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For those accustomed to traditional PR, the blogosphere seems an entirely different beast—but one that has the potential to turn your message into a viral sensation if blogs are approached properly.

The following eight tips will assist you in capturing attention from bloggers.

1. Target the right blogs

Rather than aiming to reach the masses, target blogs that are focused on topics relevant to your product or industry and are considered influencers in that space.

When technology manufacturer Hewlett-Packard wanted to promote its HDX Dragon Notebook via the blogosphere, for example, it selected 31 bloggers based on their influence among its target market. That was a manageable set of targets and allowed the company to focus its efforts. And from those key, trusted authorities its message spread, resulting in more than 50 million impressions in 123 countries in about a month.

To identify the right blogs...

  • Use online tools such as Google Blog Search or Technorati to search by topic.
  • Look for signs of highly passionate and loyal readers (volumes of comments, etc).
  • Upon discovering great candidates, scan their blogrolls for others in the same niche.
  • Also scour their archives to ensure that they are PR-friendly and won't likely demean your pitch.

2. Establish a rapport

By the time Hewlett-Packard approached the bloggers involved in its campaign, it had already spent a year getting to know them and fostering congenial relationships. That process included regularly reading their blogs and talking with them as peers, organizing dinners for them, introducing them to company executives, and allowing them to tour the HP "Garage"—a treat usually reserved for the company's most serious customers.

Though not everyone can go to such extents, participation in the blog culture is fairly a requisite. As blogger and social media specialist Amber Naslund explains, "Bloggers aren't journalists, and they don't want to be treated as journalists. Rather than being pitched, they want to see you reading and interacting on their sites."

She suggests reading their posts and regularly leaving comments that add to the conversation—rather than simply drop links to your site.

3. Customize every communication

Before they'll consider your pitch, bloggers will want to know what's in it for them and their readers, and it's unlikely they'll take the time to personally search out that information. So before you send anything their way, do a little research to understand who they are, who their readers are, and what interests them most.

In other words, find some common ground, then use those insights to personalize your communication and structure your angle.

For example, when publisher Vanguard Press needed to generate publicity for a controversial book, Vincent Bugliosi's The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder, which none of the mainstream outlets would touch, it targeted a select group of progressive blogs with excerpts and detailed content that spoke directly to the interests of each blogs' readers.

Within two months, that campaign generated more than 85 posts, over 200,000 links, and best of all a spot on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list for the book it was promoting.

4. Be buzz-worthy

Beyond proving that your message is relevant to their readership, your communication should reveal why you're the hot topic they'd be silly to pass up. Take some inspiration from the following and get creative:

  • Align your message with noteworthy current events, as Vanguard Press did with its controversial subject matter.
  • Present the unexpected, as Grasshopper.com, the provider of virtual business communications solutions, did when it mailed out packages of chocolate-covered grasshoppers. The campaign, which also included an inspirational video, was successful in generating more buzz and awareness in a single month than the company had achieved in the six years prior.
  • Shoot for the funny bone, as GotVMail had done prior to rebranding itself as Grasshopper.com by recording the random rants of actor Gary Busey and offering them up in a sharable video widget, which was picked up by at least 75 blogs, including that of musician John Mayer.
  • Pique their curiosity, as electronics manufacturer Sharp did when it informed bloggers of a high-dollar prize giveaway but did not reveal prize specifics or the company's sponsorship until later in the campaign, leading to intrigue and some 100 blog posts, which potentially touched a combined 1.5 million readers.
  • Offer a solution to a common pain, as food and beverage manufacturer Sara Lee did when it educated influential parenting bloggers on quick, easy, and nutritious back-to-school lunch ideas.

5. Tempt them with a taste

At BlogHer 2009, Liberty Mutual's Responsibility Project surveyed 175 bloggers and found that 98% believe it's acceptable to receive a free product, while 87% feel it's perfectly fine to write company-sponsored posts so long as there is transparency, disclosure, and honesty.

When office supply retailer OfficeMax wanted to get the word out about a new agreement to carry the exclusive [IN]PLACE organization solution by Peter Walsh, it went about it in two ways:

  1. Before the product was available in stores, the company mailed samples of Walsh's solution to 250 influential women's interest bloggers.
  2. It invited them to attend a free live webcast of Walsh discussing his organization tips and responding to email questions.

About 175 bloggers attended, and more than 100 blog posts resulted, for a combined reach of 2.6 million impressions (based on monthly unique visitors). As a bonus, more than 1,000 related tweets were posted by attendees before, during, and after the webcast.

6. Bestow a sense of honor

One tidbit we failed to mention about the Hewlett-Packard campaign: Each of the 31 bloggers was sent an HDX computer package valued at over $5,000 to give away to one of their readers in any way they saw fit. The bloggers, in turn, developed their own contests, got their readers involved, and became the heroes of the campaign, while accepting all legal responsibility for the contests. The bloggers loved it and said it allowed them to really connect with their audiences in new ways.

HP isn't the only company to offer bloggers starring roles in its campaign as motivation to promote its message. When technology manufacturers ASUS and Intel launched a joint crowdsourcing community called WePC, they commissioned influential bloggers to help lead community discussions, in that anticipation that they would report about their involvement on their own blogs and encourage their readers to also join in, which many of the readers did.

Grasshopper, too, stroked bloggers' egos by making it clear that it considered them to be among the 5,000 most influential leaders in the space, along with celebrities, politicians, and well-known television anchors and other journalists. So, in addition to the novelty of chocolate-covered grasshoppers, bragging rights were to be had.

7. Make it easy

Bloggers are as busy as the rest of us, and for many of them blogging is more of an avocation than a full-time career. So, they may feel more inclined to cover your story when offered complete content tailored to their audiences that can simply be copied and pasted.

Vanguard Press found that approach to be especially preferred by those looking to quickly fill space. The company further offered a video widget that could be easily embedded into posts to add an interesting, interactive element for readers.

8. Don't attempt to entirely control the message

Bloggers not only have the right to speak their minds but also owe it to their loyal readers to remain honest and forthright. So understand that once you communicate your pitch, it's out of your hands; attempting to steer the final output in any way will likely result in backlash.

On the flip side, however, bloggers are also often looking to increase their reach, and they possess a unique understanding of their own audiences' appeals and drivers. So if you plan your pitch right, and trust them to deliver appropriately, you actually increase the prospect of viral spread.

Getting bloggers and customers to engage in your online community is a great way to build brand awareness and generate excitement about your products and services. Check out the MarketingProfs online seminar, Engage or Die: The Insider's Guide to Social Media for Marketing and PR, to learn how to create and nurture loyal and vibrant communities.

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Kimberly Smith is a staff writer for MarketingProfs. Reach her via kims@marketingprofs.com.