New organization helps local bloggers find opportunities

By Brian Dukerschein

As the former national marketing director for Gen Art, an organization that promotes emerging creative talent by partnering artists with corporate sponsors, Kelly Ryan O’Brien knows how beneficial it is for new artists to have a prominent voice. After launching her own blog in 2009, currently named “Idols & Egos,” she became aware of the growing importance of social media and how it was being utilized by public relations and marketing companies to promote their clients.

O’Brien’s desire to create more opportunities for local bloggers led her to pioneer the Chicago Blogger Network, an organization that partners lifestyle, pop culture and fashion blogs with marketing and PR firms.

“Blogging is such a new industry, and I think, in Chicago, it’s a newer concept in terms of [how companies] can actually work with bloggers as an advertiser or sponsor to support and promote their brands,” O’Brien said. “I want the network to be a place which every blogger will feel they benefit from, and should be part of the community.”

According to O’Brien, she will work with corporate clients to identify their goals and suggest creative ways they can interact with the CBN. For example, if a client is hoping to promote the launch of a new product or event, O’Brien will reach out to bloggers who focus on that particular segment, and they will choose whether or not to participate.

O’Brien said the purpose of the CBN is to increase a blog’s general readership. When the network’s website is launched, bloggers will have their own individual pages describing their blogs and allowing curious readers to follow them on various social media platforms.

“The advantage [for bloggers] is getting a higher level of visibility,” O’Brien said. “Anything they’re doing is going to be promoted through the network, and if you’re a blogger, that’s what you want. The more visibility you have and the more followers you have, the more you know what you’re doing is worth it.”

Bloggers in the CBN are arranged in a tiered system determined by their number of readers. O’Brien said she wants the network to be inclusive and give smaller blogs opportunities they might not get on their own.

“I truly think the blogging world is significant, and the talent and dedication we have is really fantastic,” she said. “If I can help legitimize and give bloggers a bigger platform, then I feel that’s great. It’s really about taking the talent in Chicago and showing it off.”

This organization of the blogosphere is happening around the country, according to Amber Porter Cox, vice president of digital marketing for Golin Harris—a global PR firm headquartered at 111 E. Wacker Drive— and an adjunct faculty member at Columbia in the Marketing Communication department. She said these networks are essentially “unionizing” bloggers into segments, which makes outreach much easier.

“There’s a lot of noise, and that becomes challenging because what do you listen to?” Cox said, and compared the current state of blogging with the early days of the Internet. “We’re going to see these networks grow, and how people use them will evolve. There may be one or there may be many players, but that’s how search engines have evolved as well.”

O’Brien said approximately 50 bloggers have already joined the CBN, including Dana Weiss. On her blog, “Possessionista,” Weiss tracks down the outfits celebrities wear on television shows and movies and tells her readers where they can buy them. Weiss said when she started her blog, it was difficult to reach out to retailers and publicists for information.

“Three years into it, I have 100,000 visitors a week, so now it’s an easy sell,” Weiss said. “It’s very hard for bloggers to convince somebody of your credibility. It’s not like walking in and saying, ‘I’m a journalist from the New York Times.’”

Weiss said she believes the CBN will help legitimize blogs in Chicago as long as bloggers act professionally.

“The one thing bloggers have that traditional media doesn’t is this ability to use their own voice,” Weiss said. “In a blog, you have to have a definitive voice while still being respectful. But I think, above all, put your hand back in your pocket. Don’t walk around with your hand out asking for free stuff. That’s the fastest way to lose credibility.”

Cox acknowledged that paying bloggers or sending gifts and freebies in exchange for coverage is a moral gray area that needs to be addressed.

“It’s a fine line you walk in a PR firm because you truly want people to talk about it from an ethical standpoint,” she said. “We try not to pay any of our bloggers. We want a real, natural, honest response.”

O’Brien said she hopes the CBN becomes a trusted resource for both bloggers and companies working with them, and she is optimistic about the future of the medium.

“I don’t see blogging going away. I see it creating its own role within the traditional media world,” O’Brien said. “I always say that blogging is still the Wild West of media. There aren’t any rules about what you can do.”

For more information on the Chicago Blogger Network, visit the organization’s Facebook page or