0) Use Google alerts and twitter search to find the bloggers already talking about you. The ROI from increasing the engagement of a user who already cares is 10x greater than convincing a new person to care.
Find bloggers and tweeters already talking about the problem you're trying to solve. For example, I know a doctor in Brooklyn who has his alerts set up to let him know whenever any twitter user within 15 blocks of his office has a cold. He then tells them he hopes they feel better, but if not they should come down to his office and he'll take a look at them for free. This is the only lead gen he needs. (Best tools for this: HootSuite and InboxQ.)
1) Figure out which bloggers you want to reach. To do this you first need to decide what you want out of this— beta testers, page rank, page views, sales leads, etc.
If you are solving an esoteric problem then there are only so many page views you're going to get from the blogosphere, so looking for mainstream adopters isn't always the right answer. In fact I'd generally recommend against it until you know that your engine of virality is yielding good results.
2) Meet users in your target group. There simply aren't enough influential bloggers than you can get away with sending out emails that don't convert. And the best way to figure out if you're in the right ballpark is to take a bunch of your target bloggers out for dinner and ask them for feedback on your proposed email, website copy, website design, features, whether they'd use the product, whether they'd blog about it, etc.
3) Find the relevant bloggers you want to target. The tools meant for PR agencies and larger companies include Vocus, Cision, eCairn, and PR Matchpoint. These products vary wildly in both cost and quality, and the efficacy of any given one depends largely on your particular needs. In many cases these tools are not only overpriced, but actually work less well than just doing things by hand. That said finding the right bloggers is extremely time intensive, and it's always a good idea to trade money for time where possible.
The tools meant for end users include Klout, Twitaholic, Technorati, PostRank, PeerIndex, Alltop, SocMetrics, FoodBuzz, BlogDash, and Loadedweb. Of these SocMetrics seems like the best bet for most purposes, albeit I haven't yet had time to fully explore all of them thoroughly. Each of the major blogging platforms also has a list of the best bloggers on that platform, e.g. WordPress, Typepad, Tumblr, Blogger, etc.
Expect that it's going to take you 15-20 minutes per blogger to build a well-targeted contact list. This includes the three bloggers that aren't a good fit for every one you find that is, and also the time it takes to get their email address, read their pitch guidelines if they have them, figure out their posting frequency, monthly page views, RSS subscribers, page rank, etc.
It may also be helpful to think about the types of events that your target bloggers would likely attend. For example, if you're trying to get mommy bloggers to write about your fitness product then try looking through the attendees list for events like BlogHer, FitnessBloggersConference, HealthyLivingSummit, etc. (Or else recreate the attendees list by searching for everyone who blogged or tweeted about the event.) Right now Lanyrd has a pretty good list of blogging-related events. Don't forget Meetup.
4) Once you have a decent list of bloggers, try to quickly figure out what motivates each of them to blog. E.g. MIke Arrington likes breaking new stories, Seth Godin likes prodding people toward doing great work, Scoble likes to be involved with everything that's going on, etc.
For a lot of them you probably won't be able to get this specific, so just try to mentally place them into one or two of the following categories: physical, mental, spiritual, recreational, family, career, social, and financial. Every goal falls into one of these eight buckets, and taking thirty seconds to scan over their recent posts and come up with a decent approximation can greatly increase your yield.
I'll explain more about this below, but for now here's a funny clip of one mom blogger explaining what she hopes to get out of Swagapalooza. Most people know that you need to sell on benefits and not features, but often forget that you can't sell on benefits without understanding the person's needs and desires.
5) Be authentic. What you say should be a reflection of who you are. If writing is like talking on paper, then a good email is like looking someone in the eyes on paper. People naturally want to help others, but they also tend to be apathetic and jaded, so engage with them at a human level. (See also: http://bit.ly/3D3LWN)
A personal observation: the best way to make mommy bloggers feel special and appreciated is to treat them like tech bloggers, and the best way to make tech bloggers feel special and appreciated is to treat them like mommy bloggers. (Kind of like how the reason the movie Field of Dreams was so successful is that it's basically a chick flick for guys.)
6) Have something of value the bloggers can offer their readers. Some examples:
- Offer to do an interview or a video interview.
- Have a manifesto. The goal of a manifesto is to first sell the readers on the underlying ideology behind your product, and then to show them how your product fits into this new worldview in a way that can help them. Examples of startups that played heavily on this are Facebook, Google, and Wikipedia.
- Write an eBook -- This is a more detailed how-to guide that's targeted at the people already interested in your service. There are a lot of people who are super competent and willing to work, but they don't like thinking creatively. So give them a bunch of pre-packaged ideas about how to use your site better. Startups like Heroku and AirBnB would benefit from this. For an example, see http://bit.ly/hFohV
7) Convince them that you're not going to make them look like an asshole if they blog about you. The way you make them look like an asshole is if they go to bat for you, and then you don't ship. So you need to make it look like you're going to ship BIG TIME, and your success is inevitable. The way you do this is by having a track record of shipping great things, and having lots of social proof. The latter is why having a few famous advisors is critical, especially when you're just starting out. Otherwise it's easy to get caught in a trap where you can't ship without certain resources, but you don't have access to those resources because you don't have a track record of shipping. Good blog posts eventually become social proof in and of themselves, and have the magical effect of not only generating leads, but also of bringing all sorts of people out of the woodwork to help you with whatever you need.
