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I’ll be honest with you, relatively few companies can conduct a successful earned media influencer marketing campaign. Earned media (or free media) refers to publicity gained through promotional efforts other than advertising, as opposed to paid media, which refers to publicity gained through advertising. Once you pay an influencer in any way outside of providing them with free and unencumbered access to your product, you’re advertising: product placement, advertisement, shilling, etc. Once the influencer loses editorial control by virtue of receiving pay-per-post compensation, the campaign is no longer public relations or even marketing, it becomes advertising.

That’s cool.

Earned media influencer marketing is time-consuming. It is like sales. It’s cold-calling. And, like sales, the better the company you represent, the better the product you offer, the better. You can’t just hand out widgets online and expect a successful earned media campaign.

Well, you can. If you have widgets to hand out to bloggers, YouTubers, Instagrammers, and top Vine, SnapChat, and Periscope rockstars, but you’d better be ready for some serious noes. Oh, you’ll also get lots of request for money. People will either point you to their advertising page or they’ll email you a PDF of their rate sheet.

A rate card is generally the way a smart blogger or online influencer says no. Let me explain.

As I said before, public relations isn’t all oaky Chardonnay parties, it’s earned media sales. It’s not just writing and floating press releases, it’s getting on the phone, on the street, into LinkedIn InMail and across social channels, and then onto email. It’s the same sort of rejection you get every day in sales if you don’t have a warm or hot lead already.  That’s why seasoned PR and sales people are so valuable: they know everyone — and the people they don’t know often know of them by their reputation.

Like sales, it’s so much easier to successfully pitch what’s hot than what’s not.  Salespeople like saying they can sell ice to Eskimos, they like saying they can move widgets, no matter what they are.

The same is true with sales and marketing: if you are willing and able to dig deep enough and spend enough time cultivating. And, if you’re willing to really explore the entire world and look under every rock and explore every cave, you’ll surely be able to fill your net with all the fish you’ll ever need. Sadly, there are very few companies who are happy with developing long-term intimate relationships with a committed and passionately-devoted family-cum-customers and be satisfied with that.

“What greater wealth is there than to own your life and to spend it on growing? Every living thing must grow. It can’t stand still. It must grow or perish.”Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

OK, so maybe free market capitalism has gotten a little too much Randian stink on it over the last 50-years, but there’s an expectation of grown, especially when there’s a board or directors, stockholders, and investors involved.

So, to online influencers, no does mean no. But, “here’s my rate card” also means no.  We’re not post earned media influencer marketing, we’re in a world where it’s easier to come up with the $250-$5,000/post it costs to get an influencer to:  write a review?

No, sadly, the truth is that most pay-per-post gigs these days care more about exact keyword links, Google juice, and inbound links these days, oftentimes, than they do have anything with brand-building, buzz-marketing, product-awareness, or anything halfway-noble like that.

People have way more money than sense and an assumption that Google won’t figure out what they’re doing and put an end to it sooner than later. Until then, paying top bloggers $200-$5,000/post is often considered cheap compared to the AdWords contextual bubble where single contextual clicks can be worth hundreds of dollars.

So, people are throwing money around in order to emulate organic reviews and mentions without needing to even learn the art of seduction. Am I calling the new order of lazy, money-laden, pay-per-post influencer marketing prostitution?  If the stiletto fits!

So, don’t worry, my influencer marketing friends! All’s not lost!  Yes means yes!

Yes, yes still means yes!

And if you want to earn those yesses, you need to make sure your brand, your client, your products, and you do your very best to make sure you’re not pushing widgets, that you’re not trying to trade in commodities. That you’ve at least found a way to identify someone who’s super-grateful to have an opportunity to try out your gadget instead of needing to line up behind all the other gadgets that are both more expensive and prestigious.

Don’t pitch a Supercar YouTuber with a used Honda Civic off of your used car lot, in other words. Don’t pitch Melanie Batenchuk a Ford Focus when she’s tooling around in a Phantom Drophead Coupé. Don’t pitch Shmee150 with a Chrysler Pacifica. Trust me.

However, think what can happen if you have an excellent product, something you’re proud of, something that won’t make someone at a cocktail party yawn in your face, and you’re willing to be generous with both your time and your product (give ’til it hurts — then give some more!), and if you’re not going to be an A-list snob and are willing to discover and explore your market, to explore your fan base.

So, you can force-feed the A-list if you have enough money. They can probably be bought. You can surely force-feed the B-D-list because all those guys are on the take (especially when it comes to saying no to you).

However, earned media outreach can be a lot like writing poetry for publication. Like sales, getting your poetry published in a noted and respected journal or publication is soul-killing. I’m convinced that all salesmen and poets really must be sociopaths.  How can someone spend all day, every day, hitting their heads against the wall?

With risk comes reward, right Ayn?

So, first step: make sure you don’t write crap poetry.  Never has a poet been born who thinks his poetry is crap. Also, never has a crap poet not been able to find a circle of poets who appreciates crap poetry.

If you want an honest read of whether your product, service, brand, charity, or creative endeavor is Walt Whitman of West Hills or Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings of Sussex.

Whatever the branding version of workshopping is, you should start there.  A good pulse check is whether or not any of your family or friends are always trying to get free stuff from you, are happy or grateful to receive whatever you make or sell on gifting holidays, especially if they’re ingrate teenagers. Or if people in your environs are always hitting you up for discount codes or if people online are terribly keen to join your affiliate network. If so, you’re halfway there.

The final step is to give until it hurts. To realize that in earned media marketing, due respect is the currency.  Are asking a blogger to take time from his or her day job and and from the business of life in order to write a review based solely on the mouthful collected from that tester you you sent them, the same tester you give away for free at every 5k you’ve ever sponsored?  Good luck!

You should be drop-shipping a gift basket, a full-size product if not a variety pack along with a t-shirt, a baseball cap, a bumper sticker, some cool socks, and maybe even a card that refers to them as a super-special, awesomeballs, double-secret agent Brand Ambassador!

Whatever it takes to initiate a relationship based on mutual respect and appreciation. Or not even mutual!  Who cares about mutual respect, it’s not about you, brand manager.

The thing that’s really missing these days in a world where everyone’s trying to buy the girlfriend experience (none dare call it prostitution) but very few people are putting in the time associated with actually earning that respect.

Long gone are the days when you can be lazy when it comes to blogger outreach and influencer marketing. Long gone are the days when you can email someone a fugly PDF of your book expecting anyone to spend the time doing the work both of reading it and writing a comprehensive review.

Earned media marketing has always been about connecting in meaningful ways with human people who have hopes, dreams, and visions of both love and fame.  We are vain, we’re insecure, we’re sensitive, and we’ve been hurt before.

Don’t insult us or our time. We know what we’re worth and we know that sometimes no doesn’t mean no, it means you’ll probably offer us money in lieu of love or attention (just like a rich dad — time for more therapy). If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.

Tag, you’re it. Now it’s your turn.

And, for those of you who are writing big checks for paid media mentions and review, a huge helping of love, respect, and appreciation in addition to actually offering an amazing product, will benefit your outreaches further than you can ever imaging.

Now, baby we can do it
Take the time, do it right
We can do it, baby
Do it tonight!


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Chris Abraham

About Chris Abraham

A pioneer in online social networks and publishing, with a natural facility for anticipating the next big thing, Chris is an Internet analyst, web strategy consultant and advisor to the industries' leading firms. He specializes in Web 2.0 technologies, including content syndication; organize search engine optimization (SEO), online reputation management (ORM), content marketing, online collaboration, blogging, and consumer generated media.

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