The New Blogger Relations: Sway Them or Buy Them?

[Bloggers meet with Pansonic execs at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, photo courtesy Greg Verdino]

As the media landscape continues to change at an exponentially fast rate, so do the tactics and tools communications professionals use to excel at their craft.

Some of these new tactics were profiled in a recent Adweek feature story, “Brands Tap Web Elite for Advertorial 2.0,” by digital editor Brian Morrissey.

Centered around several campaigns that took place at this month’s Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas, Morrissey highlighted a Panasonic social media campaign as “one of several undertaken by brands carving out a new take on the old notion of advertorial. Rather than relying on magazines, they are contracting with influential bloggers who bring with them their own powerful distribution networks. Rather than a long-form narrative, content is fit for the Web via blog posts, Twitter updates and YouTube videos. And the key differentiator: instead of dictating the content to lead to a sale, brands typically keep their distance to maintain credibility.”

PRNewser spoke with representatives from several of the companies mentioned in the story, including Greg Verdino, Chief Strategy Officer at crayon (who was responsible for the Panasonic campaign) and Izea CEO Todd Murphy (who’s company provides a more “direct” model of sponsored blog posts, where a blogger is paid to write about a certain product or service.)

When asked about the differences between crayon’s program with Panasonic and IZEA’s “sponsored posts,” Verdino told PRNewser. “While they look the same in many ways, if you look at the mechanics of the programs, they are actually quite different. Many of the Izea programs are very descriptive in things they require. Izea has rights to approve or not approve posts you write. There are lots of specifics in how you talk about the brand. I don’t mean to denigrate Izea. From what I’ve heard, word is their programs have delivered results. I think the key difference is that our objective was not to get coverage about Panasonic…instead we wanted to spark a conversation that was enabled by Panasonic.”

As Verdino also stated to Adweek‘s Morrissey, he insisted there was no quid pro quo. “We were very clear that we were going to provide them opportunity to use Panasonic equipment, and give them access to Panasonic execs, and of course, we’re marketers, it would be foolish for us to say we didn’t want them to cover those things, but we wanted them to do it in a way that was true to their ethos. Some blogs provided barely any coverage. Some provided mixed reviews and that’s ok,” he said.

However, not all agree with crayon’s strategy. “What I find most interesting is that Panasonic has remained silent,” said social media consultant and Disruptology blogger Aaron Uhrmacher. “There isn’t a company representative participating on Twitter – despite sponsoring a Tweet-up at CES – or commenting on any of the blog posts discussing their ‘blogger relations’ strategy. Instead, it is the marketing agency they hired that replies to tweets, blog posts and the like. It seems to me that Panasonic has missed an opportunity to actually participate in the conversation they helped create.”

Back to Izea, the company certainly has had its own communications issues to attend to. It was first known as “PayPerPost,” the aforementioned model in which bloggers are paid to write about different web sites, products are services. The practice generated some unfavorable reactions among the didgerati, and was followed by the change in name. However, CEO Ted Murphy told PRNewser the name change was “more about our growth than PR. As the company has matured we have launched different products that didn’t make sense under the PayPerPost name.”

Asked about what he thought is an optimal balance for a blogger between sponsored and non-sponsored content, Murphy stated, “Like all advertising it is important to maintain balance. In my opinion the optimal ratio is one sponsored post for every ten normal posts.”

crayon’s Verdino sees things differently. “The notion of ‘PayPerWhatever,’ seems so manipulative, so calculative and so kind of old school,” he said. “I didn’t like Brian’s (Morrissey) [title] Advertorial 2.0 as it pertained to my program, but that is almost exact what PayPerPost is.”

Regardless of the differences in opinion, it has become clearer that like it or not, these tactics are here to stay. The question is, will you use them, and how?