The best way to lower this requisite social proof quota is to meet with the bloggers in person. Just spending half an hour grabbing coffee will make any blogger vastly more likely to write about you than if you had only connected via email or phone.
8) The more blog posts you have about you, the more each blog post is worth. This is because blog readers need to hear about your company several times before they buy the product. So the first ten blog posts you get are worth almost nothing, but having 100 blog posts about you could easily be worth a million dollars. It's what technical founders would call one of the n(n-1)/2 deals.
The same is also true for using blog posts as social proof for investors and potential hires. Any half-assed startup can get ten blog posts written about them, but if someone sees 100 blog posts about you they instantly assume you must actually have something of value.
9) Below I'm going to post a copy of the generic version of our invitation email to Swagapalooza. After the email I'm going to analyze the salient features of what makes this work:
I'm Alex Krupp, director of Swagapalooza (www.swagapalooza.com), the first invitation-only event for only the most-followed bloggers and twitter users from across the country. 85 of the most-followed bloggers and tweeters from Chicago are coming to learn about new and interesting products. I'd love to have you attend the event, which takes place the evening of June 20th.
If you're able to come please fill out this form below so that I have you in the system:
If you have any questions feel free to call; I hope to see you there!
Cell: (607) 351 2671
About 40% of the bloggers we send this email to end up RSVPing, and of those about 60% end up showing up. (Normally for events getting even 2% of your email list to show up would be considered quite good.)
So while this email is by no means perfect, it's still been good enough to get people to drive 3 hours from Boston to New York, fly back from vacation in Singapore a day early, fly up from North Carolina, etc.
What makes this email work?
- Five sentences or less. No first email to someone should be longer than five sentences for any reason, ever.
- Appeals to both social exclusivity and novelty seeking behavior.
- Looks like a personal email and was sent from my personal GMail account on a Sunday afternoon, i.e. sent in a way that's consistent with how personal emails are sent. And really that's because they are; I do my best to answer all incoming questions within five or ten minutes, as per http://bit.ly/azdIrn.
- Has my cell phone number. This is the most important part because it shows that this email isn't spam and that you value the other person and their time. (Counterintuitively, adding your phone number to emails is the best way to ensure that people read the FAQ before wasting your time with dumb questions.)
- Email signature = looks like a legit company that's actually going to deliver on their promises and not just some kid in their basement. This is also why some people advocate that every startup should always say they're hiring even if they're not, and it's why sites with 800 numbers convert better even when almost no one calls them.
- Linked URL in parenthesis makes you look like a trustworthy PR manager, not like one of those unsavory IT folks.
- For many bloggers we customized the first sentence or second sentence of this email to match what we perceived as being their motivations for blogging, as described above. E.g. if we were writing Paul Graham we would probably change it to something like,
"I'm Alex Krupp, director of Swagapalooza (www.swagapalooza.com), the first invitation-only event for only the most-followed bloggers and twitter users from across the country. Many highly followed bloggers from NYC are coming to learn about new and interesting products, and I think you would find the event to be intellectually interesting."
10) Obviously big events don't make sense for every startup, but at the very least try hosting a dinner with five or six local bloggers to get feedback on your website and the emails you're going to send out. It doesn't make sense to start burning your leads until you know that your conversion rate is going to be sufficiently high, and the only way to really know how if your emails are good enough and your site is ready is to sit down with a group of bloggers and let them bounce ideas off each other.
11) Make sure you have a professionally typeset one-pager (media sheet) ready to go as a PDF. The bloggers won't need this, but once you start getting blog coverage you'll start getting leads, partnership offers, media enquiries, etc. so you will want something you can send out at a moment's notice. Also make sure you have professionally shot high-resolution photos of the product and team. These will be the first thing that every trade journal, newsletter, and magazine asks for, and many won't even talk to you without them.
I'd also recommend having a Squidoo page about the product / company. In addition to being good SEO, they allow you to speak in a different voice to a different group of people without seeming inauthentic. They also resonate well with a wide variety of people because they are designed to incorporate mixed media. Some people are best sold by paragraphs of text, others by bullet points, photographs, YouTube videos, audio interviews, etc. We've discovered that they're not good as the first thing to send someone, but they work great for closing the sale after you've already emailed the person and talked with them on the phone. (Basically they are good for showcasing social proof, which makes it easier for someone to pull the trigger and write you a check.) Check out what we did with ours here: http://www.squidoo.com/swagapalooza.
12) Once you start getting coverage, go back and review step zero.
13) Hopefully this email lays out a viable framework for getting some blog coverage without having to resort to making a 14-year-old kid your CEO or acting like Dennis Rodman.
Basically just create a well-targeted list, treat them with respect, and be conscious of the social idioms you're drawing from so you're not just accidentally subcommunicating stuff at random. Then run your stuff by a few bloggers first in person and you should be good to go!