How to Relate to Brands and Bloggers

bbsummit12-chicago-brands-bloggers-summitThere are over 200 million blogs with lots of information out there, but there is only one you. Be who you are and brands will come to you.” Liz Strauss at BBSummit12

Who holds the keys to the brand’s relationships?

A conversation to explore this question took place in Chicago at BBSummit12 on July 21. Disclosure: As as a speaker, I received a complimentary BBSummit12 conference ticket, meals and overnight accommodations. Thanks to MJ Tam and Social RevUp for asking me to moderate the media gap panel.

How to Relate to Brands and Bloggers Panel Notes

Offering useful insights for brands, bloggers – and PR pros, the event’s opening panel covered a wide range of topics. It’s interesting to see how relationship references are changing. Are bloggers ambassadors, community managers or something else? What do you think?

During the session, I took some notes. Apologies to the presenters for any inaccuracies. Were you there? What did I miss?

Blogger and Brand Relationships Panel Description–Taking It To The Next Level: After a trend shift, bloggers are suddenly more than amplifiers for brands via reviews, sponsored posts, and the “Ambassador” title. They are now being brought into the fold and have become partner allies in marketing by providing feedback, running programs, and even becoming Community Managers. The terminology has become muddled. How do brands see Ambassadors and Community Managers, and how do bloggers position themselves when trying to partner with a brand? What’s next? Source: BBSummit12

BBSummit Brands and Blogger Panel Participants

Bio clips from the SocialRevUp site.

Liz Strauss is perhaps the most influential non-celebrity blogger on the Internet. Liz blogs at Successful Blog and is the CEO and founder of SOBCon.

Fred Goodall started Mocha Dad in 2008 to chronicle his life as a new father. In addition to Mocha Dad, Fred writes the music blog Six String Theories and produces the web show, Mommy to the Max, with his wife.

Liz Thompson is a freelance writer and founder of where she has enjoyed writing about the trials and tribulations of raising three teens, one tween, and killer dust bunnies since 2003.

Niri Jaganath traded the rat race in Engineering for her rug rats and returned to her passion for writing at after she became a mom. A recently launched site,, focuses on using social media for social good.

Stacey Weckstein blogs about being an inspiring entrepreneur, body/mind/spirit, travel, wellness, me time, and more at

Connie Burke is GM’s Communications Manager. When GM needed to add a voice for their social media efforts, Connie decided it was time to step out of her darkened cubicle and into the light.

Mary Couzin began as a game designer some 18 years ago, and then founded to help other designers. In 2003, Mary launched the Chicago Toy and Game Fair.

What do you look for in a brand ambassador?

Mary said, “We look for someone who promotes play.” It’s also helpful when the blogger will tell them what they’re doing right/wrong and what they can do to reach more people.

Connie said, “Using your authentic voice is really important. You have to be enthusiastic about the brand.” A brand ambassador is someone who talks about why they are a happy customer. There are lots of ways to be creative about why you’re a happy customer as you’ll see when you watch the video embedded in this post.

Fred’s first brand relationship was with Samsung. He took people around Houston and showed them “why we love our city.”

Before he agreed to participate, Fred wanted to get information about the project and what Samsung expected of him. In order to have a good working relationship, brands and bloggers have to agree on what the blogger can do for them.

Sometimes the brand isn’t a good fit for the blogger. When Stacey wants to decline an offer, she sends a 1-2 sentence email back to the brand, which is often represented by an agency.

Liz T’s biggest problem right now is that brands don’t see bloggers as communities. She doesn’t like the sense of competition among bloggers. She tells brands not to be afraid to talk to bloggers, “We’re nice.”

Liz S calls agencies to ask to speak to the person who sends pitches gone wrong – like the one she got for pacifiers.

What is the first thing you can say to get the blogger’s or the brand’s attention?

For Connie, it’s about stories. She asks, “What are you writing about lately?” Connie wants to get to know the writer. She says you have to be a compelling writer, not Hemingway, but you have to write in an authentic voice.

For example, Connie suggests looking at Suburban Scrawl. You don’t have to know Melissa, the writer, but you feel like you’re her best friend when you read her blog.

Brands should want to get to know the blogger on a personal level so bloggers can say something like, “Connie is my friend that works at GMC.” It’s all about the relationship. It’s not a one and done thing.

Fred reminded us that brands aren’t big monolithic companies – they’re people.

