Eric D. from Iowa State University provided a thought to me via LinkedIn during my writer’s block mentioned in my last blog (a precursor to the new “Ask a Marketing Consultant”). His question: “I’d like to know what criteria to use to decide if a blogger is regarded as being influential in a particular field. With so many bloggers out there, how do I decide who is "relationship worthy" — especially if my goal is to enhance my college’s reputation.” Be sure to add your thoughts in the comments below, I am sure Eric would appreciate the additional input.
Eric, thank you for this great question. I see this as two parts: The first part I would like to touch on is most intriguing: “if my goal is to enhance my college’s reputation.” It would be very time consuming and costly to “enhance” a reputation via blogger relationships.
I may be splicing words, but I would say building blogger relationships are a good way to help support a college’s reputation rather than create a college’s reputation. Bloggers could be considered a cross between an influencer and a member of the press. Time would be best served by starting with a phone conversation to see how a relationship can be carried out. One potential way – ask permission to send the blogger your press releases or send them some influencer materials via email or mail. Or if possible ask to do a guest blog on occasion on some agreed upon topics.
For a negative example – and coincidently enough – I received an email an hour ago asking me to look through a company website about accredited online higher education. The email was not a press release, but a generic request that asked me to review and post their URL in one of my blogs. My immediate reaction was that this tactic was kind of shady and I immediately had a negative reaction to the organization. If I were them, I would have called first and figured out a way to incorporate their ideas, not try to shove it at me with little explanation.
If you are looking to spread your college’s reputation via blogs, it could be more resource efficient to create a blog or a community of blogs for your college. This would also prove more beneficial as you would not be carrying the college’s reputation alone; you would have college stakeholder’s behind you for support and help. Here are some pointers when creating a community blog:
- Create an online space for students, faculty, staff, and alumni, to write about their achievements, successes, and even some of their mistakes. Make sure this space is easy to use and complete with some useful widgets
- Screen writers in order to be deemed appropriate for being a brand ambassador. Be sure to check:
- Level of activity on campus
- General extracurricular activities like volunteering or working
- How much longer will they be a student there
- Overall attitude and demeanor
- Style of writing
- Set boundaries: for example no bad language or talk of sex, drugs, drinking, or personal attacks, etc.
- Check for expertise: are the writers knowledgeable enough in an important subject
- Variety: of course there would occasionally be some overlap in blog post topics, but don’t have all the writers write about the same general topic. If you have 3 students for example – 1) could talk about business, 2) could write about engineering, and 3) could write about their student activities
- Provide some direction for who should write, when should they post, and what to write about in terms of a general topic
- Marketing: how will you get the news of your blog out to potential readers. Who is the audience? How can the audience be reached and made aware of your blog?
Now on to the second part: “how do I decide which bloggers are relationship worthy”? This brings up a valid point – the blogosphere is crowded. Some content is worthwhile, but a whole lot of it is questionable. You’ll do well to be choosy about who you build relationships with.
Your school’s “reputation” is formed to some degree by the company you keep. If you start building relationships with bloggers who stand for something hostile or adverse to your school’s brand or reputation, then associating with that blogger is liable to do more harm than good.
Here are some suggestions:
- Review the Blogosphere: do a review of the blogs you consider following. Get suggestions from folks on social networks, search online, and ask coworkers. Follow these blogs for several weeks and get a sense for some of the criteria below.
- Quantity: while monitoring quantities of a blog can help, it isn’t the best indicator of a good blog because some good blogs are not always well read or commented on. Sometimes the blogger will place a widget on the side of their blog showing the number of readers. Also, review the number of comments. A large number of comments does not mean it is a good blog – what are people writing in the comments (see below). In blogging, it is not so much about quantity as it is quality.
- Writer(s): who is he/she/they? Are they considered experts about what they are writing about? Check on Twitter to see how often their Twitter handle is mentioned and the type of followers they have.
- Practitioner vs. Observer: Practitioners in the particular field you seek are typically more credible as they often have first-hand knowledge about a particular subject matter. Observers tend to write more editorial or opinion related blogs.
- Format: what is the format of the writing – are the posts negative rants, positive discussions, or opinionated editorials. Positive discussions tend to bring in more readers, comments, and elicit thoughtful and constructive discussion.
- Check the Comments: they can tell so much. They can tell how readers feel about the blog. While there are bound to be negative, demeaning, or rude comments, be sure to look at the general tone of the comments as a whole.
- Readers: From the comments, you can usually tell who is reading the blog. If your audiences are matching – great. Also check to see if there is a variety and not the same two people reading and commenting over and over again.
- Social Networks: Use tools like UberVU and Topsy by taking a URL of a particular blog post and pasting it into the site’s search field. This will tell you who is spreading the word about the blog on various social networks. These tools are great – but with all of the URL shortening tools available make it hard for UberVu, Topsy, or similar sites to track all versions of the original URL.
- Other Bloggers: do other bloggers reference your particular blogger on a regular basis? You can most often tell by the pingbacks listed in the comments of one of your bloggers posts.
- Time and Frequency: How long has the blog been around. If it has been around awhile, there are chances the blog has accrued a large following and the writer is serious about creating a long term blog. Also keep an eye on how the time between posts. The more blogs – the more serious the writer is about posting fresh content.
If any others would like to provide some input, please be sure to comment and pass your thoughts along to Eric.