This question was recently put to me by a publicist at a party with a distinct tone of weariness and – yes, it was there – irritation. What this publicist was expressing is I think quite a common feeling among overworked PRs, who have based their career on the traditional media notions of forming close relationships with journalists, carefully crafting press releases and ‘managing the message’.
Now, said publicist is asked to invest an increasing amount of time into the blogosphere. To an independent blogger who answers to nobody. Who can write what they want and who often has zero interest in press releases.
I can understand their reticence, so I’d like to answer the publicist’s question right here, in what I hope is a more comprehensive and eloquent manner than I originally did at the aforementioned party.
So who reads blogs?
Loads of people, actually. It’s all to easy if you’re new to reading blogs to make the assumption that it’s some niche activity with a tiny readership. Not the case. Conservative estimates based on data from major platforms such as WordPress and Tumblr suggest that there are more than 100 million active blogs out there. According to a 2011 eMarketer report, in the US alone there are 122 million people reading blogs – more than half of all US internet users. In a 2010 blog post, Danny Brown estimated the figure even higher, with blogs being read by 77% of internet users (his source being Technorati’s State of the Blogosphere 2010).
But are they any good?
Yes, there is a massive variation in quality, but underestimate the serious blogger at your peril. Take for example the mighty Huffington Post, not only considered the most powerful blog in the world but moreover a distinctive voice in an increasingly generic media landscape. Or the relatively obscure Han Han, touted as the most popular blog in the world with 340 trillion (yes, that’s trillion) visits. This Chinese writer and activist is little-known over here but is a major voice of dissent against his government’s policies. Then there’s those blogs that pack an incredible commercial punch, like The Sartorialist, which along with successful campaigns for Burberry and DKNY and a best-selling book, notches up a CPM rate in excess of $30. As an article in ‘The Business of Blogging’ points out, “At his current traffic levels, even with a $20 CPM and only 50 percent of total inventory sold, Schuman could theoretically earn over $100,000 per month on advertising alone, easily earning him more than a million dollars of revenue per year.” Not to be sniffed at, huh?
Will they say what I want them to?
Well no, not necessarily. The question of getting the best response from blogger outreach is a post in itself, but for the moment let’s just outline the basics. A blogger doesn’t give a crap about your press release, and most are free as a bird and therefore able to write in whatever tone of voice they please, so forget about getting any carefully honed corporate messaging in there. (Although of course you can and should target your outreach campaigns at bloggers who ‘fit’ your brand and audience.) But the trade-off is far more valuable: good bloggers have earned the trust of their readers, so their opinion is worth its weight in gold.
Does my target audience read blogs?
This is the more important question, and the great thing about blogging over, say, national press, is that you can be incredibly specific about who you’re targeting. If you’re an Edinburgh fashion boutique, you might get just as much business from a review in popular local blog Wayward Daughter as you would from a review in Stylist magazine, and much of that business will be local people, walking straight through your door and coming back time and time again.
Moving away from audience but staying on the subject of niche, if you’re promoting electrical semi-conductors the Guardian Technology pages might very well give a few lines to your product, based on a vague summary. But semiconductorchat.blogspot.com (yes, I made that up, but you get the idea) will write in glorious accurate detail about every quirk of the tech, to an engaged audience of people reading with the sole aim of purchasing electrical semiconductors.
So, ‘who reads blogs anyway?’ The right question is surely ‘where do I get started?’