You can get started by making some initial introductions. What brands really want to see is how you can help them. You have to bring them something different, something they can’t get on their own.

Stacey says working with brands is similar to dating – it’s about listening.

She’s always interested in the answers to these questions: Why is the brand here? What’s the strategy and purpose? Is there a potential fit? If you really listen, you can tell if they want numbers and tweets, or ideally, do they want to establish an ongoing relationship?

To start engaging with brands, Stacey says “First of all, let’s talk about why you are here.” That opens the door for her to engage on a professional level.

Liz T’s current favorite brand relationship is with Hallmark. Thanks to her eastern European background, every thing is a Hallmark moment in her house. [As a second generation Hungarian married to a Hungarian/Czech, I can relate.]

How do you balance measuring tracking and engagement with right sizing relationships?

The Chicago Toy and Gift Fair gives bloggers free weekend passes to giveaway. They can tell who got the word out.

Niri said, “I look it as not going wide, but going deep. You can tweet all day, but that doesn’t mean you’re influential.”

Liz T thinks this issue is still evolving. What’s most important is finding out what brands are looking for. What bothers her right now is when brands bid out projects and ask bloggers, “How much would you like to get paid?” It’s all about personal preference.

Niri’s criteria is based upon a few questions. Do I like the brand? Does it make sense? Do I want to be in that space? Does it help me to pursue a personal goal? Does the brand know me? The fact that a brand knows her kids’ ages is a big thing.

Liz S advises having your goals aligned. If you don’t know what your goals are, you won’t know what opportunities to say no to. She also suggests putting a value on your time. It helps to make things less emotional.

Ask yourself: How much time will this take? When you put a value on your time, you start to get a sense of what you should ask for.

“I don’t know anybody who got where they wanted to go by sleeping with the whole football team,” Liz S. said. So, be choosy. No one will value you more than you value yourself.

She also recommended buying your domain name for at least two years. It’s a lot harder to get listed on Google with a one-year domain name registration.

Connie finds that media kits are extremely important. It’s critical that you include an easy way to contact you via phone or email.

As a brand community manager, Stacey values “about me” pages.

What’s your number one turnoff when approached by a PR firm?

For obvious reasons, Mocha Dad doesn’t like being addressed as “Dear Mommy Blogger.”

Niri’s blog is, but that doesn’t mean her first name is “Mommy.” When an email comes in addressed to “Dear Mommy” she knows the PR firm didn’t do its homework.

Liz T once got an email addressed to “Dear xxx;” the PR firm forgot to put anything in the address field.

How do we help brands see that there’s more value in working together other than giveaways?

Niri likes to work with brands that get involved in her social efforts.

Liz T researches the brand to see if there are any underlying issues before establishing a relationship.

Liz S sees people get into conflicts online with brands and lose sight of the fact that other brands are watching them.

Start by looking for examples of what’s been done well. Then come up with an idea or a plan, for example a two-month trial.

Start your pitch out with you, not I. Always be careful. Whenever you make yourself the center of the universe, you fly out of balance.

Make the brand the center and tell them why their life will be different as a result of working with you.

Connie suggests answering questions from the brand’s perspective: Tell me why I should care about you.

To Stacey, it’s about serving. How can you serve the brand and your community? She fell in love with the Chevy Volt because it serves the earth and brings consciousness to the community.

Mary loves it when bloggers say, “I have this idea.”

Liz S suggests saying, “I have this idea and this is what will happen . . .”

Although you should be careful about handing out campaign contact details, ask if the brand wants to get in contact with other bloggers.

When Stacey gets pitched, she pitches right back and offers to help out as a community manager. Let the brand know how you can bring added value.

Liz S wants the brand to tell her why they picked her and what they’re looking for.

Niri likes doing review posts and adds a disclosure even if there is no material connection. She then mentions the brand on twitter and tags them on Facebook to let them know about the post.

Connie thinks writing about what you love makes you more credible.

Fred recommends finding your passion and writing in your voice, “Make sure you’re really true to yourself. People want to see who you are. Your audience wants you to stay true to your roots.”

During the session, we watched this Chevy Volt brand ambassador video. We all enjoyed it. I hope you do, too.

In 2011, i had the honor of moderating a BBSummit panel on how to improve brands and blogger relationships.

How do you think the conversation’s evolved? What brands do you think are doing a good job with blogger relations? Why?

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