The vitamin supplement company Berocca has been engaged in a vaguely interesting piece of blog marketing over here in the UK recently. Taking their cue from the recent NY Times article suggesting that blogging can be highly stressful, they have put together a blogger relief pack which consists of a number of ‘stress-busting’ desk toys and, of course, a pack of Berocca. In a nice nod to the community-lead nature of blogging, the mini-site always has a link to one of the blogs that is taking part in the campaign.
This campaign, which is hardly revolutionary in its nature, probably wouldn’t deserve a mention on these hallowed pages were it not for a post written by Michael Gray recently. In this post, Michael asked whether Guy Kawasaki, who frequently reviews products he is sent and links to the manufacturers’ sites, should be the subject of a penalty in the same way that sites which operated ‘pay per post’ systems were*.
Now, Michael does go on to say that he’s well aware that the practice of getting people to review products, is a common PR tool and that he simply wants to see Google setting a fair playing field when it comes to handing down penalties. Whilst I’d agree with him that Google could be much better at explaining exactly what it will, or won’t, tolerate, I still don’t see this sort of activity as being the same as pay-per-post or paid links.
For me, the point of blog marketing is actually not to get links. Just as with viral marketing, as opposed to linkbait, links are simply a nice side-benefit to the real pay-back for activity of this sort, which is to generate conversation. As anyone who has read, and accepted the premise behind The Tipping Point (which I know Michael has) will know, there is a belief that there are certain people who can enable word of mouth marketing by talking about your product.
Of course social media, with its inherent bias towards conversations, is the perfect place for anyone wanting to try out this theory. And because social media and blogging in particular rely on a sense of openness, it makes it less likely that people will review products they don’t actually like: otherwise whatever reputation they may have built up is likely to be very quickly lost.
So when companies like the ones that Kawasaki has promoted, Berocca, or any companies that we have run similar campaigns for, contact bloggers and send them products, tickets to events, or anything similar, it’s not because they’re looking for links (or at least it certainly isn’t in our case and I can only assume it’s not in most other cases either). It’s because they want real people, preferably influencers, to talk about their products. And if what Google wants are editorially based links, then should these campaigns result in links it strikes me that they couldn’t be any more editorially based.
*Michael has since updated his post to remove any suggestion that Kawasaki was blogging because he’d received products.