There is one thing about the digital marketing scene in Malaysia – it is oversaturated with bloggers. Many business owners and brands tend to want to engage these bloggers to talk about their brand but at the same time, there is a growing segment of brands who do not believe in bloggers anymore. If you are reading this, chances are you are curious about this issue whether as a blogger or a business owner. I’ve met countless business owners or PRs that mentioned bloggers in Malaysia are overrated and some – arrogant. Then, they further elaborate on why they felt Malaysian bloggers are overrated. It can be a lot of reasons, in fact, the debacle between Xiaxue and Gushcloud early this year is also a major contributing factor but the main conclusion is bloggers are not giving them much impact and almost zero impact. So, doesn’t that only indicates that bloggers are no longer a relevant digital marketing solution?
Despite the low trust in bloggers engagement, there is still a rising interest from new business owners and brands in Malaysia. Either they genuinely needed bloggers to help their marketing cause or they often sees bloggers as a cheaper form of media than newspapers, television etc. My guess is the latter.
The fact that most bloggers are being seen as a news media rather than a social influencer is exactly why business owners, brands and PRs still engage bloggers for their event, products or launches. Bloggers will be seen as providing “extra” articles in case major newspapers or magazines did not cover them. A strategy that is being used by many brands and PRs in Malaysia – including multiple big international companies. This is because they are still “clueless” in regards on how to engage bloggers or social influencers. It is in the state of cluelessness, most PRs and brands develop a sense of doubt over a bloggers’ relevance. In order to know whether bloggers are still relevant or not, we should know more on how both traditional media and bloggers operate.
Let’s break down on how traditional media like newspapers and magazines work. Usually, traditional media’s journalists picked several topics that are relevant to their readers and write about them. Most of the time, they will write free articles for brands that advertise on their newspaper or magazines in order to curry favour and hope they will return as advertisers. Besides that, without a topic to write on, they couldn’t publish anything and hence, they will proceed to write for various companies or issues for free. While doing all these, a journalist is being paid by the news agency or magazines they are working for. They wouldn’t even care if the article will be sponsored or not as they will not receive any incentive from it even the article is being paid for. This way of work is common and some online news portal adopt the same culture of work as well.
Let’s look at bloggers, shall we? Bloggers earn extremely little or near to zero from ads space. In fact, most of them don’t even sell ads space. If they want to make some income out of blogging, they do write ups. Before I elaborate further, I will explain why they don’t sell ads space. Ads space pays peanuts – heck, I doubt you can even buy half a small packet of peanuts from a day worth of income from ads space. Ads space don’t really work for them and it causes their entire blog to look tacky and cheap. As a blog portrays how a blogger is to the public, having many ads spaces is equivalent to wearing the classified section on top of your head to a movie date. So, bloggers do paid write ups. Unlike the traditional media who relies more on ads space, 98% of bloggers do not rely on that while probably a small fraction of 2% does. Hence, it is unfair to compare a blogger to a news media outlet as bloggers themselves don’t even get fixed salary from blogging. Unlike newspapers, magazines or online news portal, bloggers do not need anyone to feed them topics to write on. They can still write about their life, thoughts etc which is also the main reason why their readers read their blogs. Their life is the content that their followers wants to know more. While traditional media sought for content that their readers want, bloggers themselves are the content that their readers want.
By breaking down how these two different media operates, it is clear that a blogger is entirely different than a news media. So naturally, if you want a news media to talk about your brand, bloggers might not be all that relevant at all.
It is also funny that some PRs calculate PR values of blogs during proposing to clients while they did almost zero credible PR engagement with bloggers. If you are a PR professional, I will pass you a golden tip, passing out press release and expecting bloggers to write about your campaign without compensating their effort is disrespectful. Some bloggers might do it once or twice to curry favour in hope for opportunities in the future but there is a LIMIT to how nice a blogger can be if your opportunities are not worth the help they offered. A journalist writing an article is his or her job to do so while to a blogger – it meant giving you their income generating asset for FREE. It is a favour. Take note of that.
So why do I ramble on and on about this? Some of you – might not be many or may be none – who read until here, congratulations, I was just getting started on my main point. Because of the over saturation of bloggers in Malaysia, many of the new bloggers took up these free jobs in hoping PRs will engage them in the future and giving them the edge over older and more popular bloggers. In fact, there are some pretentious “bloggers” who set up their blogs for the sole purpose of getting invites to events and products. To make matters worse, many brands and PRs resorted to giving away products for review to these bloggers regardless the bloggers are relevant to their business or not. Hence, the currying of favours works for these bloggers. What these bloggers and PRs do not know that by keeping up with this culture, they themselves are making the blogging industry less and less relevant. New bloggers are lost in the world of freebies and a lot of them had lost their sense of blogging. Due to so many brands and PRs out there, these bloggers had too many things to blog about and their so called “blog” had turned into a less professionally written news media. So in the end, the bloggers engaged are no longer bloggers who are passionate to share their views to the world but rather writers who write for the sake of getting noticed by PRs and brands. These bloggers are no longer driven to please their audience but more to PRs and brands. I even heard this blogger complaining that she did not have anything to write for the coming weeks as there are no events invite for her. I think for a moment, she thought she is TimeOut KL. Is this the sort of marketing solution that your brand needs? Are these “writers” relevant to your brand?
I think at this point, most of you will conclude that bloggers are no longer relevant. But why do brands even engage bloggers in the first place? Why bloggers used to be relevant? What is the difference between now and then? Is it because the bloggers we engage, HAVE to be bloggers with very high traffic in order for it to works?
