Liveblog | Keynote Panel: Blogging from Hobby to Career

Carla Birnberg moderates a panel with four women who’ve found success beyond the blog in four distinctly different arenas.   Andrea Metcalf, Karla Walsh, Kelly Olexa and Liz Neporent speak.

Introductions of panelists.  See bios for more.

Carla Binberg: MizFit. Blogging since 2001.

Karla Walsh: Healthful Bites blog.  Blog editor at FitStuff (on Fitness Magazine’s website).

Kelly Olexa: Blogging and videos –> part of the Ford Fiesta movement.  Also works with Polar HRM and Andrea Metcalf and Sears.

Liz Neporent: Journalist, writer and fitness professional.  ABC News national (Good Morning America website) and publications in Harvard Medical School.  “That’s Fit” blog on AOL –> Shape.com (soon)

Andrea Metcalf: Health and fitness professional, started going into traditional media to gain exposure.  Own blog + Huffington post + Oprah.com + more.  Author of Naked Fitness.

Q: How can bloggers take their first step out of the unpaid realm and into the paid realm?

Andrea: What brand do I like?  What brand resonates with me?  And go after it. You don’t have to wait for them to contact you anymore.  Call, email, “stalk” (but not really).  Keep at it and be true to that brand, and you will get something from it.

Liz: Have to learn to like the word ‘no’ and it can’t bother you.

Kelly: Sometimes have to ignore the “no.” Used to be a ‘lurker’… once started with Ford, got her talng more and communicating more.  Reach out to brands you love, get creative (they may have very little budget or ideas).  They may not know what to do with you or how to use you. You need to give them ideas/pitch them.  Reach out to whomever you really have a connection with, not someone you think will pay you the most.

Karla: Blogs as a hobby, to meet people, doesn’t view it as a business.  Used internships through schooling.  Life-long fan of Fitness magazine, and interned for the company that owns the magazine.  Once had groundwork of internship + blogging at home, could take the fitness mag blog to the next level.  Didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer

Andrea: You ahve to know your platform, your analytics, your audience, and find the win-win.  Why would/should the brand care about your blog?  Why should they do anything with you?  You have to differentiate yourself.  Have to put in hours to build your brand.  Figure out the win-win and you will win.

Liz: Use HARO.  Subscribe.  Email three times a day with a list of reporters looking for people to talk to/quote/interview.

Karla: Gets pitches for magazine.  Hard to sort through the emails…lots of good mixed in with the bad.  Sometimes solicit ideas or success stories through Facebook or Twitter… so follow the brands you want to work with on social media and keep an eye out.

Andrea: TV shows get hundreds of thousands of emails who want to be on the show, but far fewer via Twitter.  Lesson: Twitter is a powerful tool.  Couldn’t get through to Andy of Bravo via email, but got through via 12 tweets over the course of 3 days.

Carla: Twitter is the great equalizer.  Tweeted Zappos CEO and asked to interview for her blog.  Approach people on Twitter, get a “face” behind the brand.

Q: As a fitness writer, how do you begin to know what the opportunities are/who to reach out to/how to contact the brands.

Andrea: Google is the best place to start. Trials are your best ‘in’ for the high-end PR newsletter/sites.  Mediabistro, Hoovers, etc.  Mediabistro will tell you when magazines want pitches, who to contact, etc. in some cases.  Press release to the PR person. Can’t just send out an email.  Have to email-phone-email-phone + Twitter and keep going through it until you get a response.

Liz: Gets 40-50 pitches a day.  Reads every single one. Just don’t know where a good idea is going to come from.  When she wants something, she can be single-minded about it.  Must network.  Invite people to lunch.  Allot time in weekly schedule to tweet, facebook, network in person/via lunch, go to networking parties, etc.  You never know what’s going to come of it.

Kelly: Works for social media agency.  Look at social media, PR, ad agencies to see who their clients are.  Hates the word ‘networking’.  Keep blogging and meeting people and going on Twitter/Facebook and tell them what you’re all about/what you’re passionate about.  People are always watching and will contact you down the line.  There are a lot of people who work at brands that you may not realize. They can introduce you to brands you want to work with without you asking for it.  “The more people you know, the more people you know.”

Karla: If you have trouble getting in touch with the person who you initially tried to get in touch with, keep contacting them but also contact someone down the “ladder.” They may have more time to answer queries, etc. and their desk is probably right near the person who actually makes the decisions.

