Edelman's Mom-Blog Maven: We Don't Do Paid-For Posts

Danielle Wiley Pioneers 2.0 Strategies at the Chicago Agency

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- As Edelman Chicago's senior VP for consumer brands social media, Danielle Wiley's job is to establish and manage 2.0 digital practices and strategies for the agency.

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Photo: Jessi Langsen
Listen to the audio interview now (above) with social media chief Danielle Wiley or download it as a podcast from iTunes (below).
The mother of two came to Edelman's attention as a result of the Foodmomiac blog she launched in 2005. She now heads an in-house team of four that spends much of its time researching, recruiting and managing bloggers for various brands' marketing campaigns.

In an interview with Ad Age's Hoag Levins, Ms. Wiley discussed the new sort of in-house agency capabilities she is helping to define and deploy every day as well as the many ways that social-media implementation is changing Edelman Chicago.

Ad Age: How much has Edelman been changed by the social media revolution? And what role are social media projects actually playing in what Edelman does now -- as opposed to what it may have been doing, say, three years ago?

Ms. Wiley: The social media revolution has had a really big impact on the way that we do business at Edelman. Three or four years ago, social media was present and it was growing, but it was kind of seen as a separate tactic. So there was the primary PR program and then there would be social-media extensions. Today, it's completely integrated. I can't think of any programs that we do now that don't include social media. And we actually have programs now that are purely social media with no traditional PR. And I think it's not just Edelman.

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Photo: Jessi Langsen
Danielle Wiley is a senior VP at Edelman in Chicago.
All marketers are seeing the importance of social media in the marketing mix. And we're seeing a lot of scrambling. I think companies are struggling as they try to figure out how to incorporate social-media programs and how to incorporate team members who understand how this works. You're seeing organization charts within PR firms and other marketing firms that are morphing on a daily basis. So there's a lot of experimentation with how best to make those programs and those teams work and be successful.

Ad Age: Tell me about your own Foodmomiac blog. Did you start that as part of your job or as a personal thing?

Ms. Wiley: I started Foodmomiac in 2005, before I joined Edelman. But it's had a really big influence on the way my team works and on the fact that I have this job at all. So everyone on my team is required to have a blog and they're all engaged in other social networks, as well, whether it's Twitter, Facebook, the 20-Something Network. As bloggers in the mom space, we all get pitched by other agencies so we're able to see, from the inside out, what's working and what doesn't work. And because we're all part of blogging communities, we can see trends as they're developing and we're able to see what's resonating within the particular niche groups that we're a part of.

Ad Age: How do do you select and qualify the bloggers that you use in Edelman marketing campaigns?

Ms. Wiley: We're not the type of agency that creates a list of 500 bloggers that we're going to pitch on any particular product. The list of bloggers that we want to work with for any one campaign is small. It's really targeted. Typically, it's made up of bloggers that we were already reading. We all have our RSS readers chock full of bloggers,

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One new trend is for marketers to use a corps of bloggers in cause-marketing campaigns, such as those launched recently by the Quaker and Hebrew National brands.
within all sorts of different niche topics. And when we're coming up with a list of bloggers to work with for any one particular program, we look through the list of bloggers that we know; we ask bloggers we know for recommendations; and we don't ever work with anyone, or reach out to anyone, until we've read back at least three months to get a sense of what that blogger's like so that we do know that they're sane, that they're disclosing, that they are doing things in a way that fits within the ethics of our company and of our clients' companies.

Ad Age: That's clearly a huge amount of work. How many people does it take to do this?

Ms. Wiley: My social media team within consumer brands, it's just four of us; obviously, we can't do everything. But the way Edelman works, we have some really intense training internally so everyone at the company -- from the presidents on down to the interns are trained. We have in-person training and online training to make sure that everyone is up to speed on how to research, how to read through blogs to find blogs that are appropriate, how to outreach in a way that's appropriate and fits within our standards. And we're constantly working to educate everyone. And in terms of our social media team, we do what we can to make sure that everyone knows how to conduct themselves properly and how to find the right people for a project.

Ad Age: And how hard has it been to get the older veterans at Edelman to buy into this?

