In the spring of 1998, I watched my husband ask another girl out on a date. To be clear, he was just my friend from the other side of the hall at the time and not legally bound to me, so it wasn’t as inappropriate as it sounds. I was perched in my loft bed when the poor guy knocked on our door and stepped in to speak to my roommate. Without taking the time to assess the situation – snarky girl perched in loft bed, watching – he asked my roommate if she’d like to join him for dinner and a movie. Only the way he said it sounded more like 1908 than 1998, causing me to muffle my laughter with a pillow. Unfortunately for him, he married me so while I didn’t mock him in that moment, he’s got the pleasure of me bringing it up until death do us part.
What does this have to do with startups? Every day I watch as new companies awkwardly ask bloggers out. And unlike that skinny 19 year old boy, these are purported professionals hoping to foster a business relationship with influencers. Yet it is just as painful to watch.
Startups? You’re doing it wrong.
1. Don’t ask me out on Twitter:
I’ve only ever been asked out on a real date once, and the boy who asked me out did so over the phone. We were friends first, and we often hung out with a group of mutual friends. I am so grateful that he chose to call me to propose we go out rather than ask me in front of those friends. I did say yes (dinner in Dupont Circle then Annie Hall…fifty shades of awesome), but imagine how uncomfortable it would have been if he’d asked me out in front of all of our friends. If I had said no, would I have looked like a bitch? If I had said yes, would that make everyone think we were now a couple?
Twitter is public. It is not the place to ask a blogger to work with your company. It is a place to chat, say hello, introduce yourself. Take it off the platform when you’re taking it to the next level.
2. Don’t ask us all out at the same time:
Imagine if that day in the dorm had gone differently. What if my roommate and I were hanging out together when suddenly we heard distant knocking. Then slightly closer knocking. Closer. Closer. And then we heard our friend go into the room next door and ask one of the girls out to dinner and a movie. Mumbled talking. Then a knock on our door.
Brands, when you send the same “We’d love for you to check us out!” email to a list of bloggers at the same time, here is what happens in private groups all around Facebook:
“Did anyone get that seedy email from Brand A?”
“Sent a picture of The Bloggess sending a picture of Wil Wheaton collating papers.”
We know it. We feel it. And it feels crappy, brands.
And when you do it on Twitter? It looks like this and the Whole. World. Can. See. It.
3. Don’t start by telling me the date is going to suck:
Right now I receive a few emails a day from startups asking me to check out their new product/service/app/website/book/really emotionally moving video. This ebbs and flows and at times reaches dozens in a single day. The first thing I scan for is what is in it for me. More on that in a minute. But what I also notice every time – because it’s there nearly every time – is the line that is some variation of this:
“Hi Amy, I know you’re really busy and that a lot of companies are asking you to check out their stuff and that this is just one more person requesting your time, but…”
I don’t love the way my husband asked my roommate out. I’m not going to lie. It was 16 years ago and it still makes me giggle. But he didn’t walk into the room and start with, “I know you’re really busy and you probably don’t want to go out with me and I know I shouldn’t ask, but…”
I try to honestly look at every email I receive, and I even try to respond to as many as possible as politely as possible. But if you begin by telling me that you know you’re just one in a million, wasting my time, I’ll assume that you’re right and hit delete.
4. Flirt with me before you try to get to third base:
Remember Twitter? I love that crazy bastard. I remember the days when I sat on the floor playing with a two and a four year old for eleven hours and then, after tucking them in for the night, crawled into bed with my husband, my laptop perched on my lap, and let my snark flag fly. There was a time when Twitter was a virtual conversation Olympics, an opportunity to engage in hours of witty banter, pushing us to jam our clever into 140 characters, allowing people from all walks of life, all over the world, to engage, relate, enjoy other people.
And yes, I created Twitter parties and I may have had something to do with the transformation of the platform, but I still love it. Damn it, I do.
So startups, get in there. Tweet. Talk. Converse. If you see me tweeting about the 80’s music I’m listening to, respond. I’m going to see you, and I’m going to remember you. And when you send me that email asking me to market your goods for the whopping payment of ZERO dollars, I’m going to remember that you, too, occasionally listen to Whitesnake, and I’m going to respond favorably.
5. Know why you’re asking me out and why I should say yes:
I don’t know why my husband asked Kerri out. I occasionally poke him and ask him why he asked her out and not me, and the poor man just whimpers and hopes I’ll fall asleep soon.
I do know why I receive most of the pitch emails I receive. It’s because I’m on a list. And listen, I don’t mind that those lists are out there. I understand that as a blogger, I’m not some special snowflake. I also understand that those lists exist because somewhere in the history of blogging, brands decided that bloggers are valuable, worth engaging and paying. For this I am eternally grateful.
But if you’re doing something more than sending me a press release, a blanket pitch that you’ve sprayed and prayed out to the world, then please know why you’re sending it. Someone likely taught you to reference my most recent post in the first paragraph of your pitch. Don’t do it. We can see it coming from across the room. Instead, genuinely know why you want to work with me, and tell me that honestly. Also, please know why I should want to work with you. Yes, I sometimes work for free. Yes, I sometimes cover businesses and apps and tools and services because I just happen to think they’re worth writing about. But if I actually respond to your email with some variation of the following, “I’m very interested in working with you to promote your brand. I’ve attached my client kit with my current rates,” please know if your budget falls within my rate card before you respond to me.
In case you’re wondering, she said yes, they went out on one date, and they continued to just be friends. Time passed, I pounced, and the rest is history.