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Barging Into the Bloggers' Circle

"To me it feels like selling out, because I do this for fun," he said. "They're totally targeting sites like this. That's why I keep getting offers and offers -- they never stop."

Marketing firms are advising companies to have conversations with bloggers rather than simply pitching a product and giving free samples. Follow the blogs carefully and join the dialogue by responding to posts only when it's appropriate, suggested Fionnuala Downhill, chief executive of Elixir Systems, an Arizona-based agency specializing in search engine optimization, or increasing a company's search ranking.

Inserting unrelated comments just to score a link will only offend bloggers, she said.

For example, Kim Bloomer, who writes the blog Aspenbloom Pet Care ( http://aspenbloompetcare.com/ ), gets angry when pet-care companies post links just to sell their products. Her response is to delete their posts.

"As soon as you try to control the message, it takes away from the whole spirit of blogging," Downhill said. "Once a commercial site influences a blog, a lot of people really frown on that. It's supposed to be consumer-generated, not company-generated."

To keep its efforts from being construed as manipulative, Los Angeles marketing firm M80 tries to provide bloggers with content they naturally gravitate toward. When Fox released the first season of "Family Guy" on DVD, M80 generated buzz by sending bloggers funny clips of the show's cast rehearsing. It circulated on the Internet so fast that the company now supplies bloggers with exclusive content each time a season is released.

Similarly, PerkettPR in San Francisco gave bloggers clips of new music videos when Gotuit Media Corp. launched http://gotuit.com/ , a start-up video portal, last week. More than 65 percent of the company's coverage came from blogs, the firm said.

"There's so many things fans do on their own, we just provide them with the tools to go out and support the message we're trying to convey," said M80's president, Jeff Semones. "We let their enthusiasm resonate around the Web."

Even negative feedback can boost a company's online presence by sparking a debate. Although Nokia initially took some heat for its unconventional approach with bloggers, it gave the company a platform to enter the discussion.

"Engaging bloggers, even if they don't agree with you, can never hurt," Cass said.


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