Week 5: A Conversation with Guest Speakers Siobhan O’Neil and Jeremy Pepper

Colleen Shields

Colleen Shields

By UCLA X425 Student Colleen Shields

Understanding bloggers and dealing with empowered consumers

Jeremy Pepper

Jeremy Pepper

One mid-May evening during the Los Angeles heat wave, Jeremy Pepper (@jspepper) and Siobhan O’Neill (@angelcityblues) visited our UCLAx425 class to share their blogger knowledge. Jeremy came armed with 17 years of experience and consults with companies focused on social and consumer technologies. Siobhan is the VP of Digital at Edelman, the largest privately held PR firm.

Mr. Pepper enlightened the room throughout the evening with his colorful language, and quoted a Time article which claims swearing is good for your health. Siobhan later responded: “I can’t bleep him fast enough.”

But I digress. The focus of the class was bloggers (paid vs. not paid) and how to find them. We also discussed blogger relations and best practices for dealing with empowered consumers in the digital age.

Siobhan O’Neil

Siobhan O’Neil

There are many different blogger specialties – this session focused mainly on food and mommy bloggers. In general, food bloggers are not paid. Some mommy bloggers are. Ultimately,  whether or not a blogger expects to receive payment varies on a case-by-case basis. If a blogger is paid for a blog post, they should disclose this fact in the first paragraph. The same goes with sponsored Tweets, as the blogger must provide disclosure. One way to do this in a Tweet is by including the #ad or #spon hashtags. Siobhan brought up the point that even when bloggers are compensated (via payment, product samples, etc.) , they usually can write whatever they want. Depending on the situation, it may not benefit the PR firm or the client/brand if a blogger is told what to write. The goal for brands working with bloggers is to gain a third party endorsement from someone who is credible.

One of the best ways for companies to spread the word about a product or services is to harness the power of influential bloggers. This takes some research into: 1) their sphere of influence (their audience and the people they connect with online); 2) who’s in their bloggroll and 3) the depth of their social media footprint. Jeremy said the biggest issue for PR pros charged with blogger relations is research – don’t be lazy!

It’s also a new frontier for ad agencies. One of the challenges they face today is having to engage directly with consumers. They may encourage engagement, but there is often a lack of follow through. When consumers complain online about a company or a product, there may be a knee jerk reaction for brands to respond right away. All companies have consumers that complain. In response, they can react without thinking, put their head in the sand, or pay attention and carefully craft an appropriate reply. Sometimes consumers just want to be heard, and finding the right way to respond is still an issue for many companies. They don’t always have to comment on negativity right away. Rather than letting panic spread from consumer negativity, Siobhan left us with this closing comment: “thou shall not make mountains out of molehills.” Good advice for social media and beyond.

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