Link Building with Bloggers: What ‘Relationship’ Actually Means

Here’s a common situation: a link builder finds a blogger they’re sure will be interested in their client or company. So what do they do next? E-mail the blogger and ask for a product review? Ask for a link?

Most link builders have heard the mantra “link building is relationship building,” and nowhere is that more true than with bloggers. But what does that mean in practical terms?

The good news is that humans have been building relationships for thousands of years, and the bad news is we’ve been doing it for thousands of years. Online networking tools like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook may be new, but the way our brains perceive relationships remains the same.

Thom Singer, networking expert and author of “Some Assembly Required,” poses this challenge:

“Think about who’s in your network. Is it someone you exchanged email with once or twice, or someone you know from a college that you went on ski trip with? We’re wired for relationships that are built on experiential relationships.”

Following, friending, and connecting with bloggers online is only the first step (and definitely not enough to ask for a favor like a link). A real relationship requires creating shared experience and consistent, genuine effort to help others achieve their goals.

Give to Get

According to Singer, relationship building isn’t give and take; “it’s give, give, give first,” before ever asking for something. So if you want to build a relationship with bloggers, you need to show them some love first. Here are a few places you can start:

  • Follow them on Twitter, join their community on MyBlogLog. People like to see their follower counts go up. More importantly, you can start reading their material and look for opportunities to engage.
  • Promote them on Twitter. Retweet them or tweet about their best blog posts. Nothing says you’re paying attention more than promoting their best work via Twitter.
  • Mention them and link to their posts from your blog. Singer notes that he occasionally receives e-mail from people who want him to promote their company, yet when he looks at their company’s blog, there’s no evidence they ever promote anyone except themselves. Don’t be that guy.
  • Advertise on their blog. There was a great discussion recently regarding one link builder’s success with the advertiser-to-relationship approach. Obviously, you shouldn’t pursue this strategy unless you actually have ad budget, but assuming you do, it’s a good excuse to start a conversation.
  • Participate in the same communities where they participate. The easiest way to do this is to read and comment on their blog. But you can also take this a step further by commenting on blogs where they comment. Use BackType to find comments they’ve posted on other blogs and participate in those same venues. An efficient way to do this regularly is to subscribe to their RSS feed for comments via Backtype.
  • E-mail them a question, comment, or praise about a blog post. You can introduce yourself and succinctly explain what your company is about, but don’t ask for (or expect) any favors. If they respond, a good follow-up might be an offer to see how you can help them out. Do they need advertisers? If they’re organizing a conference, do they need volunteers or help getting sponsors (if so, what kind)? Can you send them a T-shirt? Can you give them a free beta account or product sample?
  • Meet them in person at conferences. Although this is often the best way to get to know people, conferences are tough because popular bloggers are in high demand (by people like you). One PR rep I know memorizes bloggers photos before conferences so he can recognize them in a crowd. He also carries a box of energy bars because he knows that speakers always have a hard time getting away for food and wind up starved. It’s an innocuous way to help them out.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Obviously you can’t instantly do all of the above (unless you don’t mind being a stalker). This process naturally takes weeks or months.

The biggest challenge with blogger relations isn’t the actual work, it’s having the patience and restraint to build a solid foundation before asking for something. According to Singer, “Online, it’s like everyone is a teenage boy, trying to move the relationship forward too fast.” There may be no formula to determine when the time is right to ask for a favor, but Singer suggests, “you know when it’s right.”

Link building with bloggers demands relationship fundamentals — help others first, go slow, build a legitimate foundation via shared experiences (online, mostly this means participation and dialogue), selflessly help others, and ask for a favor when you know it’s the right thing. If you take this approach, you will attain maximum success, and also create quality relationships that will permanently enhance your link building efforts.

The bottom line, according to Singer, is that people want to support people who give. If you find ways to help move a blogger toward their goals, it will come back to you.

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