THINKPIECE: Blogs might be personal and unregulated, but they offera valuable PR opportunity

Since it burst upon the public consciousness in the mid-1990s, the

Internet has represented a major challenge for the PR industry. The Web

disrupts our carefully cultivated relationship with the mass media,

which for decades served as our primary channel for communicating our

client's messages through stories or events. An explosion of alternative

sources of information on the Web occurred mostly outside the control of

the editors and producers of traditional media.



The latest extensions of this phenomenon are Weblogs, commonly known as

"blogs." These not-so-private "personal" diaries have been around since

the early days of the Web, but two critical developments have pushed

blogs beyond cult status. First, a number of services, such as Blogger,

allow users to post their thoughts for free through a series of

easy-to-use Web tools.



Just pick a template, fill out a form, and push the button to

upload.



Voila! You are a Web publisher.



Second, some Weblogs, such as MetaFilter or Slashdot, serve as human

portals; they encourage commentary and inter-action by stringing

together links to content that reflect a consistent theme or opinion.

These human portals reach significant audiences when they provide a

valuable filtering function for their readers. The Web has been, in

effect, pre-surfed for them.



On the surface, Weblogs represent another way to monitor the motivations

and interests of a specific audience. Equally important, their

popularity confirms that people have a natural affinity to express

themselves on-line, as long as you give them intuitive tools that make

it easy to participate.



Organizations can incorporate a variant of Weblog technology within

their own Web sites to actively encourage public consensus around an

idea, product, or company. Blogs provide a natural forum for marshalling

support around any grassroots initiative; they open a new channel for

the public to express and communicate their advocacy. By extension,

corporations that use blogs as an adjunct of their own Web sites can

build a dialogue with their customers or constituents.



As PR execs, we should actively seek ways to speak directly to our

audiences, to find out their interests and answer their questions. We

should build our Web sites around technologies that make it easy for

these audiences to respond directly to us. When we do that, we capture

the true spirit of the blog phenomenon.



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