Ms. Wiley: Edelman's been around for a long time but I think for anyone who's in marketing, you know that things are changing all the time and this is just yet a new morphing of the way that products are marketed. So we see a lot of excitement about getting to know these new technologies. We actually have this really cool program that just started last summer called ROTNEMs, which is "mentor" written backwards. So we have the 22- and 23-year-olds -- the digital mavens who've grown up doing some of this stuff -- serving as reverse mentors to EVPs, SVPs, sitting with them once a week, showing them how to Twitter, how to text-message from their BlackBerry, how to update their Facebook page. This program has been a huge success and everyone's kind of having a blast doing it. It's definitely had a positive impact on the campaigns that we're doing as well.

Ad Age: You mentioned the issue of bloggers' ethics and that's become quite a big issue with Mommy bloggers of late.

Ms. Wiley: There's been a huge increase in the visibility of mom bloggers and the tactics that marketers are using to reach out to them. So we're seeing the splashy trips to Disney, private tours of manufacturing facilities. We saw two bloggers, a couple of weeks ago, brought to a red-carpet premiere, meeting Ben Stiller, and so forth. And along with that come the blog posts that talk about the perks. There are posts that aren't transparent but readers and the government -- certainly now with the FTC stepping in -- are beginning to demand more accountability. I think, as with any publishing medium, a blatant, positive post that was clearly paid for is going to engender less trust than an editorial review that's fully transparent and disclosed. I think, as marketers, we need to work really hard on our end to ensure that we're requiring full disclosure.

At Edelman, there have been instances where we've refused to work with bloggers who aren't going to disclose properly. We've reached out to them with a product, and asked them to review it; they've come back to us and offered to do a positive review in return for pay. We don't do that. We said no. Blatantly positive posts that are clearly a result of free perks aren't helping anyone. They don't help the marketer and ultimately they don't help the blogger, as readers are going to have less trust in her written word. So insisting on disclosure and transparency is key. I think the bloggers that have always been transparent and have always disclosed feel that they're being damaged by those who are not disclosing. Liz Gumbinner, a popular blogger who we read, recently wrote that as a blogger who's always been disclosing and being transparent, she feels her reputation is somewhat being marred by this negative halo effect of the bloggers who are not disclosing. And so I think we're going to see some policing coming internally from the bloggers themselves.

Ad Age: How big an audience can you actually reach with these blogging programs and how does it compare with the reach of traditional media?

Ms. Wiley: It's hard to compare social media and traditional media. We don't have as many good measurement standards in place. It's difficult to know the reach or the number of page views of any one blog. A blog's audience can be much smaller than that of a print publication but the readers can also be very influential. So we'll see blog posts that show up a few months later, in a print publication. We know that many of the readers of blogs are bloggers themselves, which can also have an exponential effect on the influence. So it's complicated. We're still navigating how to best measure this.

Ad Age: Are your clients generally comfortable with that?

Ms. Wiley: They certainly do expect the traditional measurement standards. They want to see impressions. They want to see reach. So we do a lot of educating. While you can't necessarily always determine page views for blog, we are able to get a sense of the number of subscribers to a blog. We are able to see what type of comments are being generated. And we're able to see when people are linking to a blog post. So a lot of it's about education. And before we start a campaign, we set out very clearly what we can and what we can't measure. We come up with some benchmarks that we'd like to reach and we just continue to educate, throughout the entire campaign, so that clients don't feel in the dark. They understand that it's different from traditional media. They really do understand that this is true engagement. And so while you might not be reaching as many people, it might be readers that are a lot more targeted and a lot more meaningful. And they're starting to really understand that that's just as valuable as pure numbers.

Ad Age: And is there anything else about the current agency use of bloggers that you think is important or particularly interesting?

Ms. Wiley: One trend that we're seeing is that if we can help bloggers use their reach to effect positive change in the community, that that can be a really successful way to market a product and to help others. We did this with Quaker earlier this year when we worked with mom bloggers to donate time and product to food banks across the country. This past weekend, Hebrew National did something along these same lines. It had what were called Picnics with a Purpose in parks across the country. Bloggers got together to raise money and that was really successful as well. It's a trend that we're going to see more of, especially as the economy continues to struggle. It's just a really great way [for marketers] to reach out to help bloggers help others with their reach.

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