Sep 08, 2011

Bloggers Are People, Too.

Lots of people discuss wild mushrooms online. Some are into hunting illegal psychoatives, others hunt edibles. I’m one of the latter, and this tremendous puffball I found is an edible. Distinctions matter when it comes to personal interest.

One of the coolest things about the blogosphere and the social layer is the absolute ease with which one can find like minded people.  Believe me – whatever hobby, interest or passion floats your boat, you are not alone. Others share your interest, and they are out there – blogging, tweeting, or chatting away in a Facebook group or on a discussion forum.

And best of all, niche interests are well served.  Let’s look at gardening, for example. It’s a marketplace worth billions.  People grow all manner of things in their gardens – veggies, native plants, roses, orchids, lilies, fruit, heirlooms and modern cultivars. Some adhere to biodynamic or organic practices.  Others, plagued by platoons of voracious insects or rampaging weeds, have been driven into a Round-Up and Raid wielding rage, and fully subscribe to the “better living through chemistry” adage.

My point is, if you’re doing PR for a brand in the gardening space, it’s not enough to target “garden blogs.”  Organic gardeners aren’t interested in chemical sprays.  The patient souls who sprout native roses from seeds (a process that takes three years in some cases just to see a single leaf) are not interested in the latest pest-resistant re-blooming landscape rose.

To be effective, communicators must respect the personal interest of their audiences. To do otherwise risks committing deep offense – and triggering a wave of negative publicity that could very easily bleed over into relevant groups.  Unfortunately, despite well-documented missteps over the last few years, some PR pros still haven’t learned these lessons.  This week, another big brand – and its PR agency – are in hot water over some spurious tactics.

Distinctions in interest really matter.

I spend a decent portion of each weekend tramping around in the woods, braving mosquitoes, poison ivy and evil thorny undergrowth in my pursuit of edible wild mushrooms.  When I get home (every now and then with a delectable find) I often spend time discussing identification characteristics of wild mushrooms with a small band of fellow foragers.  Several are professional mycologists, and the wealth of information the group shares are astounding, along with the occasional recipe. (Puffball Parmesan, anyone?)  The group is interested in finding edibles, for sure, but a lot of time is also spent identifying and discussing non-edibles, just for learning and interests’ sake.

However, in addition to people who are interested in edibles, there’s another type of wild mushroom forager out there.  They’re not after innocent morels, boletes and puffballs.  Oh, no.   They’re not.  Instead, they hunt psychoactive mushrooms.  You know.  “Shrooms.”   Or, “medicinal mushrooms” as some fans euphemistically refer to them.  When picked and prepared, the law calls them illegal substances.  Occasionally one of these, um, enthusiasts, will happen upon the discussion group to which I belong, and will attempt to start a discussion about his or her area of interest.   Chances are good they’ll be driven off by hostile and angry response before the moderators can kick them off.

Point is, there’s a place for every conversation, but not every place is appropriate for every conversation.  Broad generalizations by communicators can lead to at the worst, disaster, and at the least an ineffective campaign that wastes dollars and resources.

Respectful tactics

In my mind, it all boils down to respect – specifically, respecting audiences as individuals and as people – not as “targets.”   Identifying different areas of interest within audiences takes time, but pays off in the long run.  Instead of communicating with a mass group of “mommy bloggers” or “garden bloggers” it’s a good idea to narrow the field to those whose interests are in line with your brand’s objectives.

The approach to communicating with social groups (including bloggers) needs to change, too.  These folks aren’t journalists – many are passionate hobbyists who aren’t part of the professional news media. The shotgun approach – hosing down an audience with content and expecting those who are interested to glom onto the information — won’t work.  And don’t expect those who are disinterested to simply ignore it.  They may instead take offense.

Personally, I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to try to dupe a blogger (or anyone else for that matter) into changing their mind about something.  Think about it this way – how would you feel if someone did it to you?  If a brand called your closely held personal convictions into question, in public? Or, worse, if a brand didn’t respect your convictions/practices/beliefs and tried to trick you into trying something you were fundamentally against?

One good way to keep perspective is to spend some time thinking through the worst-case scenario.  How could the message or campaign be misinterpreted?  What happens if the audience reacts negatively?  What steps would you take to protect the brand in these types of scenarios, which would play out in public?

Cultivating relationships with key people who are very likely to appreciate what the brand you’re promoting represents can be a fantastic way to build buzz and conversation around a product or service. Strategic engagement designed to identify and encourage brand advocates – who will then share their enthusiasm with their respective audiences – can also be tremendously effective.   However, these type of tactics are high-touch and personal, which is precisely why they work.

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media.  She also hunts edible wild mushrooms and charts her experiences on The FUNGIrl blog.

Looking for more specificity as you start to identify key journalists, bloggers and influencers for a project or a pitch?  PR Newswire offers a host of ways to learn more about and connect with your audiences, so you can reach the right people.

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