Speed 19 April 2012

I’m heading to BlogCamp in Birmingham on Saturday to talk about the uneasy relationship between PRs and bloggers.

PRs have been quick to recognise the opportunity to work with bloggers to connect their clients with highly targeted and engaged audiences, but often with limited success.

Here’s the issue. PRs have taken the media relations skills that they have used to pitch journalists and expected them to be directly transferable to bloggers.

They simply aren’t.

Making money
The motivations of a blogger are very different to those of a journalist. Bloggers typically fit writing around a career or childcare and are motivated by their own interests and typically a desire to generate an income.

The latest issue causing angst between PRs and bloggers is transparency around sponsored posts. Bloggers generate an income from payment to write a post about a product or issue, sponsored by the PR on behalf of its client.

The client gets a favourable blog post, third-party validation albeit sponsored, and access to the blogger’s audience. The blogger receives up to £100.

At its most crude it’s a form of advertorial but it’s a perfectly acceptable transaction so long as the blogger is transparent and follows best practice. Best practice in this instance means following Google’s guidelines, declaring interests and ensuring that all links are tagged as no-follow.

Google’s guidelines
As Escherman’s Andrew Smith says “Google’s guidelines are hardly news.”

Guidance posted on Google Webmaster tools couldn’t be clearer.

“Not all paid links violate our guidelines. Buying and selling links is a normal part of the economy of the web when done for advertising purposes, and not for manipulation of search results. Links purchased for advertising should be designated as such.”

SiteVisibility’s Kelvin Newman neatly summaries Google’s expectation of bloggers. “There is a basic rule that if the link isn’t editorial it should be no-followed,” he says.

Google will penalise sites that break these guidelines by reducing their Page Rank with the result that they are likely to fall from search rankings and their traffic significantly reduced.

“Google does seem to be a lot more proactive and visible in its spam efforts recently and so I wouldn’t be surprised to see them crack down on this again,” said Newman.

In a deliciously ironic story in January Google demoted the search results for its Chrome browser after bloggers were paid to promote a video about the search engine.     .

BlogCamp’s organiser Sally Whittle has written-up excellent guidelines on the TOTS100 community blog on this topic. It is well worth reading for blogger, brand and PR alike.

PRs misbehaving
But some PRs keen to benefit from the Page Rank of an influential blogger seemingly don’t like these guidelines.

“The problem is very few people buying editorial like this wants a no-followed link,” adds Newman.

I caught up with Whittle ahead of BlogCamp.

“There are a number of PR agencies actively saying to bloggers they shouldn’t disclose payment for posts, and one or two sneakily implying taking this post will boost your page rank but if you disclose, it might harm it,” she said.

If PRs are making such demands of bloggers its nonsense and surely breaks both the CIPR and PRCA codes of professional practice.

As Smith says “I would love to know w
ho the PR firms are that are effectively requesting a suppression of disclosure. It is wrong on so many levels.”

Is the sponsored post dead?
Does this mean that the sponsored blog post is dead? It’s a question that Whittle asks in a related blog post.

My view is that it doesn’t.

The value of sponsored posts lies in the influence of the blogger, their audience, and third-party validation. Smart PRs will socially share and reference the content generated by bloggers.

If you are a PR that wants to have a long term relationship working with bloggers the reality is very simple. You need to follow Google’s guidance.

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