Working With Tea Bloggers

For nearly a decade, there have been tea blogs emerging in various forms. In the early Wild West days of blogging, individual writers penned blogs that covered a vast array of topics, from Tea 101 to reviews to drinking habits. Over time, as more blogs established themselves, there was greater specialization and bloggers developed a more specific focus to gain eyes. There were those that wrote only about Japanese greens or pu’erh, others specialized in teaware, while others took more unusual approaches with tea fiction, creative writing and daily reviews. Some continued independently, while others made their way into industry to develop blogs for tea purveyors.

Throughout this period, tea retailers have often struggled with how best to work with bloggers. The various forums staged and awards given to tea bloggers at last year’s World Tea Expo has shown that they have become an important part of the industry. For those retailers who have not already taken their reins of their own blogs, they may be looking to blog writers as an additional source of marketing and feedback. What are the dos and don’ts of a successful relationship?

If you want a good relationship with a blogger DO these things:
Stock_CheckmarkRead his/her blog before contacting them. Understand their angle before reaching out. (Robert Godden, The Devotea)
*  Ask the blogger if there are any particular tea types they do or do not like. Your product will receive a much fairer assessment if you are starting from a place of a tea type they already like. (Even better, says bloggers, recommend something from your collection that you think they’ll like based on what they’ve written in the past!)
*  Show respect for the work they do and the effort they put into sharing tea information and educating those with an interest in tea.
*  “Be personable and friendly,” says Jo Johnson of Scandalous Tea. “That little hand written note goes a long way in establishing a relationship…I even laminated one from a supplier and have it hanging in my tea closet.” Rachel Carter from IHeartTeas agrees. “Though I appreciate being contacted by all companies, I often gravitate towards those that connect with me at a more personal level and then later request a review.”
*  Provide easy access to images and press materials for reference. “[One retailer] included a link to a Dropbox folder with press releases, videos and images. This tool not only gave me exclusive access, but also provided me with a wealth of resources to use for the future,” said Alexis Siemons of Teaspoons and Petals.
* Consider offering an additional sample or product as a potential blog giveaway. One retailer sent Siemons a tasting set, along with an additional set for her to give away to readers. “I had to applaud them for such smart marketing tactics as this ‘gift’ would encourage me to engage in detailed conversations regarding the brand.”
* Continue to communicate. “[Retailers with whom I had good relationships] kept me in the loop in a timely manner, i.e. they told me when they were going to have promotions, were low on stock, had new teas arriving, etc, and gave me time to react accordingly,” added Jason Walker of Walker Tea Review.

If you want a good relationship with a blogger DON’T DO these things:
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*  Send tea types that the bloggers have clearly communicated in their blogs that they don’t like. “Even worse, send tea products containing allergens that the bloggers have written about frequently,” says Robert Godden of The Devotea.
*  Place expectations and deadlines on the bloggers. These writers are generally doing this on their own time with no compensation. Often paid projects or other life events cause a more unpredictable schedule. A free sample doesn’t guarantee a published review at all, let alone on any particular deadline. “Pressuring to meet an unrealistic or arbitrary deadline when it doesn’t suit the life situation of the blogger is always a deal-breaker. Always,” says Geoff Norman of Steep Stories of the Lazy Literatus.
*  Provide an outline or specifics about what you would like included in their review. “It’s important to me as a blogger to have the freedom to review products in my own way,” says Darlene Meyers Perry of The Tea Enthusiasts Scrapbook. Data is good, specific language or opinion is not.
* Question the blogger’s integrity. Palates differ and most bloggers are up front that not every tea suits every tea drinker. If a blogger doesn’t like your product, it is not good practice to respond in an angry or argumentative way. And, sometimes, if a blogger doesn’t post a review of a sample you sent, it is because they didn’t care for it and have a policy not to publish bad reviews.

What benefits can a blogger actually offer your business?
*  A fair assessment of your product from a devoted tea enthusiast. “Readers view us as an unbiased opinion. It can be really hard to know exactly what they are getting, especially when purchasing tea online. Reading reviews can give them a good idea of whether or not they would enjoy the tea before making the leap,” says Nicole Martin of Tea for Me Please. (Martin was the 2015 World Tea Award winner for Best Social Media.)
*  “It is easy to boast about your own product,” says Carter. “However, when you read something about a product from someone dissociated with the business who has nothing to gain from the review, it may drive new business.”
*  A built-in audience who already turns to that blogger for advice and recommendations.
*  An honest opinion of your product that can guide further improvements.
*  A new way of looking at your product – a fresh look and creative language about what you sell.  “A different angle helps add more dimension to a retailer’s offerings,” says Norman.
*  A broader reach into social media.  In addition to publishing their blogs, many of these writers also repost the links on Facebook and through Twitter. Because it is often a tight-knit community, many bloggers re-share each other’s links, providing big social media reach.
*  A voice for smaller retailers. “Retailers and vendors struggle with time running their businesses. Tea bloggers can and do help them get their messages out,” says Johnson. “In this tea traffic jam on the internet, the major players can push out messages even 3-4 times a day. Tea blogging can help remind consumers that there are other (smaller) companies that want their business too.”

“Tea bloggers are the pulse of the tea industry,” says Meyers Perry. “Retailers use marketing ads to get exposure for their products, but bloggers give you the ‘true’ insider view of products. I have personally purchased 75% of my last tea products because of tea blogger reviews.”