Partnerships with bloggers are an attractive strategy for public relations practitioners because they often offer detailed reporting and a type of third-party credibility akin to journalism within niche networks of individuals sharing information about selected topics (Langett, 2013; Ries & Ries, 2002).
Blogs have been shown to influence consumers’ purchasing decisions and, interestingly, consumers say that smaller communities are more influential than larger communities (Redsicker, 2013). This is important for nonprofits, which may lack access or financial ability to pursue partnerships with high-profile bloggers.
One way to describe the role bloggers play in fostering goodwill and positive reputation for nonprofits is social capital theory. Public relations researchers have highlighted the potential for applying social capital theory to the study of public relations (Dodd et al, 2015). Blogger relations, a public relations strategy, offers organizations potential for two important types of social capital as identified by Putnam (2000): bridging and bonding. Individuals within a community can share and develop resources together (bonding), but they can also share and develop resources with other individuals outside their community (bridging) (Putnam, 2000). Online communities can offer opportunities for bridging and bonding, depending on the level of ideological and social heterogeneity (Norris, 2002).
This study examined Compassion International, the third-largest child sponsorship program in the world (Wydick, Glewwe & Rutledge, 2013). Compassion uses a blogger engagement program to communicate with existing and potential sponsors. I sought to describe the content Compassion bloggers are providing during blogger trips, the response of blog readers via comments and the role these blog posts appear to be playing in recruiting/retaining child sponsors. I also examined these blog posts through the lens of social capital theory, examining the potential for blogger engagement to generate social capital for nonprofit organizations.
I conducted a narrative analysis of blog posts and comments from the five most recent Compassion blogger trips. I analyzed 253 blog posts written by 36 bloggers over five blog trips to Ecuador (2011), Tanzania (2012), Peru (2012), Nicaragua (2013) and Uganda (2014). I also analyzed 7,458 blog comments.
This review produced several implications for public relations professionals seeking to engage bloggers to help tell their organization’s story.
- Use rich description – Rich description served to draw readers in, making them feel as if they’re personally experiencing the story. Readers responded (in terms of comments) to stories that ended in unexpected ways, stories which seemed to deeply impact the blogger, stories that included a frame of reference for readers, and stories that seemed honest or reflected difficult realities of the children’s situations or ways of life.
- Post content that fits the blog – Posts that reflected the blogger’s typical content also resonated with readers. Regular blog readers come to these blogs to read about a particular topic – home décor, cooking, parenting, writing, etc. To the extent bloggers were able to tie their experiences with Compassion to their typical blog content, these posts engaged readers.
- Be authentic – Most of the bloggers did write about poverty during their trip. They employed visual descriptions, individual stories, numbers and statistics, comparisons and metaphors in painting an accurate picture of the poverty they encountered.
- Encourage specific behaviors – Child sponsorship is a key goal for Compassion, so many of the posts focused on the importance of child sponsorship. In addition to sponsoring children, bloggers focused on the importance of correspondence with sponsored children. They emphasized how much the children they met seemed to treasure the letters they received from sponsors.
- Engage and equip – One advantage of mobilizing seasoned bloggers is that most of them already know how to engage readers. This is part of their blog’s success. These bloggers, on many occasions, engaged their readers through responding to comments.