Who Should Sponsor Your Blog?

Should you have a sponsor for your blog? Is it worth the effort? Or are you selling out your soul by accepting filthy lucre for a company to have a say in your blog’s content and tone? And which company’s filthy lucre should you pursue?

(Yes, yes, not really, and it depends.)

I’ve been DMing with Mark Eveleigh, a first-class travel writer, book author, and photographer who takes some gorgeous photos of those places you’re never going to see before you die, about whether he should blog (he should) and if he could get a sponsor (he could). He also owns a freelance photography assignment agency where several other outstanding outdoor photographers are available for hire.

Mark Eveleigh

Mark Eveleigh. Petty jealousy and raging insecurity make me want to not help him. A guilty conscience makes me do it anyway.

Mark has an interesting situation, because a sponsorship for his personal branding blog makes a lot of sense. As I see it, he would appeal two basic categories of readers: travel enthusiasts and photography enthusiasts.

The experience levels in these two categories may range from “I wish I could do that” to the serious amateur to the consummate professional. And because Mark is a specialized travel writer and photographer — trips to remote locations to take beautiful pictures — he is most likely attracting readers who want to do similar activities, or at least learn more about it.

Why Sponsor a Blog?

Travel writers have a special niche that can appeal to a wide range of readers — from people who like to travel to people who like to read about travel — who have self-identified as loyalists and users of a particular special interest. That’s a valuable niche for marketers to tap into. Anyone who sells products to travel fans should take advantage of sponsorship opportunities.

So who should sponsor Mark’s blog?

If he wants to appeal to the travel readers, he should talk to large travel agents that specialize in adventure travel, airlines that travel to out of the way locations (think Brazil, Thailand, South Africa), adventure travel gear manufacturers, and publishers of travel guides for the adrenaline-addicted.

On the photography side of thing, he should reach out to makers and online dealers of high-end camera equipment, camera bags, and other photography-related businesses.

(Frankly, Mark’s camera manufacturer, Nikon, should be begging him to throw their logo all over his blog, and include him in their ads.)

In exchange, Mark can write include basic mentions in an occasional article, review a sponsor’s service or product, and allow some ads on his site.

Sponsorship doesn’t always have to include money though. It can also include goods or services. For someone like Mark who travels constantly, it could be free flights for a year, or an expensive new lens to review and keep.

Prove Your Value First

Of course, pursuing sponsors also means being able to prove the value of the blog itself. It means knowing the number of readers, what their interests are, what kinds of influence they have, and even who they are.

Using tools like Google Analytics for web traffic (where they came from, what they read the most), Klout for influence (your readers’ and your own), and even what your network is interested in (using Twellow.com or Gist.com) can help bloggers show where their readers are coming from and what they’re interested in.

I think that as blogs grow in popularity and blog owners are able to show something newspapers have never been able to demonstrate — accurate and up-to-date reader stats — we’re going to start seeing more marketers get involved with real bloggers who can deliver on both great content and valuable readership.

A Social Media Strategy for Non-Marquee Sports & Athletes

I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Dan Clarke (@speedydanclarke), an Indy Lights racer from England who lives in Indianapolis, and learning about his struggles this off-season. He’s looking for corporate sponsors so he can race in the upcoming season.

Dan Clarke at Carb Day 2010

Dan Clarke at Carb Day 2010

If you don’t know what Indy Lights racing is, then you’re starting to see Dan’s problem. Indy Lights is the developmental racing league for IndyCar — Indianapolis 500 — racing. In a sport with fewer US fans than the NHL, he’s in the minor leagues.

Think of your favorite baseball team. Can you name its AAA minor league affiliate? Can you name their players? Do you know who their best hitter was last year, or their best pitcher?

Now you understand Dan’s problem. He’s looking for sponsors for a sport outside the big three — NFL, NBA, MLB — trying to convince them that the developmental league is a great place for them to be seen.

This is where social media can help. A personal branding campaign, even for athletes, can help build their brand, find new fans, and hopefully, bring in the big sponsors. It doesn’t matter if you’re an IndyLights driver, a minor league baseball player, or even the veteran right guard for the New Orleans Saints. If people don’t know who you are, they’re not going to care, and you’re going to have a tough time getting them to notice you. But by doing some basic personal branding, you can use that network to bring in new opportunities that contribute to your total success.

