By embracing blogs early, Yahoo has transformed its outreach with online influencer marketing
Given the type of company it is, it seems natural that Yahoo would pay close attention to the changing media landscape, especially the growing presence of influential online media. But the tech company has gone further than that, developing a program that reaches out to bloggers and other online influencers and makes them an integral part of its PR and marketing activities.
Nicki Dugan, corporate communications director, notes that Yahoo began to pay attention to blogs about two years ago.
"[We] started to recognize that the blogosphere was going to be an important part of the Internet going forward," she says. "What many companies viewed as a fad, we really saw early on as something we should be looking at closely and understanding."
And while Yahoo works with several PR firms, the company hired Voce in 2004 specifically to help develop the online component of the influencer-marketing program.
"We knew this blogging phenomenon was going to share the eyeballs with traditional media," says Kristen Wareham, senior manager of communications for Yahoo Search Marketing. "Voce knew the landscape better, so we leaned on them to get a little bit of education and access."
Embarking on such a program requires a true commitment to the online space, notes Jeff Urquhart, client supervisor at Voce.
"You really must know that you're going to invest a lot of time in a program like this
if you start it. Once you engage, you can't disengage," he says. "Your time will be asked for more exponentially as you engage more. It's a commitment from the get-go."
To have a successful online influencer-marketing program, it was important to first determine who the influential bloggers were, how to approach them, and how to meet up with them.
The first step was to monitor the online conversations that were taking place about Yahoo, says Mike Manuel, online strategist for Voce. "Listening [without commenting] was a big part of the strategy for the first six months," he says. "We were trying to understand where conversations were happening, but also where we could realistically add some value."
The six-month "listening only" rule was a valuable way to assess the situation. "You want to have some kind of relationship or engagement with [bloggers] before you start talking about work," Wareham says.
In addition to blogs, the team looked into message boards and forums where Yahoo's products are commonly discussed. Where Yahoo Search Marketing was concerned, some of those bloggers were advertisers or search marketing consultants, which gave the PR team some new perspective.
"They had a very specific understanding for our program... and had some interesting insights into what we were doing and what they thought we could do better," Wareham says. "It was a different point of view."
What is particularly interesting about Yahoo's outreach to bloggers is that not all of it occurs online. With several different divisions and dozens of in-house PR people, it is quite possible to have face-to-face meetings with online influencers several times a month. Members of the PR team also make a point to seek out these influencers at industry events, such as Search Engine Strategies, Web 2.0, and Gnomedex. Wareham notes that the team is looking to arrange even more of these meet-ups, with some perhaps taking place on Yahoo's corporate campus.
Two years into the program, it appears that Yahoo has been able to reap the benefits of engaging this unique and growing audience. In fact, when it unveiled its online publishing platform, the Yahoo Publisher Network, the team first launched it as a beta product by bringing together a group of influencers to look at it, give feedback, and champion Yahoo's message in the blogosphere.
"It was a big risk because it was a huge product launch and we hadn't done it before," Wareham says, adding that reaching out to these influencers before the launch was extremely beneficial. "Just meeting with these bloggers beforehand gave us some good feedback that we used before we launched the product."
In fact, it was through monitoring online conversations that the company decided to launch a Yahoo Publisher Network blog.
"Without monitoring and listening, we wouldn't have known that there was a need for that, that people really wanted more information from Yahoo," says Urquhart.
Though Yahoo still values traditional media, the online influencer-marketing program has changed the way outreach is done. What started as a small group of tier-one influencers has grown into segmented "press" lists for bloggers with different focuses, says Wareham.
"It's part of the strategy when you go to market with some news to have at least a small group of bloggers or influencers that you can touch base with," she adds. "That didn't happen a year ago."
AT A GLANCE
Chairman and CEO: Terry Semel
Headquarters: Sunnyvale, CA
Revenues and latest earnings: 2005 revenue, $3.7 billion; Q1 revenue, $1.1 billion
Competitors: Google, AOL
Key trade publications: eWeek, PC Magazine, Search Engine Watch, Adweek, Advertising Age
PR budget: Undisclosed
Global Communications Team: CMO, Cammie Dunaway Corporate communications VPs, Joanna Stevens, Mary Osako VP of PR, Jennifer Stephens
Marketing Services Agencies: Voce, Outcast Communications, Hill & Knowlton, Porter Novelli, Bender/Helper Impact, Cohn & Wolfe, Spark PR, Soho Square (advertising)