“I think it’s called the Internet or something – blogs is it? – I don’t know, I’ve only just got used to letters John, I haven’t got used to all this new technology.”
John Prescott talking to John Humphreys on Radio 4’s Today programme
The one constant thing in life is change. And – largely due to the web – the world of PR is changing at a rate not seen since the invention of the printing press, writes Chris Hewitt, CEO of Berkeley PR.
In the old days, PR was very simple. When businesses wanted to communicate to their customers via the media, they worked out which publications they wanted to appear in and employed PR agencies or in-house communications departments to write press releases, talk to journalists and set up briefings and interviews. The end result ideally being positive coverage in influential publications and broadcast media.
Then came the World Wide Web and over the next dozen or so years things started to change. Around 2001, a number of users started to write weblogs. At first nobody took much notice of them, then someone worked out that there were over 48 million blogs out there. They became prominent media in their own right.
In 2003, Salaam Pax, the Baghdad blogger, published a book based on his weblog during the Gulf War. It became a worldwide best seller. More recently, John Prescott has blamed much of the furore about his extra-marital affairs on political bloggers.
In 2005, the 7/7 London bombings signalled the emergence of citizen journalism. On that day alone, the BBC was inundated with 22,000 emails and 300 video clips, largely recorded on mobile phone cameras.
The latest web trend – dubiously titled Web 2.0 – is even more dynamic and interactive. Community websites like Myspace and Bebo are hugely popular, with millions of users worldwide interacting about anything from music to politics. The news website www.digg.com does away with editors altogether: members submit stories and vote for their favourite to push it up the news chart.
While all this was happening, businesses and PR agencies carried on doing their old thing: sending out press releases, setting up interviews and doing coverage analysis based on advertising equivalents. The trouble is, the rules have changed, but most businesses and PR agencies haven’t.
How to manage PR in the blogging age
So, what are the first steps for dealing with this new world of communications? Here are some key points to make sure your PR succeeds in the age of blogging;
- Accept that national newspapers aren’t the best way of trying to get your message across. They’re a bit like Hollywood blockbuster movies: they provide a bit of everything for everyone. Think niche. You wouldn’t scan through The Guardian to find a local IT supplier, would you?
- Start blogging. And write it yourself, including things that you’re passionate about in your industry (not your favourite movies). Journalists are increasingly using them as a source for news. But make sure you get your PR agency or communications department involved just to make sure it’s on message.
- Encourage your customer base to become a community. Let them talk to each other. Every sales and marketing professional knows that word of mouth is the most powerful medium. Well, now the web can enable this to happen on a massive scale.
- Work with a PR agency that understands new media. Not in a trendy “we’re a groovy new media agency” way. Expect them to understand things like RSS feeds, blogs and podcasts.
Smart businesses are those who are realising that there is an enormous opportunity to communicate directly to their publics – whether they’re journalists, influential bloggers or customers – in a way never seen before. The trick is to understand how the rules have changed and react accordingly, before your competitors do.
OK, so you’ve decided that you’re going to write a blog. What’s next?
- Decide what your blog is going to be about. Is it personal, technical, humorous, political? Like any piece of communication, it’s important to consider who your audience is. This is especially important for corporate blogs.
- Pick a company to host your blog. There are plenty of free services, like Google’s Blogger (www.blogger.com) Blogster (www.blogster.com) and Word Press (www.wordpress.com). These provide a limited amount of web space, with a personal address, such as yourblogname.wordpress.com. If you’re producing a corporate blog, however, you probably want something that has your own look and feel, with your own address. It’s worth looking at registering a domain (try www.123-reg.co.uk) and hosting it yourself using one of the services above or a dedicated paid for service, such as Type Pad (www.typepad.com).
- Ensure that your blog is integrated or at least links heavily with your company website.
- Once you’ve created your blog and written a few entries, it’s time to tell the world. Start by registering with Technorati (www.technorati.com), which currently tracks over 50 million blogs.
- Once you’re up and running, it’s important to keep your blog up to date. People will soon stop visiting if your last entry is two weeks old.
- Be careful what you write about – although it’s your opinion, don’t get carried away and use it as an excuse to pan your competitors (at least not without consulting your PR agency).
- Use lots of hyperlinks, including links to other bloggers. They may just return the favour, helping to hike your blog up the search rankings.
- Pay attention to spelling and grammar. Just because a blog is informal, it’s still an official document representing you and your company.