As the worlds of search, social and PR continue to converge, so it becomes more essential for brands to understand the importance of engaging with influencers.
Since Google’s algorithm changed to place more emphasis on quality, authoritative content when ranking sites in its search results, more and more brands are recognising the importance of bringing on board highly engaged individuals with a large fan base as part of a holistic approach to their online campaigns – and by creating compelling content, are simultaneously ticking the SEO box without resorting to ‘black hat’ linkbait tactics.
The purchase behaviour of today’s consumers is increasingly influenced by reviews over traditional forms of advertising, and by participating in blogger outreach campaigns, brands can influence the social conversation around their product offering.
Jo-Ann Fortune, fashion and retail editor at digital agency iCrossing, explains that the internet has provided the means for brands looking to connect their products with influential individuals in order to better engage with their target audiences.
“Brands have always looked to align with certain people to help bring their products to life, and with the internet giving everyone from the fashionista next door to the thrifty housewife a voice, influencers are increasingly people that we can relate to. Real opinions and images can help brands connect with the target audience on a more personal level than a flashy advert, especially as readers can directly join in the conversation. By partnering with creative people within your target network you can create varied and unique content that speaks directly to that audience.”
However, Fortune adds that brands considering blogger campaigns a cheap option need to rethink their approach, as they should be viewed as professional partnerships in order to get the best results.
Uniqlo is one example of a brand which has embraced blogger outreach in a number of ways, working with iCrossing to integrate blogger engagement as part of its ongoing search marketing strategy.
The brand wanted to engage with a younger and more fashion-focused audience and commissioned a group of fashion bloggers to create original content around its collection with Celia Birtwell. In addition to this, a social competition combined with PPC used for direct response resulted in a social network reach of over 150,000 and a revenue increase of 80 per cent. In another example of the brand’s outreach, a live Google+ Hangout involved Orla Kiely being interviewed by a select group of influential UK fashion bloggers.
“We’re always keen to find new and innovative ways to work with online influencers to help engage and inspire our customers on a personal level,” says Alice Frost, European digital and CRM manager for Uniqlo. “The most successful approach for us is to create bespoke campaigns and experiences that bloggers and their followers can get genuinely excited about.
“Our most recent campaign, using Google+ Hangout functionality, offered blogger fans the unique opportunity to ask designer and Uniqlo collaborator Orla Kiely questions directly as well as providing them with quality content that they’d helped to create – something that they naturally wanted to share with their readers.”
The approach not only enabled fashion bloggers to partake in the Hangout, but also invited fans to send in their own questions for Orla while watching live, giving it a social participation element. Frost says the campaign has helped Uniqlo increase its reach within relevant networks, the results of which have contributed to the impressive revenue the collection has driven.
Outside of the retail sector, blogger engagement is also having an impact in the travel vertical. Small Luxury Hotels of the World, which has a portfolio of over 520 independent luxury hotels worldwide, worked with The Search Agency to increase search visibility of the brand using off-page SEO techniques. The campaign involved working with the world’s top 20 travel bloggers to promote the brand by creating niche blog posts around the topic of luxury hotels. The activity resulted in significant improvement in search visibility against top keywords and target destinations, as well as increased visibility for the brand on social networks.
Adam Keyes, content and promotions executive at The Search Agency, argues that blogger outreach is now “near essential” for a brand to succeed in its SEO goals. “The influence that a blogger holds over his community and any other prospective online consumer searching for an authoritative voice on a particular product or service has only increased due to Google’s introduction of Google Authorship Markup, which enables the search giant to rank not only the authority of a particular blog but more specifically a blogger, irrespective of the platform that his content has been produced on,” he says.
Keyes adds that this blogger authority leads to “consideration”, rather than content dismissal, from consumers, saying: “Blogger outreach is essential in accelerating the necessary ‘know, like, trust’ process that is essential in achieving the required conversions you set out for.”
Laura Tinker, head of blogger engagement at iProspect, agrees that blogger engagement is “vital” for SEO strategies, as it’s “a way of building genuine links in places where the client’s prospects are engaging.”
She adds: “User generated content is far richer than placing content on web pages, as you can guarantee that no two pieces will be the same and the blogger is giving their unbiased opinion to an engaged audience who take their advice.”
Quality content is key in the quest for meaningful, successful blogger outreach campaigns. Brands simply employing paid link-building strategies with the aim of increasing off-page SEO visibility not only risk Google penalties (as seen with the search engine’s penalisation of florist brand Interflora earlier this year), but are missing a trick when it comes to realising the social advantages to a more joined-up approach, according to Aresha Krishnan, senior content manager at Cheil.
“Blogger engagement is crucial – they essentially act as potential brand advocates – but it has to be as part of an educated SEO strategy,” says Krishnan. “I stress ‘educated’ because it is surprising how often you see blogger and influencer engagement from a social and PR perspective running cluelessly in tandem with tactical SEO paid link-building. Too many agencies fail to identify the huge opportunity to join the dots to form a more holistic digital content strategy,” she adds.
Cheil’s work with Samsung for its ‘We Are David Bailey’ campaign saw the brand enlist the help of key bloggers to crowdsource amateur photographers who shared the same name, who then went on to use the new Samsung NX1000 camera to create a series of YouTube master classes, achieving over one million views. The campaign drove consideration of the brand by over 600 per cent. Meanwhile, the brand’s ‘Over to You’ campaign, which invited key millennial influencers to review products, racked up 500,000 YouTube views in the first seven weeks of launch.
The engagement of bloggers and influencers to create content and align with brand messaging should be high on the list of priorities for marketers looking to increase search visibility, brand advocacy and social visibility. iCrossing’s Fortune suggests that instead of thinking in silos, “marketers should start with an idea that will get people talking, be that on blogs or social channels.” By asking what’s in it for their target audiences, brands are on the right track to creating the compelling content that is ever more crucial to a successful online presence.
Tips for Blogger Outreach
• Ensure you are targeting relevant bloggers
It is key for marketers to identify the most relevant and authoritative blogs for their brand and business – and rule out those which will not add value or not be relevant to target audiences. Adam Keyes, content and promotions executive at The Search Agency, says: “Any blogger worth his salt will not promote content that they feel is not relevant to their readers, as this would go some way to eradicate the trust that has been built up over time between them and their audience.
• Adopt a personal approach
Impersonal generic emails are likely to leave bloggers cold, says Aresha Krishnan, senior content manager (Europe) at Cheil UK, who says it is wise to spend time getting to know your target bloggers. “As with nearly every marketing discipline, the round-robin, robotic “Hi, hope you’re well” e-mails should be a no-no,” she says. Instead, marketers should “read about what they’re about, find out what interests them and hand pick the right ones for your content “pitch”. Approach them based on the understanding that their interest is ideal for the concept you have. Start a conversation and wait until the second or third email to fully explain the entire concept. Don’t try to kill one bird with ten paragraphs of stone.”
• Ideas are key
If bloggers aren’t interested in the idea, outreach simply won’t work, according to iCrossing’s fashion and retail editor Jo-Ann Fortune, who advises selecting individuals on a case-by-case basis for each different campaign. She also says brands should “come up with something that they can get genuinely excited about – this can help reduce the emphasis on you chasing and prompting and make the whole process more natural”.
“Think beyond the bloggers themselves to make the most of your great ideas. Ask what’s in it for the readers of these blogs? Can you get them involved in some way to increase reach? And how can you utilise content created in partnership with bloggers across social to encourage engagement within a wider network?”
This feature was first published as part of The Drum’s Search supplement on 13 December. Click here to purchase a copy