The emergence of blogs as a vital media channel for brands is a trend that marketers simply cannot afford to ignore. From travel and fashion to gadgets and financial advice, blogs have firmly established themselves as a thriving, highly personalised way for brands to connect with consumers. In line with this, a growing number of companies are launching events to specifically reach this vibrant market of writers with the aim of gaining greater exposure online.
However, navigating the blogosphere and knowing where to start when it comes to creating events for bloggers is a tricky challenge for marketers.
At the time of writing, the latest statistics from automated trend discovery system BlogPulse revealed that 58,926 new blogs had been identified in the past 24 hours. This constantly changing landscape means that even creating a guest list for any such event is a headache. Nonetheless, social media channels such as Twitter have made it easier for brands to connect with bloggers and customers (see box, below).
Robin Grant, managing director at social media agency We Are Social, contends that creating good events targeting bloggers is all about planning. 'The key is to determine what your business objectives are and then create a strategy that will meet them,' he says.
Grant also warns against simply tagging on bloggers to existing events for journalists, instead of creating bespoke events targeting carefully selected individuals. 'All too many PR agencies have a list of friendly bloggers they invite to any given event, while we create a bespoke list for every event,' he adds.
Although the blogger landscape can be difficult to navigate, some brands have successfully tailored guest lists and created events for bloggers in-house. One such example is specialist socks and tights retailer Tabio.
Matthew Drinkwater, its operations director, says that while several brands employ external PR companies or specialist agencies to conduct their blogger outreach programmes, Tabio Europe controls all its activity in-house. 'The intimacy between us and our bloggers is important to us,' he adds. 'For example, we can explain directly to bloggers such as Suzy Lau at Style Bubble why it is that certain products are available in Japan but not yet in the UK.'
This month, Tabio launched its first event specifically for bloggers in its store in London's Kensington (see above). Drinkwater describes this as a natural progression. 'We shouldn't separate the shop floor and social media,' he says. 'We have the same time for our customers and bloggers, whether they are in-store or on Twitter.'
However, creating branded events or inviting bloggers to get involved with existing ones can be challenging, as Nokia found out. When blogger Muireann Carey-Campbell was approached by the mobile-phone manufacturer's PR agency, Mission, to see whether she would like to run in a half-marathon event that Nokia was sponsoring as part of its Outdoor Series, and blog about her preparations for it, she knew she had to fully commit to the project.
Over the next four months Carey-Campbell trained and blogged passionately about her dedicated regime. Unfortunately, her commitment was not matched by Mission and Nokia; just days before the event, she was left without the kit, race place, travel or accommodation they had promised. She subsequently published a letter of complaint on her blog, naming and shaming both agency and brand; this quickly spread across the blogosphere.
So what can marketers learn from this debacle? Alexei Lee, social media director at brand experience agency BEcause, says that bloggers are rarely afforded the same courtesy as journalists when it comes to events, which can be counter-productive.
'The biggest problem many brands create for themselves is making bloggers feel sidelined, by ignoring them or not giving them the same treatment as more traditional journalists,' he warns.
In the social media sphere, where offending brands can be quickly and publicly identified and denounced, creating a bad event is the worst mistake a brand can make.
It is also crucial that these events are tied to solid business results. In the current economic climate, it can be hard for marketers to persuade their colleagues to buy in to new events.
Anthony Hopper, managing director of shopper marketing agency Saatchi & Saatchi X UK, argues it is also imperative that brands use social networks to inspire buying momentum rather than just socialising equity. 'It's of questionable value, having thousands of Facebook fans, if it isn't driving sales,' he adds.
Vicki Franks, marketing director at Kao Brands, which owns the John Frieda haircare line, says that reaching out to bloggers in the right way is essential to build the brand.
John Frieda's outreach activity is handled by Holler and The Communications Store. It has built relationships with key bloggers. Such is the strength of these that the brand is not only launching events for bloggers, but John Frieda Live, a hairstyling event to be streamed online on Friday (27 May), will give a starring role to bloggers who will be following the stylists at home.
According to Franks, there is no set list of bloggers her brands speak to, as a new beauty blogger can arrive on the scene very quickly. 'We are all on a journey and it is our job to be reaching out to the right people at the right time,' she says.
Blogger outreach and events have become crucial for brands. Getting it right in such a public medium is even more so.
EXPERT OPINION - How to interact with bloggers on Twitter
Thomas Henry, Digital strategist, VML London
If you haven't got the right product, event or service to pitch, don't even bother. Blogging is about translating passion to a simple online medium, not about filling space. However, if what you're selling is relevant, then your chance of being picked up is a lot greater than in traditional media, because the interest a blogger is able to dedicate to their subject far exceeds that of any journalist.
A couple of years ago, there was a myth floating around that bloggers do not like being pitched to because they are not part of the traditional media complex and don't understand the rules of engagement. This is a fallacy - bloggers love being sent information, provided it is through the channels they like and is relevant to them.
No two bloggers are the same. If you have five people listed in your database as 'food bloggers', this does not mean that they will write about the same things or find the same things interesting. Study your blogger's Twitter feed for a while to see who they are interacting with and what they are writing about.
Innovation watch Events
A round-up of the best innovation from across the industry
The past 12 months has brought a plethora of innovation in the events sector. Ticketing, scanning and cashless payments have topped the agenda alongside apps and content-delivery platforms. Innovation in augmented reality and digital display, meanwhile, continues to offer brands more in terms of flexibility and portability.
In March, commuters at London's Victoria station were encouraged to stand in a special Lynx Halo zone on the concourse. Images of commuters, with a virtual angel inserted into the footage beside them, were then screened live on JCDecaux's Transvision screen, alongside the departures board.
At the annual Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in the US, security wristband company ID&C supplied RFID wireless wristbands that enabled festival-goers to avoid the queues for entry.
Brands looking for examples of how digital screens can not only boost an event, but also create one in its own right, need look no further than last month's Royal Wedding. XL Events installed two big LED screens in London's Trafalgar Square, which enabled 1m people to watch the action.
The live screenings, produced by event specialist Jack Morton Worldwide, showed the scale and size of digital screens now available.
Elsewhere, the continued challenge of getting a cold drink at a festival could be solved by Chill Tent. The revolutionary temporary and portable cold storage room is set to make a splash on the UK festival scene. A lightweight, environ-mentally friendly storage unit for food and drink, it can be erected within 30 minutes and provides a chilled space, the temperature of which can be controlled at between 2 degsC and 15 degsC.