Start with Twitter

Twitter is one of the easiest places to start. This is where you can immediately see your fan base (# of followers), interact with them, and even measure the impact you’re having. Turn followers into fans, turn fans into evangelists. And as more people follow you, demonstrate to potential sponsors that you carry a lot of weight with your network.

Most athletes ignore their fan base on Twitter, choosing instead to communicate with each other publicly about private issues. For example, most IndyCar drivers have only a few thousand followers and only follow a few dozen people. Helio Castroneves, one of the most famous drivers in the world today, only has 31,000 followers, Ryan Briscoe has 8,600+, and Penske Racing (“one of the most successful teams in sports history with 330 race wins”) has 9,900 followers. To put that in perspective, I have 7,200 followers, I write blogs for a living, and the last thing I won was “Best Comedy Script” in a theater script competition in 2005.

If you don’t follow people, they won’t follow you. When you’re in a small-market sport, you can’t afford to be picky about who you follow. If you’re worried about privacy, don’t tweet your personal life. If you’re worried about managing a large Twitter network, get TweetDeck and use Twitter lists. But don’t make yourself seem unapproachable. Twitter is the one place you can interact with fans and still keep them at arm’s length.

Tip: Use Klout or Twitalyzer to measure the influence you have. Show sponsors that a positive word from you can influence buying behavior among your fans.

Create a blog

The blog is really the hub of your personal branding campaign. The point of being on those networks is to drive traffic to your blog; the point of your blog is to get people to join you on the other networks.

Visual diagram of a social media campaign, with blogging at the center

Your personal branding campaign is a wheel, with the blog at the center.

A blog is a place where you can share a behind-the-scenes look at what you’re doing. Share your exploits on and off the field/court/track, post photos, post videos, and tell stories. Fans love feeling like they’re connecting with their favorite athlete and learning stuff the casual observer or fair-weather fan doesn’t know. This is why celebrity news is so popular. People get to learn something about their favorite stars. But since small-market athletes don’t get the rave coverage that the Peyton Mannings and LeBron James of the world, you have to make your own news.

Blogs are becoming more important and popular among the PR crowd, especially crisis communicators, because they avoid the whole filter of mainstream media. For athletes, this avoids the filter of the sports media, which only gives a scant amount of attention to your sport anyway, and even then, only to the victories of the marquee stars and screwups of everyone else.

Tip: Use Google Analytics or Yahoo Analytics to measure web traffic. Demonstrate to sponsors that you 1) can get traffic to your blog, and 2) can send that traffic to sponsors’ websites.

Social Media PR

Adopt a strategy of sharing with other bloggers in your sport. Even though I’m not a big open wheel racing blogger (I’ll get to blog from the media center of the Indy 500 for the 3rd year running, but won’t be going to any other races), I can name at least five other race bloggers who all have a decent readership. And they’ll gladly share some digital ink with anyone from the sport who will talk to them.

So, talk to them. Tell them stories, give them exclusive news, and grant interviews. In short, treat them like real journalists, and they’ll pay you back with space, exposure, and kindness. Let a few bloggers break the news about your new team, your plans for the year, or even your struggles. They’ll become your fans, and tell their fans all about you, which will make them your fans too.

I’ve been listening to Wall Street Journal sports writer Stefan Fatsis‘ book, A Few Seconds of Panic (affiliate link), about his weeks spent in training camp with the Denver Broncos as a kicker. While I have never been a Denver Bronco’s fan, Fatsis’ look at the danger and drudgery of training camp and football has me looking at the Broncos in a whole new way, and I may have to cheer for them a few times this year (something I would never have done until this week). Can you find bloggers to do that for you? What about bloggers outside the sport? When less than 1% of the country knows who you are or what you do, non-industry bloggers are a rich, untapped vein. (Just don’t blanket every blogger out there. You’ll be labeled a PR spammer.)

Tip: Let other bloggers tell your story. If they make it compelling enough, they’ll win your fans for you. If you connect solidly with 10 bloggers and they each have 1,000 readers, you’ll reach 10,000 people. Now, compare that to the effort you would need to put out to reach 10,000 people yourself.

Build a Facebook Brand Page

You may already have a Facebook page, but that should be kept private. Try not to connect with your fans on your personal Facebook profile, since that’s where you’re also connecting with family and friends. Instead, create a Brand Page, and connect with people there.

