I just saw a great post by Irene Koehler on Almost Savvy Blogging for Tickets. Am I Selling Out? In it, she discusses the ethical dilemma that faces many bloggers who are offered something free in exchange for coverage in the blog. Her case:
I was just offered a ticket to an event I really wanted to attend. I had been aware of it earlier, but decided not to attend due to the time and expense required, even though I knew it would have been an excellent learning and networking opportunity. To receive the free ticket, the caveat was that I would need to publish a post promoting the event – right now. It just didn’t feel right.
I completely agree with her that this is an ethical dilemma. And lots of us bloggers have faced it. I don’t think that I can really advise her on the particular situation. I would back her decision not to accept even though she cites other cases when she has accepted them.
But what’s striking about this example is how the conference organizer did such a poor job of reaching out to the bloggers. This is something we do a lot of as described a bit over on Search Engine Journal in Blogger Relations.
What strikes me about the specifics here is that the conference organizer was just too heavy handed in their approach. The quid pro quo (and likely the timing) nature made it feel icky. Even with disclosure to cover the FTC requirement – having someone say you must do this never goes well with bloggers. We treasure our independence.
What Would Work
I do think that every conference organizer should be reaching out to bloggers to make them an active part of the conference both from a marketing standpoint and from a thought leadership standpoint. They are great allies for the conference.
Here are a few ideas for things that would work better and that I would actively encourage conference organizers to consider:
Blogger Advisory Group – Ask bloggers to participate ahead of time to help advise on how to best work with bloggers before, during and after the conference to make the conference more effective. This would naturally include both marketing to reach their audience (a prized audience that is more actively engaged) as well as making the conference better. The conference will definitely want to list this group and use it as a marketing tool itself.
Spark Topics / Conversation to Get Posts – Engage the bloggers around topics that are a natural lead up to the conference and to particular sessions. It’s pretty natural for a blogger to do a post about conference preparation. On my eLearning blog, I’ve done lots of those posts over the years such as Be an Insanely Great Professional Conference Attendee (at DevLearn) and ASTD TechKnowledge – Conference Planning. They can also do posts on:
- Top Sessions I want to Attend
- Top People I want to Meet
Actually, when I just looked back at my eLearning blog, I’ve done a ton of posts aimed at helping people to get more from conferences. Making the Most of Attending a Conference – Ideas Needed, Secret for Networking at Events – Prenetworking, Pre-network with LinkedIn, and Session Hopping – A Practical Guide. Each of these represent easy ways to spark a quite natural post for a blogger.
Of course, each track and session likely has a series of posts just waiting to be written. Topics:
- What I’d like to learn from the track/session.
- How you can prepare for track/session.
- If you are going to track/session, make sure you meet these 10 people.
- Top 50 Posts on track/session.
Blogger / Reader Gatherings – We used to organize our own Beer and Blogger gatherings at conferences (Beer and Bloggers in Atlanta at ASTD, Beer Tasting at ASTD TechKnowledge, and Boston, Beer – Bloggers – Learn.com) which were generally sponsored to pay for the beer and gave a nice opportunity to get together with other bloggers. However, it also makes sense to come up with meetups between bloggers and their readers. Of course, most active readers also read other blogs, so having either a series of less formal meetups like over breakfast to discuss a particular topic with a few bloggers or some other kind of opportunities is something that the bloggers and readers want.
Aggregation – I naturally can’t miss pointing out that just like the common use of Twitter at Conferences, it makes sense to aggregate the posts of the bloggers and really all good bloggers in the field as a way to help the conversation. See Topic Hubs for Blogger Relations for more thoughts on how to do this.
Other Ideas – Just Ask – And if you don’t like these ideas, the great thing about bloggers is that they normally are quite full of other ideas. Put some parameters on it. And then ask away. It may or may not be helpful (see Better Conferences) – but it will engage them, they will post – your conference will be the buzz.
Would these feel more comfortable / ethical to the blogger? Yes. Could you still make it too quid pro quo – yes. But just like you can’t force a journalist to cover your conference, you can’t force a blogger to cover your conference. But if you engage them in the right way – they will want to cover it just to be part of the action.