If the annual Blogher Conference, held earlier this month at the New York Hilton is any indication, working with bloggers is high on the agenda of many, if not most, major brands and agencies.
Generally accepted as the conference for female (and a few male) bloggers, attendance more than doubled this year (2,400 attendees) and was packed with representatives of major -- and quite a few smaller -- brands. This was my third year attending the conference and, as always, I was slightly bemused and more than a little overwhelmed by the three days of sessions, parties, exhibits and gatherings.
This year, I noted that attendance by brands in many of the sessions crept up again, composing at least a third of attendees for popular topics. And this year there seems to be a greater meeting of the minds.
The focus of the conference this year was "Power." While most bloggers don't deliver the eyeballs of traditional print (which is shrinking by the minute), they can deliver a targeted niche with a very effective CPM. That is not to say that outreach to bloggers will continue to be free. Blogger outreach and social media in general are beginning to straddle the gap between paid and earned media.
After being taken seriously as writers, bloggers most want some kind of acknowledgement of their work. Increasingly, this is taking the form of some kind of payment. This topic came up quite a bit at the conference.
In the Federal Trade Commission panels at Blogher, business discussions arose around the FTC ruling that any type of payment to bloggers, including free samples, needs to be acknowledged by the blogger and the brand is responsible for at least making that clear to bloggers with whom they work.
At topic-specific sessions, again and again bloggers wondered why brands do not offer some type of payment -- something as simple as buying an ad on a blogger's page to compensate them for running a contest.
The gap still exists between bloggers who, increasingly, would like to be paid for their work and brands who believe bloggers should be treated as paid journalists are when writing a review, but it is narrowing. This is perhaps out of necessity as brands find that bloggers, overwhelmed by pitches from agencies, are not as open to taking on reviews as they were in the past ... and getting that review can end up taking a lot more work.
Now is the time when more thoughtful approaches to blogger outreach will bear fruit. Bloggers often act as alpha consumers rather than journalists. Their writing influences numerous potential consumers, but in many ways, they respond to outreach more as consumers than as journalists.
Keeping that in mind may make the difference between brands whose social media programs succeed and those who don't this year.