Carla: Be aware, people are watching.  People do pay attention. “Tweet on brand.” Does what you’re tweeting further/hurt your brand? If you want to make it your business (you don’t need to worry about it as much if you blog as a hobby)

Kelly: Be yourself.  Don’t think you have to say things the “Laughing Cow” or “Diet Coke” way, etc. Form long-term relationships with someone you WANT to talk to and WANT to blog about.  Even if you tweet something negative about a brand, they may contact you to say they appreciate your honesty and ask for advice on how to improve.

Liz: Your personality and your brand has a thread that runs through it.  If you want to go to the next level, you need to think of yourself as “You, Inc.”

Andrea: That’s not always comfortable.  But that comes with being your own brand.

Q: Often people say they don’t have a brand and are just blogging.  Start asking OTHER people what your brand is/what they expect when they come to your blog.  May find out that you aren’t coming across the way you want to.  How do you start to define your blog?

Andrea: Who you are/what your brand is…think of it as SEO.  What are the 10 words someone would use to find you?  Will help you figure out your brand and then your tagline.

Liz: Be passionate about what you’re writing about.  Find your personality in your writing/work.  You need to think a lot about it, but it will also come somewhat naturally…you are who you are.  Be a little egotistical.

Kelly: For a lot of people who are just getting started, it may be overwhelming to hear “what’s your brand? just be yourself.” Sears chose Kelly, Andrea, Carla for different reasons and because they are so different from each other.  May not be able to define yourself, ask people for help.  Ford chose her for Fiesta movement because of how she relates to her audience.  She doesn’t have a car blog, etc.  Be okay with turning down brands that don’t align with what you’re all about.

Carla: If they don’t fit with you, refer other people. Pay it forward.

Karla: Live what you believe in, and things will fall into place.  Subscribes to every fitness magazine and wathces fitness DVDs, etc…that’s who she is and what she does, and was lucky to find a career opportunity that aligns with that.

Carla: Remember to tell the brands what you are willing to do. Lay it out for them…what you need from them AND what you will do for them.  Make it win-win.  Paying bloggers is somewhat of a new things.

Carla: Asks for audience questions.

Q from Katy Widrick: Once you’re in with the brand and you’re facebooking/tweeting with them, how do you show them that what you’re doing is valuable?  How do you prove return on investment?

Carla: Her experience is that they’re watching.  They’ll track the numbers.

Andrea: mymediainfo.com has a free trial. Will tell you the media value of your site, etc.  The brand will understand how to interpret media value (but you’ll only get paid about 2% of your media value).  Know your analytics going into it.  Always overdeliver.

Liz: Lives and dies by her numbers.  As a writer, you cannot get hired unless you have those good numbers writing for the web and a strong social media presence. If you’re working for someone, ask if you can see their analytics and have access to see how your blog posts perform, etc.  Even if your numbers are small, keep looking to eke out a little more in degrees.  When she gives an opinion, it is well-researched.  Immediately puts posts on twitter, facebook, linkedin, etc…then looks on google/facebook/etc to find other places she can link to it that will get a big reaction.  Be creative and strategic about those things.

Kelly: Doesn’t know her analytics, hasn’t tried to make money from her blog… opportunities come from connecting with people.  Comment everywhere — good way to connect.  Do GoogleAlerts to find people who are talking about you who you don’t even know.    Thank people who write about you to make that connection.  Until you get to the place where you have a lot of unique views each month, it will be more useful to know who you are and what your brand is. If you’re proactive and strong, it will help you go further than some of the “big bloggers” with big numbers.  Don’t get too hung up on the numbers.

Carla: Tell brands what you bring to the table, and you’ll get opportunities even if you don’t have a lot of followers, etc.  You don’t have to have a lot of readers, you just have to be an influencer.

Kelly: The quality of the relationship matters more than the quantity of your audience.  Brands are starting to realize this more and more.  Being genuine and having a good back and forth relationship with your readers is more important.

Liz: She is selling by the numbers.  Don’t get the numbers = fired.  You need to understand what your goals are/what you’re selling.

Q: When you get comments on your blog, how do you deal with negative comments?