However, it’s crucial that you actually use this page regularly; don’t ignore it. Promote your blog posts there. Post status updates when you publish your tweets (but don’t feed your Twitter stream into Facebook; it’s annoying. Just rewrite them to be more Facebook friendly.)

Tip: Republish your videos and photos to your Facebook page too. Ask your fans to share them with your friends. It’s a well-known adage in social media circles that we consumers trust recommendations by our friends. Let your fans evangelize to their friends about you.

There are a whole lot of other strategies I could recommend — posting videos to YouTube and photos to Picasa/Flickr — but that’s for another post. Use these strategies as a place to start and start building your personal branding campaign as a way to get sponsors, build name recognition among fans, and add new fans.

Do you have any strategy suggestions? Anything you’ve done as an athlete, or anything you wish an athlete would do? Share your wisdom in the comments section and let’s learn from each other.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on Amazon.com, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

Photo credit: Just_Bryan (Flickr)

Five Reasons to Use Posterous as a Social Media Distribution Point

I’ve been enjoying playing with Posterous for about a year now, and while I don’t recommend it for everyone, it can be a great tool for some people. You should consider using Posterous if you are a:

  • Beginning blogger
  • Social media specialist
  • Mobile blogger
  • Crisis communicator

Posterous is an email submission blog. You send your post as an email to your own Posterous.com address, treat the subject line as the headline, and any attachments you send are incorporated into the post itself. It’s not pretty at times, but if you need something fast, this is it. Plus, you can go in and edit stuff to make it look better later.

Posterous.com Screenshot

My Posterous.com blog

I’ve often said, “Using a blog interface is a lot like sending an email.” Now, thanks to Posterous, it really is sending an email.

Here are five reasons to use Posterous as a blog platform and social media distribution point:

  1. It’s ideal for mobile phone users. If you’re constantly on the go, and want to blog about the things you see, Posterous allows you to upload photos or videos to your site, along with any accompanying text. Posterous takes advantage of the overall computing power of today’s mobile phones. When I need to demonstrate Posterous during a talk, a few minutes before I go on, I’ll snap a picture of the gathering audience on my mobile phone, attach it to an email, and type in a couple of lines. Before my talk begins, I tell the audience, “I’m going to hit send on this email right now. You’ll see why it’s important in 10 minutes.” Then, when I get to that point in my talk, I show them my Posterous page, which has the picture of them. If you’re a crisis communicator or a mobile blogger, this is an ideal tool for communicating with the public on the fly.
  2. Posterous will automatically send videos and photos to other sites. I have tied my Flickr, Picasa, and YouTube accounts to my Posterous account; it also sends videos to Vimeo. Whenever I take photos or videos, and send them to Posterous, they are automatically uploaded to the appropriate networks. I don’t have to upload them first, and then download the embed code. The downside for anyone who is concerned about search engine optimization is that your digital properties are on Posterous, not on YouTube or Flickr, so you lose any search engine juice that would normally come from a well-optimized video or photo that links to your site. There are workarounds for this, but they take some extra time after your post has been uploaded. If you’re a social media specialist, you’ll love this feature.
  3. Posterous will automatically repopulate content to other blog platforms. You can tell Posterous to re-send your content on to your WordPress, Blogger, Drupal, TypePad, LiveJournal, Xanga, or Tumblr site. Publish a post on Posterous, republish it on your “official” blog. Yes, there are plugins and apps that let you email your posts in to these platforms, but they won’t necessarily upload your video and photos to YouTube and Flickr. Again, crisis communicators or mobile bloggers who need to get information out to several networks will love this feature.
  4. Tell Posterous NOT to post to certain networks. The default setting for Posterous is to repost everything to every network you want it to (i.e. email my post to post@posterous.com. But what if you have a photo you don’t want to send to Flickr, or you don’t want a post to show up on your WordPress blog? By using a specific email address — for example facebook+youtube+blog+twitter@posterous.com — I can tell Posterous to post to my different properties, but leave out a specific network. In this example, I’m leaving out Flickr.
  5. Posterous can automatically notify Twitter, Facebook, Google Buzz, etc. about new blog posts. Tie your Posterous blog into your different social networks, and notify your followers when a new post is up.