have none. Nada. I do have a jump-start method, though, that works more like a vitamin than an antibiotic: you have to take it regularly to see the results. And it's deceptively simple: comment on blogs.
When I first started blogging, and getting comments other than words of praise from my first reader—my mother—I obsessed about replying. I responded to everything and tried to personalize every response. Usually, if the commenter had a blog, I went to his or her site, found an interesting post, and returned the favor of engagement.
This act of reciprocity grew my traffic considerably, and I counseled anyone I knew who was building a blog platform to do the same. In fact, the first piece of advice I give anyone, personal or corporate blogger, before they start posting content is to read others' blogs and to comment on them. For me, it helped me get a sense of what was out there in my blog category, and the bloggers that I would want to connect to when I built my blog. Later, this led to a significant community of like-minded, positive responders, and a continual source of content that I could refer to in my blog.
Years later, with my time much more limited to write posts and browse blogs of interest, much less write thoughtful comments on them, the traffic on my personal blog has diminished to a pittance, as have the comments. The comments I do get fall along the lines of spam, or people who have chanced upon my blog via search and lent their two cents to a post I wrote three or four years ago. Posts that included brand names, getting married, being a thirty-something, sex, or some commonly referenced search term, you get the gist. I miss the engagement, but I can't really blame anyone but myself. I broke the feedback loop when I stopped commenting on blogs.
I'm sure many of us would like to think that at some future threshold of popularity we won't need to engage other bloggers to generate traffic. This works only for a scant few. There are indeed popular bloggers who don't comment on other blogs. There are even some popular bloggers who don't allow comments on their own blogs (gasp!) But for most blog mortals, there is a direct correlation between the engagement on your blog, and your engagement with others' blogs.
This is problematic for brands trying to develop relationships with bloggers. One might say, "You mean I need to troll the Internet all day and comment on blogs, just to get some traffic?" Not necessarily; there are many blogging consultants and professional bloggers that you can hire to be your representative in the social media space, a practice and contractual relationship that you should be very up-front about in order to avoid future FTC scrutiny. But compensation doesn't guarantee relationships that stick. And you may not ever really "get" the Blogosphere until you get in there yourself.
And while good Blog Karma isn't something brands can rely on as a marketing strategy, you can build some protection for your brand by connecting with target influencers online before you need their attention.
So how do successful bloggers build that powerful engagement loop? Understanding how bloggers comment helps. Just as there are types of bloggers there are types of comments, each of which are appropriate for different types of engagement (and no, these are not official types, just my own designations):
· In da club: So named because reading these comments feels like being in a club, where everyone knows each other and is ignoring you. These are especially common on strong community blogs, such as mommyblogs or fan blogs. Common attributes: strongly supportive, if short, comments; many acronyms and allusions to things you know nothing about:
"Right on, sistah!"
"*HIGH-FIVE & BLOG TERRORIST FIST-BUMP*."
"LOL and XOX."
"Buying you drinks at SXSW; beware the blu martinis (bwahahahaha)…"
The secret here is that these folks are deceptively receptive. Just by acknowledging you are new to the scene you earn points. No insider knowledge necessary, and please don't try to pretend you have any if you don't.
· Awe and Wonder: These are common affinity generators, where a reader often makes public his or her agreement with the blogger's post, or amazement with his or her writing ability. I found some of my first few blog buddies by sharing comments of awe and wonder, but do beware of the A&W's cousins, brown-nosing, and opportunism. Much of the more evolved SPAM involves text of Awe and Wonder that seems off by several degrees and suggests the sender hasn't read a line of the post. Bloggers often mistake inauthentic awe and wonder for SPAM and delete, especially A&W that then suspiciously includes links to product.
· Documentation Comments: I believe strongly in these comments for marketers. When a brand is disparaged, mentioned negatively, or referred to inaccurately on a blog, these comments help set the record straight. These comments are posted, not to change the mind of the disparaging blogger, but to provide facts, opposing insight, or additional information for readers who might chance upon these comments. One of the best examples I've seen recently comes from an agency representing one of our sponsors, who offered up additional information behind his company's products. Note there's no defensiveness here, just the facts, so that readers who might want to glean the whole story may do so. Really good documentation, coupled with good relationships with other bloggers might even stimulate blogger defense of your brands. Booyah!
Beware the less well-intentioned version of these, the CYA Comment, which is more defensive in tone, or is so devoid of humanity that it screams outsourced "influencer relations" in Siberia.
· Kissing the ring: Similar to Awe and Wonder, but kissing the ring may not mean commenting positively. It means showing up on a blog because you want to be seen commenting there. Kiss the Ring comments have a dual role of 1) showcasing your knowledge of a subject and 2) making yourself known to someone with whom you want to build a relationship. Though in some sectors, such as politics and tech, this can fall into the "Showboating" or "GYOB" categories (as in, "Dude, Get Your Own Blog rather than hijacking mine.") So what's wrong with kissing the ring? Nothing. It's business; and I don't know a blogger who doesn't appreciate some thoughtful discussion on her site, or who doesn't kiss the ring elsewhere.
For examples of kissing the ring, go to the site TechCrunch, where tech and business geeks both kiss and crap on the ring, both to the same effect.
While you can't control how others portray your brand online you do build positive leverage (and dare I say karma) by engaging. Consider this pre-emptive insurance against brand sabotagers or trolls. Your daily blog vitamin.
As co-founder and President of Strategic Alliances for BlogHer, Jory Des Jardins is an innovator in online advertising, women's media and Internet entrepreneurship. Jory can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read all Jory’s MediaBizBlogger commentaries at Jory Des Jardin - MediaBizBlogger.