Kelly: Her site attracts a “diverse” audience and she had to shut down comments for a time because of inappropriate comments.  There isn’t any one answer to how to deal with it.  She deletes profanity, but otherwise may respond with some snark.

Andrea: Make sure you can stand behind whatever you are writing about.  If you can’t stand behind it, you shouldn’t be writing it.

Liz: She likes the discourse.  You’re putting yourself out there, and part of what you do is criticism.  You may get story ideas from negative comments, or realize that it is somewhat constructive.

Kelly: Expect negativity, especially when you start working with brands. Be yourself, and be willing to stand up for yourself.  There is always going to be a brand that you like that someone will be pissed off about. Get used to say things like “I really appreciate the feedback,” “I appreciate your opinion,” “agree to disagree” etc.

Karla: Tim Ferriss (4 hour body/workout)… leave critical comments up and let it start a conversation.  If it is attacking someone personally, he takes it down though.  You can’t be too sensitive (on the web or in real life).

Andrea: Contact the person to understand why they don’t like it and how to improve it…you may end up learning from it or making a friend.

Q: General Mills brand representative: What can we offer beyond the standard review and giveaway to the bloggers?  Especially if they can’t do it monetarily?

Andrea: Make your expectations very clear.  Sample tweets can help, as can the “bullet point” information.

Liz: Spell their name correctly and show that you know what they do/write about.  Show that you know something about the blogger.

Carla: It’s tough to be offered free product for developing lots of quality content. She would prefer to be told that the company will donate a set amount of money to a certain charity if they can’t pay the blogger for whatever reason.

Kelly: Offers for free product for a blog post can be overwhelming.  It is more effective to find a different way to do something, have a year-round relationship, rather than a one-off.  It is good when brands work together.  She wants more flexibility, more year-round relationships… it lets you get more creative.

Karla: Get to know the person you are emailing.  Do at least a little research and find a connection with them.  What kind of “scoop” could the brand offer a blogger (soon-to-be-released product, upcoming report, etc)

Q: What do you think of advertising as a source of revenue on your blog?

Liz: Doesn’t have control over that.

Carla: Chose to have no ads.

Andrea: It depends on if you have to have the CPM to make it worthwhile.  Thinks bloggers have to find ad networks, but ad networks are looking for bloggers too.

Kelly: Her site doesn’t have ads because she thinks it is difficult to make them relevant to the rest of the blog.  She doesn’t want her blog to become like a garage sale with many distracting ads on the side. She thinks a lot can happen with blogs and advertising, and that there are more creative ways to do it.

Audience member (who works for ad network): There seems to be a disconnect between what bloggers want and what ad networks are offering.

Blogger in audience member: If don’t have long term relationship with company, you can bring in revenue with ads as a place to start and a piece of income you didn’t have before.

Blogger in audience member: Brevity is wonderful.  Keep the initial email brief, introducing yourself.  Bullet points are great.  If they’re interested, they’ll get back to you. If not, you won’t have wasted your time or their’s.

Q: How do you figure out what is a fair payment for sponsored posts?

Andrea: Find people who are similar, with similar amounts of traffic and figure out what your average payment/offer is. Keep talking and asking around and you’ll find the right number.

Carla: It is rough because people don’t know or don’t want to talk money.If you’ve worked with brands, don’t be afraid to talk with other bloggers to help them out… mentor bloggers who want to start working with brands.

Liz: At some point, you may need to do something for nothing just to build up a profile.  And at some point, you need to say no and walk away.
Kelly: Between PR/ad agencies, there is a monthly number for working with influencers. You may have to do speaking engagements, etc for nothing but be ready to ask.  Be okay with asking about their budget.
Andrea: Honorarium = you would like to be paid, but they don’t have to if they can’t
Kelly: Over-deliver.  This is a job.  If you really want to do something with your blog, over-deliver.  Understand that brands are being approached by a lot of people… so be confident, but humble.  Show the brand the unique ways you can help the brand and you can demand a little more the next time.

Karla: Prefers reciprocal relationships “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch your’s.”

Carla: Wise and witty wrap-up?
Karla: FitStop  has “Fit Blogger we love” highlighting health bloggers.  Connect with Karla if interested!

Liz: Always welcomes ideas and relationships.
Andrea: Want to try out and review S2H, GoFit.net, Trainer World — contact her via Twitter/in person

This panel was captured by Julie of Savvy Eats.