With the Blogsphere growing big, brands are getting into blogger outreach programmes.

Over a hundred people are milling around a hall at the Park Hotel in New Delhi, taking pictures of what look like barcodes stuck on a notice board with their smartphones. What's going on?

It's a bloggers' meet organised by the imaging and printers division of HP. The company is teaching bloggers to spot counterfeit cartridges. What they are clicking with their smartphones are QR (quick response) codes, which through their mobile phone code reader app will generate information on the product. The teams able to spot the maximum number of right QR codes stand to win a printer.

Over tea, coffee and sumptuous snacks, HP keeps the bloggers engaged with a variety of contests even as it dins in information on its printer products. Plagiarism is the theme of the day — and HP asks bloggers to recount instances where their blog posts have been lifted. After hearing their stories, the company quickly sends the message that it too is equally hit by counterfeiting. The unsaid and unwritten hope in all this is that the bloggers will write about it in their posts.

HP is not the only one reaching out to bloggers. Brands such as Dove from HUL, Samsung, Dell and Amul Masterchef are all talking earnestly to bloggers. Maruti Suzuki's Chief General Manager, Marketing, Shashank Srivastava, describes how increasingly the auto major is getting bloggers to test drive cars and give feedback.

As the Blogsphere gets big, brands are discovering a powerful community that they need to engage with. But the challenge for them is to reach out to the millions of bloggers scattered in the netspace, many of them with anonymous identities.

This is where IndiBlogger.in comes in. It claims to be the largest and most active Indian blogging community and offers an institutionalised platform where brands can engage with writers on the Net.

Take events such as the launch of Dove's hair care range. It organised an all-women blogger meet through IndiBlogger, where all those who attended were treated with a Dove Hair Spa. There were contests galore. It resulted in 150 blog posts and 1,500 twitter conversations for the HUL brand.

“Nobody was asked to write a review — the whole event was simply woven around the theme, ‘Dove wants to say Hello'. And yet, lots wrote about it,” says Vineet Rajan, one of the four founding members of IndiBlogger.

According to Rajan, the end-to-end management of such events is done by IndiBlogger. Once the brand gives a concept, they do the creative part. “We understand bloggers and their psyche and are better equipped to handle it,” says Rajan. IndiBlogger, which started out in 2007 as a directory listing of bloggers before it got into such events, gets an annual retainership from brands.

It appears to be a win-win partnership. As Ayesha Durante, Country Manager – Marketing at HP IPG India says, “These meets allow us to strengthen our relationships with the bloggers and build new ones; understand their goals, aspirations and challenges and also find out the wide variety of subjects that they are interested in.” HP has done meets like the Delhi one in Mumbai earlier.

With bloggers emerging as powerful influencers who help shape public opinion on a wide spectrum of subjects, one can expect more such brand engagements.

The growing blogsphere

According to Vineet Rajan, director, IndiBlogger, there are an estimated one lakh bloggers in India. IndiBlogger, which is perhaps the largest community of active bloggers, has 27,000 signed up members. Annually, IndiBlogger does surveys to get a sense of where the Blogsphere is moving. Key findings are that 75 per cent of those registered are male. “But what we find is that women bloggers are more influential than male bloggers — they command more trust with the reading community,” says Rajan. The maximum number of bloggers are in the 20-35 age group. But in terms of the fastest growing age group, it is the 45-plus. And in terms of where the bloggers are coming from, contrary to perception, it's not Bangalore that leads the way, but Delhi that has more bloggers.

(This article was published on December 14, 2011)
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