Well, first of all, you as a business owner, PRs or marketing professionals, should treat bloggers as part of a digital branding solution to build awareness rather than a digital marketing solution to bring in more sales in short term. Yes, we all want sales. But I’m sure you – be it a business owner, PR or marketing professional – knows that good branding will eventually leads to more sales in the long run. Bloggers can help to build your branding in the long run and not generate immediate short term sales. If you are looking for immediate short term sales, it is better to run digital ads than bloggers.
So why do bloggers work for brands last time but not now? Last time, bloggers are being treated as an influencer rather than a news media. In another way, they are being treated as celebrity. A good blogger with huge following is a celebrity and would you expect a celebrity to help you sell your products? Bloggers are generally voices and noise. The more following they have, the bigger their voices are. When we talk about followers, followers would not jump ship and buy anything their key opinion leaders campaigned for. They will generally build a good perception over the brand and if they ever need a product similar to yours, your brand will be considered.
Take for example, when you want to purchase a smartphone, the first thing you do is to research about it. A credible blogger with lots of following will definitely increase your confidence towards the smartphone than a blogger with little following. That’s how Apple and Samsung built their brands in the first place.
If bloggers engagement does not work for you, most of the time, it is an issue with your digital marketing strategy or you set the wrong objective for the wrong strategy. Branding is not an overnight campaign. Hence, bloggers engagement take a long time for it to show results. You should always look at bloggers as social influencers – or celebrities if you want a simpler term. A good and credible blogger with huge following like Xiaxue – is like an A-list celebrity – think Jennifer Lawrence or Robert Downey Jr – while the bloggers that I pointed out earlier are like your fill ins, like the white guy running away from falling debris at a Transformer movie. Which white guy you ask? Exactly my point.
Now, I’m not saying that you should ONLY engage bloggers with huge following. There are a lot of good bloggers out there but due to the over saturation of bloggers here, it is hard to notice them. PRs and agencies tend to look at how many traffic a blogger has but do you notice I only mentioned HUGE FOLLOWING and not HIGH TRAFFIC? In fact, these agencies and PRs often categorise high traffic as high following which is wrong. This is because anyone can generate high traffic with great SEO skills and advertising. But you can never build huge following with only SEO and advertising alone.
If you are keen to engage bloggers, please look beyond just numbers. Research on their blogs and social media platforms. If I want to, I can generate over 4,000 unique views a day but that doesn’t mean I have a huge following. A blogger with 100 followers and 100 unique visits a day is 10 times better than a blogger with 10 followers and 1,000 unique visits a day. And a blogger with 10 followers and 10,000 unique visits is not necessary better than a blogger with 10 followers and 1,000 unique visits a day. There are a lot of aspects to look into when considering a blogger and traffic is only one of them. You have to look into engagement rate, the bounce rate, the quality of the post written, the type of audience etc. It is always important to look beyond just numbers.
Next, is your strategy. I mentioned earlier that you should treat your bloggers as social influencers rather than just news media. This means rather than having them only write about your products, have your product integrate into their lifestyle. Each write up must have a purpose and how it integrates into their life. One example of great social influencers engagement is done by Daniel Wellington. I’m sure most of you have heard of this watch brand before but despite with zero investment in traditional media, what leads them into their meteoric rise in the fashion industry? DW relies heavily on social influencers by sending them free watches (not sure if DW pays them or not) and these social influencers are basically not ONLY blog or vlog about them, they wore it everywhere. They shared out on their social media platforms periodically and it creates a sense of class and want for the watches. Founded only in 2012, their watches are now in high demand worldwide by young adults and teenagers.
Another example which is closer to home, is the bloggers programme done by AirAsia. If you are a blogger, you should know AirAsia has their own community of bloggers called AirAsia Bloggers Community (AABC) which I am also a part of. Their community does not prejudice on your traffic so if you would like to be part of their community, you can email them at email@example.com. But why do I quote their example?
Being an airline company, their products are only trips to locations. If a typical PR engagement is done, they can just send press release to bloggers and in return, give them free tickets or vouchers to those locations. However, judging from their PR execution I had a feeling that they know these sort of engagement would not bring in any value for their company and hence, they get bloggers to go on sponsored trips. They know what is the value they want from their write ups and they know what drives their branding and sales. If you are looking to go on a holiday, what would be the first thing you search about? You search about the places you want to go and the attractions there. This is where AABC comes in. Their reviews of places to go will attract these audience and if their blog is written well enough, readers will be compelled to go. And since AirAsia was mentioned in these blog posts, naturally, they would check out air tickets from AirAsia. AirAsia’s PR team look beyond just articles about their brand. They integrate their product and brand into the bloggers’ lifestyle. Similar to Daniel Wellington, their PR engagement does not only tap into a single blog post or social media but rather a part of the bloggers.
So to answer the big question. Are Bloggers Still Relevant? Yes, they are ONLY if you have the right strategy, objective and it is relevant to your market. The most important part is to get the right strategy and also get the right bloggers.
If you are a blogger, I would suggest you to work towards building your audience and create good content. The blogosphere is oversaturated with bloggers but it is also lacking in good content creators. If is also the over saturation of bloggers that causes good bloggers and content creators to quit blogging as they felt they are no longer recognised for their effort by brands and PRs.
P/S: Congratulations for reading until this far, I’m equally surprised that you have so much patience in my writing. If you are a blogger, I hope my blog post would resonate with your thoughts as well. If you are a PR or a brand owner who is seeking for a digital marketing specialist – feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org (yes, I’m not letting this opportunity slipped by me).